Comedian Wyatt Cenac is here to tell America it has issues. The “Daily Show” alum is using his new half-hour time slot on HBO to school the country on topics such as climate change, the national debt crisis and, primarily, police-involved shootings.
“We thought, let’s do something easy,” the Brooklyn comic joked at an HBO preview event last week. “For me, it felt like we could talk about Trump and the presidency, a lot of people do that … it felt like policing is one of those things you keep seeing.”
Each half-hour episode of “Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas” begins with a rather comical look into an “unquestionable problem” and segue into the series’ central topic of policing.
His late-night show isn’t like that of his 11:30 p.m. competitors: It’s not taped in front of a live audience and gives off a ’70s after-school special vibe with Cenac hanging out in a wood-paneled office.
“The thing that I’m known for, at least, depending on what sub-threads you to go, is to be a comedian,” Cenac, 41, explained. “Even though I’m talking about heavy things, I still want to try to use humor to walk us in the door.”
Cenac isn’t calling himself an expert on the show’s topics and he’s hardly offering solutions. Instead, he’s hoping to broaden a discussion that’s already been going on across the country.
“Talking about policing, you could spend years and people have,” Cenac said. The show uses “policing as a filter to tell other stories and look at how a community can move forward.”
The series features guest commentators including Mayor Bill de Blasio, representing the city scene, retired police officers and St. Paul, Minnesota, residents, where the shooting of Philando Castile shook the community in 2016. His field research took him to Ohio, California, Florida, Oklahoma, and New York, among other states.
The Brooklyn resident said it would be “very easy” to stay in NYC and tell stories of police interactions with black men and women, but “the problems in New York aren’t necessarily the problems in Ferguson.”
While filming in the city, Cenac sat down with Edwin Raymond, an activist NYPD officer who made headlines in 2016 for trying to “change the industry from the inside.” But, the show host notes it was “surprisingly” hard to get cops on camera (read: not surprising to him at all).
“With New York, we didn’t focus as much on showing a department,” he said. He did not confirm if the NYPD would have a role in the series.
The city-specific scenes will instead focus heavily on conversations with locals and their experiences with the police.
Cenac isn’t shy about sharing his opinion of his late-night program topic either.
The comedian explained he was arrested at age 19 for “inciting a riot” by shouting profanities at a mall cop and his younger brother was jailed for parking tickets in a town where “[cops] just make revenue.”
He added he’s not looking to simply “complain” through the series’ platform, though — “that’s not to say that we shouldn’t continue to complain about what happens in our federal government,” he said.
“I was interested in talking about these problems, but also try to see, are there blueprints for change?” he said. “What we expect from law enforcement is something that we all have a stake in.”
The 10-episode season, airing Fridays, will take viewers around the country, aiming to open their eyes to a new aspect of policing they may not be familiar with, like officer training.