Roy Wood Jr. discovered standup while attending Florida A&M University. He was studying journalism, having been inspired by the sportscasters he watched on ESPN while in high school.
"While I was there, a buddy of mine and I used to go over to Florida State. They had these student talent nights once or twice a month, and we'd go watch stuff with the intention of booing and being disruptive idiot teenagers."
Then one day, Wood decided to give it a try. "It just flowed from there," he says. "I already had an inkling of wanting to be a comedian even back in high school."
[jump] After graduating with his degree in journalism, Wood found himself working in radio doing hard news. "I was the guy that would gather the police blotter information and stuff like that," he recalls. "And the comedian that was on that same morning show would leave at eight a.m., because he was a school teacher. So, for the last two hours of the show, I got to crack jokes. That's what took me down the path pf being a comedic sidekick on the radio and doing prank calls." As he was still doing standup regularly, he felt he had found the perfect way to combine his two careers.
The prank phone calls, for which he is widely known, weren't of much interest when he started his broadcasting career. "Crank calls were the only reason I got hired at the radio station in Birmingham," he states. "I wanted to become the jokester on the morning show and they told me, 'The only way you're going to get on the air is if you do prank calls.'"
Despite his insistence that he could be all kinds of funny, station management was immovable. "They told me, 'Prank calls are what our listeners want, and the guy that did them for us just left. You can do whatever you want, but you have to do prank calls.' That was how I got on the air."
Today, his calls can be heard on Jamie Foxx's Foxxhole Radio on Sirius/XM, as well as on over 40 radio stations across the country. He has released three CDs of prank calls since 2003. His standup album, Things I Think, I Think, came out in 2013.
Unlike the prank calls made by your garden-variety morning zookeeper, Wood's are well-constructed, with him, or the character he has created, being the butt of the joke, and the person receiving the call acting as more of the straight man.
"To me, there are two types of prank phone calls: impossible request or conflict," he explains. "You're just trying to create conflict, and trying to create it in as realistic an atmosphere as possible."
Wood steers clear of situations that are so outlandish as to not have a kernel of believability. "I want you as the listener to feel like you're listening in on a three-way call and think, 'This is something that could happen.' And the reactions are real. Sometimes I call and ask for crazy stuff. I called a laundromat one time and asked them if I could put chicken wings in the dryer to slow cook them. That's just an impossible request."
His initial reluctance to do the calls faded quickly, particularly as they became more popular. "I started putting the prank calls on the internet, and what happened was at the time my website was probably getting 500 hits a day. Then someone put some of them on YouTube."
Shortly after that, he was getting 50,000 hits a day. "It crashed repeatedly," he laughs. "And I couldn't afford the extra bandwidth. It was really crazy."
Wood describes his stage set as "broadly topical. I talk about things like how people freak out when gas gets near five dollars a gallon, but ignore the fact that a soda at the movies cost over 10. It would be cheaper to drink gasoline at the movies."
IF YOU GO:
Roy Wood Jr.
Acme Comedy Co.
708 N. First St., Minneapolis
8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 10:30 Friday and Saturday
For tickets, call 612-338-6393 or visit www.acmecomedycompany.com