Whether he’s grilling PETA on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” about where orcas fit in with the history of slavery or noting in a stand-up riff that, at a tea party rally, he’d “never seen so many angry old people since the end of ‘Cocoon,’ ” Wyatt Cenac always manages to keep his calm. “Most of the things I do are out of apathy,” the 36-year-old comic says — which explains the muted, deadpan delivery that’s become his trademark. Ahead of two shows at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse on Saturday, Cenac discusses beards, fart jokes and life on the campaign trail.
I was taken aback when you were on “The Daily Show” recently but your beard was not. Why did you shave?
There was no real reason for it, just sometimes when you have too much time and clippers at your disposal, you just start trying to get a little closer and a little closer. Then, at some point you realize, “Oh, crap, I’ve got a mustache.” Next thing you know, you’re clean-shaven.
It wasn’t for a role?
No. My hair has grown longer simply because I didn’t want to go cut it. The beard was first: I got bored of shaving. It’s been interesting, because since I’ve been on the show, I’ve never been clean-shaven. It’s odd, because you have people who seem very shocked by it. As though my beard were a part of my face that had always been there.
Are you excited to go to the political conventions later this summer for “The Daily Show”?
It’s a weird situation. There’s the nerve-racking aspect of being on the road for two weeks straight and setting up shop, but there’s also the element of not really knowing what’s going to happen. Any of these people could easily say, “No.” Will this be the year they shut us out? We’re set to do shows there, but they could easily say, “Yeah, we don’t wanna give you press passes.”
How has your stand-up evolved since your first special, 2011’s “Comedy Person”?
More fart jokes, that’s number one. I don’t know if much has changed as far as how I’m approaching everything. After taping a special, there’s an element of relief: “I’ve done this. I’ve got one under my belt.” I’d like to think it freed me up. That first one is like, “Oh, this first one, it has to be perfect.” It’s like when a kid learns how to ride a bicycle; first it’s a little wobbly, then after that it’s like, “Oh, I’m an expert at bicycle now.”
You don’t generally get too political in your stand-up. Is it important to distinguish yourself outside of “The Daily Show”?
People associate me and [John] Oliver and Jason [Jones] and Sam [Bee] and now Al [Madrigal] and Jessica [Williams] … with the show, first and foremost. And that is great, because the show is well-regarded. But at the same time, we are not all of the show and the show is not all of us. And when I’m not on the show anymore, hopefully people aren’t like, “I love you on ‘The Daily Show’!” “But I don’t work there anymore!” “Well, you should! Because it’s all been downhill.”
When former Republican National Committee chairman (and ex-lieutenant governor of Maryland) Michael Steele is in the news, you can count on the Michael Steele puppet making a “Daily Show” appearance. Wyatt Cenac voices the mustachioed, blue puppet, which was spawned from a writer’s comment that Steele “looked like the ‘Sesame Street’ puppet who kept sending his soup back in Grover’s restaurant,” Cenac says. Cenac, who says he’s no good at impressions, modeled the voice after funk musician Bootsy Collins’. “That’s the ceiling of where he thought cool went,” Cenac says of Steele. “[To him] maybe Bootsy Collins was the coolest guy around.”
Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse, 2903 Columbia Pike, Arlington; Sat., 7:30 & 9:55 p.m., $25; 703-486-2345.