Netflix has transformed the landscape of stand-up comedy within the past five years. While comedy specials used to represent the culmination of a comedian’s career, the streaming company has also turned them into a means for discovering new talent.
In 2019, comedian Tiffany Haddish took advantage of Netflix’s penchant for comedy specials and created her Emmy-nominated series “Tiffany Haddish Presents: They Ready,” which consisted of six 30-minute sets by her favorite female comics. The series returned Feb. 2 for a second season, now titled “Netflix Presents: They Ready,” meant to showcase talented comedians of all genders.
At the beginning of each episode, Haddish introduces the featured comedian with an anecdote about how she came to know them and why they inspire her. In the third episode, she highlighted veteran comedian Tony Woods, whom Dave Chappelle calls his “biggest inspiration.”
However, despite his ties to a legendary comedian, Woods manages to fly under the radar in his daily life. He described the anonymity as peaceful.
“I call it my invisible factor. I can walk into a comedy club, along with the audience, with my picture right there and walk right in. Once you get super famous, you can’t even walk into the grocery store anymore,” Woods said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
In the video introduction to Woods’ set, Haddish noted the traces of Woods’ comedic style that are still present in Chappelle’s routine, and other “They Ready” comedians expressed their gratitude toward Woods’ influence.
Any fan of Dave Chapelle would instantly recognize similarities in his mentor’s 15-minute set. Woods’ laid-back attitude and conversational delivery make each joke feel organic, like brief detours that continue the narrative of the larger story he is telling on stage.
At times, Woods refrains from explaining the punchline of certain jokes. For example, a large portion of his set detailed his experience being the only “Virgo” in a predominantly white group of people. Moments like these make the audience feel like they are a part of an inside joke.
With Woods’ calm demeanor, it may come as a surprise to some that he barely writes down his material before going on stage. This confident mastery is one of the many characteristics that lead other comedians to admire his work.
Woods said there are many absurdities of being considered a comedy guru.
“Sometimes you get a title, but it’s like, ‘Hey, I didn’t run for this office!’ It leads to people coming up to you like they’re in the fifth grade, like, ‘Grade my homework, what’d you think? Did you grade it?’” Woods said.
Regardless of whether he chose to be seen as a role model, Woods acknowledged the importance of being an encouraging voice to new comics. When newcomers come offstage and ask him about their work, Woods said he provides positive feedback.
“Usually I say that they killed it and that changed my life,” Woods said.
In his set on “They Ready,” Woods humorously recounted anecdotes from his own life, including his travels to Australia and how he thinks kangaroos came to exist. Pulling from real-life observations is something he does often, as he finds it to be the best inspiration for his stand-up, he said in the Zoom interview.
When reminiscing about his past, Woods mentioned growing up near Washington, D.C., and eventually performing his first stand-up routine at the Comedy Café. Woods later traveled internationally, touring across Europe and the Middle East.
“I’m an introvert with an extrovert’s job,” Woods said of himself.
The most recent episode of “They Ready,” titled “The After Show,” featured a post-show discussion where all six comedians sat down with Tiffany Haddish to discuss shared experiences and their different perspectives on comedy. In particular, they discussed the impact of the 1990s “Def Comedy Jam” show, which exploded the careers of many well-known comedians like Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock. While the show amplified many Black voices into the mainstream, it also resulted in a stigma against Black comedians, causing them to be excluded from many mainstream spaces and making it harder for them to present alternative styles of comedy.
Fortunately, the comedians of “They Ready” were able to present a variety of comedy styles throughout the series. One highlight of the show was Godfrey, a Nigerian American comic who showcased a range of accents and impressions, including those of former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Another standout performance was Kimberly Clark, whose observations on retail stores like Forever 21 and Anne Taylor were both hilarious and accurate.
The second season of “They Ready” is a delightful showcase of talent that highlights important dialogue about the world of stand-up comedy. While not entirely an escapist program — each set contains its fair share of pandemic jokes — “They Ready” is a great way to make a lockdown night in feel like a night out. Although a third season is not yet officially confirmed by Netflix, the show is expected to make a return by 2022 with a new cohort of underrated comics.