Roy Wood Jr.: Puzzle Banger After Banger Comedian and Daily Show correspondent Roy Wood Jr. shares the struggles of raising his son in a world with racism and $9 smoothies. Then we quiz him on his favorite pastime—jigsaw puzzles!

Roy Wood Jr.: Puzzle Banger After Banger

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JULIAN VELARD: This is NPR's ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Julian Velard here with puzzle guru Art Chung. Now, here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.



Thank you, Julian. Soon, we'll find out who will be today's big winner, but first, it's time to welcome our special guest. He's a correspondent on "The Daily Show," and his new Comedy Central special is called "Father Figure." Please welcome Roy Wood Jr.


ROY WOOD JR.: Thank you for having me here.

EISENBERG: Thank you for doing it. Now, we know you as a correspondent on "The Daily Show," but you worked as a professional comedian for years and actually got your start on radio.

WOOD: Yeah, yeah.

EISENBERG: And you were known for doing these hilarious prank phone calls.

WOOD: Yeah, got fired for doing those prank phone calls.


WOOD: There's a lot of drama with prank phone calls 'cause I did real ones and apparently you're supposed to fake them, but, come on. Who wants to do that? That's not fun. I got suspended one time for a prank phone call that I did. I called a cruise ship company. I told them my granddaddy left his wallet on the slave ship when he came from Africa.


WOOD: And I needed them check lost and found.


WOOD: The lady on the phone tried to help me find the ship, and I got in trouble because she's too dumb to realize that the ship was not booked by her cruise line.


EISENBERG: Now, you've been on "The Daily Show" since 2015.

WOOD: Yeah, I was there Trevor's first day, so...

EISENBERG: Trevor's first day, your first day.

WOOD: Yeah, I'm Trevor regime. There's no overlap with Jon Stewart.

EISENBERG: But this was your first audition - second audition for "The Daily Show."

WOOD: This was my second audition. I - oh, my first audition was trash.


WOOD: Oh, it was trash. And, like, I didn't even realize it was trash until, like, after the fact. This is - I don't know - '06, '07. Comedians walk into auditions like - you ever see the footage before an NBA game where, like, the player's just walking through the tunnel with this "Eye Of The Tiger" and he's got his Beats by Dre headphones on? That's how you sit in the audition room. Like, I'm here to crush this audition.


WOOD: I go in. I totally lay a turd.


WOOD: And I left my phone in the room, so the next person had already gone in after me. So I have to sit in the waiting room and listen to their audition and they murder. And you're hearing laughs that you didn't get erupting from the room. And the guy who walked out the room was Wyatt Cenac.


WOOD: It was amazing. And I have to go back in the room after Wyatt Cenac just murdered. And yeah, it's me again. I left my phone.


WOOD: If you just - the red right there, the iPhone 2, if I could just get that.


WOOD: Through that audition and listening, you start realizing the things that you did wrong, and to be able to get another opportunity, you know, I went in and, you know, I did my best, and thankfully it was enough.

EISENBERG: That's great.

WOOD: It was cool.

EISENBERG: Well, I mean, you are awesome on the show. You know, you're known for a lot of great segments. Obviously, the black Trump video - music video - was a huge, huge hit. I'm sure in hindsight it's even more poignant.

WOOD: Yeah. It's like - we took all of Trump's tweets and turned them into a rap song. It rhymed. It all at the same bravado and badassery and misogyny of a lot of rap music. And it still wasn't enough. It was like it just rolled off him. He was like, yeah, that was a good track. You got another?


WOOD: So yeah, it's been interesting to create comedy under this new construct because that literally changed on election night. Not only has the show changed, but I feel like the way people watch "The Daily Show" is different now. Like, the humor has been a little bit more specific because you have to be laser precise with, I believe, the type of satire that we do on the show. It can't be broad. You can't just be that's crazy. He's crazy. Can you believe that person got confirmed? Well, you got to dig. What's the backstory on this person? How does this person connect to this policy in this country? And like, that type of stuff matters now more than even ever. And it's - I don't know if it's therapeutic for some people or if it's figuring out a way. But, like, just the way people will come up and speak and, like, now people come up and they, like, grab your hand. They go, thank you.



