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Wyatt Cenac is fighting gentrification one web series at a time

Talking with the Brooklyn based comedian about his new series "aka Wyatt Cenac" and you know, white supremacy.
aka Wyatt Cenac
Wyatt Cenac. Photo: First Look Media/Topic

From a completely objective and not at all biased standpoint, Wyatt Cenac is very swoon worthy. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Brooklyn based comedian has done it all: sitcoms (“People of Earth,” check), political satire (“The Daily Show,” check) and Grammy nominated standup specials (Netflix’s “Brooklyn,” check) included.

But just when you think the 41-year-old is going to go bigger, he surprises you. Premiering October 3, Cenac has a delightful web series slash tersely worded love letter to Brooklyn called “aka Wyatt Cenac.” In his directorial debut, he plays a masked vigilante named The Viceroy — naturally —  who is more or less battling (and at times protecting) gentrified Brooklyn. It’s short, sweet, topical — and appreciably entertaining, too.

We chatted with the Fort Greene resident about Brooklyn bars, the end of Night Train and, you know, white supremacy.

"aka Wyatt Cenac" is as much an ode to Brooklyn as it is a critique of the borough's ongoing gentrification. I mean, you guys filmed at Doris. Do you actually go there?

Yeah. I don’t go as often as I used to because I realized I could drink at home.

Why drink out with people when you can just drink alone?

Exactly. If there’s anything that I wish they would have taught at college, it would have been: Why drink outside? It’s cheaper to just not.  

Are there any other places you like? Would love our audience to know so you can get bum rushed when you go out.

Sure, OK, yeah so if anyone starts to stalk me they’ll know where I am. It’s funny because for me now I really don’t go to bars with the frequency that I used to. I tend to go to restaurants so I can eat and drink there until they are sick of me. I do that more than go to bars.

Bars that have an outside, I do like, like Hotbird. Hotbird was really great because it would never get crowded. I understand people go to the bar for that experience, but I almost like the experience of going to a bar to sit down and have a conversation. And to get drunk.

Night Train is ending soon. Why did you decide to wrap the weekly standup series up now?

Honestly, it just felt like a good time. Our final show [Nov. 6] will be five years exactly. The show has been fun and so great, but at some point, it feels like something that you should pass on, that somebody else should get the opportunity to try to do their own thing and make it something different. 

You’ve done a bit of everything, so I’m curious: What do you think makes a successful comedian?

It’s a metric you have to figure out for yourself. There are people who say, being a working comedian on the road, 200 days out of the year is success. And for another comedian, it might be being exceptional enough at standup that NBC wants to make a sitcom with you. It might be movies for somebody else. I don’t think there’s one metric for success.

At the end of the day if what you’re doing brings you joy, as much joy as it brings the audience you’re doing it for, then that’s probably the best metric.

And Night Train is just one of the things you’ve had going on. You have “People of Earth,” and “aka Wyatt Cenac” going — are you more attracted to one form of comedy over the other?

When I write, it tends to be a bit more topical and I tend to enjoy that a lot. With Night Train, when we did it for Seeso, what was great about it was doing topical things but in this weird variety show way. In the first season, we did [a sketch] about how bodegas were being pushed out by chain drug stores. To me, that raised the question of: If bodegas are gone what does that mean for the cats that work at the bodega? So that started a bit where H. Jon Benjamin and I were on stage, advocating for bodega cats. It’s always nice to take a topical thing and address it in a weird way.

I feel like comedy, in this moment, feels very much like it has to be topical, but in a political vein. White supremacy is making a comeback.

Not to say that we should just relax, but these things to be a little cyclical. I don’t know if I’d say white supremacy is making a comeback exactly. It’s just a little sloppier than it used to be.

It’s more in your face.

Yeah. There was a time that … they took care of their craft and tried to hide what they were doing. They tried to be a little craftier. Slick with it.

As a comedian, how do you create a space for humor when the world is increasingly depressing?

We’ve been here before. I think to keep it in perspective [is helpful], but there’s also more to life than the weird, strange things that happen to us on a daily basis. You can’t get so caught up in that aspect of it. It’s just going to paralyze you.

"aka Wyatt Cenac" premieres on Topic.com on October 3. 

Follow Rachael Vaughan Clemmons on Twitter — @rachaelclemz