For years as a struggling up-and-coming stand-up comic, Roy Wood Jr. knew the key to a free breakfast – literally.
He’d save old room keys from hotels so when he was in a city where he had no money for a room, he’d find the appropriate old key and stroll into the lobby of a hotel which offers a free breakfast.
“Act like you’re going to sight see,” he said. “Ask the staff questions. That disarms them. Then you have a free lobby TV, free Internet and free breakfast!”
Wood, a 32-year-old Birmingham native, no longer has to pull off that gambit. This past fall, he finished third on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” and will perform with a slate of comics from the season at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on New Year’s Eve. He’ll be the host.
Stylistically, Wood is an African-American comic with mainstream appeal. Before “Last Comic Standing,” his proudest credits include “Late Show With David Letterman” and Def Comedy Jam. Gary Abdo, owner of Uptown Comedy Corner in Atlanta, calls him one of his favorites and likens his style to that of fellow Birmingham comic and syndicated radio host Rickey Smiley, heard locally on the radio on Hot 107.9.
“Rickey inspired me,” Wood said.
Many of Wood’s earliest experiences as a comic were at Uptown Comedy when it was in Buckhead in the late 1990s. As student at Florida A&M, he travel to Atlanta by Greyhound, then take MARTA to perform at Sunday open mic nights. “I’d get booed, get on the bus and be back in Tallahassee in time for class Monday morning,” he recalled.
One time, he said, he was heckled lustily, got off stage and waited by the bar for the MARTA bus. “The waitress came over and gave me a bill for the three drinks I had earlier,” he said. “I asked her, ‘Aren’t I supposed to get those for free?’ She said, ‘You really think anyone here believes that?’ ”
Since then, Wood said he’s worked on his act so booing is no longer a regular reaction. In fact, during “Last Comic Standing,” he got nothing but praise from the judges and the audience.
“I feel like I’m just getting out of college with a lot of potential,” Wood said,” and I’ve been doing this for 12 years. I feel everything I’ve done to this point was just preparation. And as much blood, sweat and tears I put into script writing, acting classes and television appearances, it was one big class. Now I know what I’m doing. I’m ready. ‘Last Comic Standing’ came right on time for me.”
Before “Last Comic Standing,” he said he was probably better known as a radio show phone prankster. Many of his pranks have gone viral on the Web. Tom Joyner, Smiley and Jamie Foxx on Sirius/XM have used them. In the meantime, “Last Comic Standing” helped him land his own morning show in Birmingham in September.
Although Wood traveled to Atlanta as a child to go to Six Flags and as an adult for work, he’s never partied here. He’s planning to hit a club or two after his New Year’s Eve gig. But he’s bracing himself for pricey entry fees.
“I may burn half my paycheck partying in Atlanta!” he said.
“Last Comic Standing” with Roy Wood, Jr., Tommy Johnagin, Myq Kaplan, Felipe Esparza and Mike DeStefano
8 p.m. Dec. 31, $25-$47
Cobb Energy Centre Performing Arts Centre