WOOD: Don't stop.


WOOD: You must stay. We need you. So it definitely feels good. You know, you already felt like you were doing something that mattered, but now you really feel like this stuff...

EISENBERG: The voice of - yeah - on that station is important.

WOOD: Yeah. Absolutely, so it's not something I take lightly. I will not ruin this with a slave ship prank phone call.


EISENBERG: But your new Comedy Central special is called "Father Figure." This is sort of a special kind of for your son who is going to be navigating a brand-new world.

WOOD: Yeah. It's - I'm trying my best to leave a blueprint of helping him make sense of the world. I'm still trying to figure this out myself, so how do I raise someone in a world where you might be treated like trash simply because of the color of your skin? How do I raise someone in a world where smoothies are $9? Like how...


WOOD: These are both atrocities.


WOOD: I just - they're different ends of the spectrum. I'm not going to say one's more important than the other. But if there were a smoothie protest and the schedule matched up...


WOOD: ...I might show up to that protest, too. I'll go to the Muslim ban, protest for an hour and be like, catch you guys later. We're protesting pomegranate.


WOOD: It's not fair that it costs that much.


WOOD: So yeah, that's pretty much the genesis of it is just trying to figure out how to make sense of so much stuff in the world because for me, issues are timeless. The only thing that would have thrown this special off is if racism was solved in the last five months. So...


EISENBERG: I hope by the time your son watches the special that he looks at it and goes, I don't understand what you're talking about because this all has been solved.

WOOD: I literally hope that. I literally hope that.



WOOD: That would be great.

EISENBERG: But smoothies are free, dad.


WOOD: (Laughter) Boy, when I was your age, them smoothies was only $9. You've got to pay $28 for that damn smoothie.


EISENBERG: So, Roy, when we were researching you we found out that you love doing jigsaw puzzles.

WOOD: Yes. Yes. It's...


WOOD: ...Very cathartic. It's one of the few things I can do to clear my mind - jigsaw puzzles, sudoku and videogames.


WOOD: Like, legitimately those are the three things. If I need to think about nothing and really defrag I can just do a puzzle. And once I complete it, I glue it and try to frame it and mount it on the wall.

EISENBERG: Oh, you have them on the wall, too?

WOOD: Yeah, I try to keep them. Yeah, I like doing it, but I'm very specific. It's panoramic puzzles.


WOOD: And generally by this company, Buffalo Games. Buffalo Games has these really dope, amazing HD photographers that take all these amazing cityscapes and skylines and stuff. It's...

EISENBERG: Do you take them with you on the road?



WOOD: I should, though.


EISENBERG: Is there a particular one that was, like, challenging or had a strong memory attached that you always kind of...

WOOD: The New York City puzzle 'cause the girl I was dating at the time, when she'd get mad at me she knew that she could get back at me by undoing the puzzle.

EISENBERG: What? That is cold.

WOOD: I know this show just took a right turn all of a sudden.



WOOD: I like the - I have a Vegas one as well that glows in the dark. I know I'm a 38-year-old man. I shouldn't be excited about it.


WOOD: Sometimes at night I'll hold a flashlight to it so that then, like, really glow...


WOOD: ...Real good when you kill the lights and - yeah.

EISENBERG: OK, well, this is great because you know a lot about jigsaw puzzles. We like them a lot. So we've written a quiz for you all about jigsaw puzzles. And depending on how you do, Christina Uhoss (ph) of Cleveland, Ohio, will win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube. Here's your first question. During what period of American history were jigsaw puzzles extremely popular, selling 10 million puzzles a week? Was it...

WOOD: Oh, this is definitely pre-television.


EISENBERG: Was it A, the Great Depression, B, World War II or C, the sexual revolution of the 1960s?

WOOD: I'm going to go Great Depression 'cause you had a lot of free time 'cause people weren't working as much. And it's just cardboard, so it's got to be pretty cheap to buy.

EISENBERG: Yeah, and then you can just use it for fuel.

WOOD: Yeah, you could burn it (laughter).

EISENBERG: You could burn it (laughter).

WOOD: No, I'm-a (ph) go with A, Great Depression.

EISENBERG: You are correct. Yes, indeed.


WOOD: Deductive reasoning.

EISENBERG: Some jigsaw puzzles include special pieces that are cut into a unique shape like a dolphin or a lighthouse. What are these special pieces called? Are they called A, illegitimates, B, keystones or C, whimsy pieces?

WOOD: Keystones.

EISENBERG: I'm sorry, that is incorrect. They are called whimsy pieces.


WOOD: Well, that's just stupid.


WOOD: Should be called a keystone...

EISENBERG: (Laughter) You're right. It should.

WOOD: ...Because it's really cool.

EISENBERG: I don't...

WOOD: That's what I do when I get the answer wrong. I just insult the - whoever the creator of this truth was.

EISENBERG: You've said that your favorite jigsaw manufacturer is Buffalo Games. First of all, what do you have against Ravensburger?

WOOD: Well, nothing. If they have some dope panoramic city skylines, I'm all in.


WOOD: Send me a couple. I'm in there. But Buffalo Games is killing the city skylines.

EISENBERG: All right.

WOOD: They've got Seattle, Chicago, New York, Vegas, Boston, Niagara Falls, the Albuquerque hot air balloon festival.

EISENBERG: Are you kidding me?


WOOD: It's just banger after banger after banger.


EISENBERG: Which of these is not an image featured in a puzzle sold by Buffalo Games - A, a cat chewing on yarn, B, a donut collage or C, gender-swapped Avengers?

WOOD: It's - my guess would be gender-swapped Avengers.

EISENBERG: Yeah, there are no gender-swapped Avengers. That's right. This is your last clue. Within a minute, guess the world record for the fastest time to complete a 250-piece jigsaw puzzle.

WOOD: It usually takes me about an hour to sort the edges.


EISENBERG: I love this. I want to hear your process.

WOOD: Another 40 minutes to color match. I color match all pieces. I start with the ground and then sort ground. Then you do skyline. And then you do - either you do skyline, you do interiors of the buildings. And interior of the buildings you do the actual sky. And if there's clouds, if it's sunset you separate purple clouds from the blue clouds, cumulonimbus versus the stratus clouds. You have to know all the different types of clouds. So usually it takes me about seven hours.


WOOD: Two hundred-fifty-piece jigsaw puzzle, I'm going to say 30 minutes.

EISENBERG: Well, it was 13 minutes and 7 seconds.

WOOD: How do you train for that? Like, how do you...

EISENBERG: Is the question how, or is the question why?


WOOD: How do you do your puzzles? Are you - do you start in the center? Do you do your center stuff first?


WOOD: You do edges first?

EISENBERG: Edges, yeah. And then build from there.

WOOD: Yeah.

EISENBERG: And it's satisfying...

WOOD: I meet people that do puzzles from the inside out. And I'm just like, we can't be friends.



WOOD: There's something odd about that. It's like eating a hot dog sideways. Like, that's just not...


WOOD: It's not what we do as Americans. You find the corners, and then you go from there.

EISENBERG: And then you go from there. You did pretty incredible. But let me double check. Puzzle Guru Art Chung, how did our special guest Roy Wood Jr. do?

ART CHUNG: Congratulations, Roy. You and Cristina you have both won Ask Me Another Rubik's Cube.


WOOD: You're welcome.

EISENBERG: Roy's Comedy Central Special "Father Figure" premieres on February 19. Give it up for Roy Wood Jr.


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