Larry Wilmore Makes Debut as Comedy Central Host

21 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Nightly Show’ host Larry Wilmore: ‘I couldn’t have started the show at a better worse time’.

Because on the debut of “The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore” on Monday, his comments about “Selma”; Ferguson, Mo.; race relations; and also life in general were funny, unexpected and provocative. Comedy Central host Larry Wilmore began his “Nightly Show” debut Monday by mocking Al Sharpton for thrusting himself to the forefront of virtually every black issue, including the recent Oscar nominations.The Jon Stewart factory appears to have produced another terrific host with Larry Wilmore, one whose approach is quite different from that of his predecessor in the 11:30 slot, Stephen Colbert.Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show” took to the air Monday, with late night’s newest star Larry Wilmore crackling with racially charged jokes and moderating a serious discussion about racial unrest in America. Originally titled The Minority Report, the satirical news show is more similar to Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, but with a focus on issues important to people of color – a debut that’s especially prescient in light of Ferguson and the Eric Garner case.

While Colbert was the emperor of “truthiness” and lies, a live-action cartoon of American arrogance, Wilmore is all about “Keeping It 100,” as in keeping it 100 percent real, particularly when it comes to race. Right now, he’s what he calls “cable famous”: Many people already know him as the “senior black correspondent” from The Daily Show, and hardcore fans know his work as a TV writer (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, In Living Color), showrunner (Black-ish, The Bernie Mac Show), and actor (How I Met Your Mother, The Office). Sharpton called an emergency meeting among his eight-member diversity task force last week to consider protesting the Academy Awards after the movie “Selma” received only one Oscar nomination.

Day debut into an opportunity to delve into the waves of unrest and protests that swept the nation in recent months. “Are we protesting too many things here?” he wondered. “Since it’s MLK Day, and since he’s the patron saint of non-violent protesters — suck it, Gandhi! — we’re going to talk about the state of the black protest… Even as I speak tonight, there’s a demonstration going on in Grand Central Station, because there’s no better way to win the hearts and minds of white people than making them miss their train to Connecticut,” Wilmore joked in a sharp opening monologue that poked fun at outrage over the Oscar-nomination snubbing of the civil rights film, “Selma,” and threw barbs at the Rev. It’s very… appropriate.”) But the whole thing makes him a little nervous. “I’m approaching that area where it’s like, ‘Yeah, I know that guy.

His defining touch, of course, is his willingness to make intelligent and pointed jokes about race in America, a topic that is layered with denial, falsehoods, and superstition. Al Sharpton and Oprah Winfrey; and he carved out a joke from the controversy over the death of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who was killed when the police used a chokehold on him.

The issue here is that round table discussions are a dime a dozen on TV, from “The View” and “The Talk” to more edgy fare like Bill Maher’s old HBO show, “Politically Incorrect.” Less stale was a segment called “Keeping it a Hundred,” as Wilmore described it: “keeping it one hundred percent real” with questions designed to elicit provocative responses. Wilmore said with mock gravity that if the world doesn’t figure out a way to deal with climate control, “it won’t just be black people saying ‘I can’t breathe.’ ” When some in the studio audience murmured, Mr. Burr, who is white with a black wife, was asked what race he would like his child to be (earning a “100%” sticker when he did not hesitate, cited statistics and said “white”).

Senate, the stressed that it’s unfair to speak out against the riots that sprung up in the wake of the incidents without examining the incidents themselves. “(Martin Luther) King said it eloquently: You should condemn violence, but you cannot condemn violence and looting without also condemning the underlying conditions which people are ultimately protesting,” Booker said. Booker was asked if he wanted to run for president and earned a pile of “lukewarm” tea bags when he answered, “no.” While the program as a whole has room to grow, Wilmore’s comedy is sharp, solid and filled with keen observations and strong enough to have earned him the distinction of being the only high-profile black voice in late night television. Yeah I choked him, thank you very much.” Opening nights can be treacherous for comedy shows – expectations can be too high, and jitters can derail the jokes. He added that the U.S. has “created a criminal culture” that favors putting more people into prison instead of improving education and other programs to help them succeed. He zeroed in on the news, but unlike Stewart, he didn’t cut back and forth into clips from the media reservoir of contradiction and stupidity; his graphic support was minimal, mostly made up of small still photos of those he joked about.

Wilmore’s debut wasn’t perfect, but he made it perfectly clear that as a replacement for Stephen Colbert, who takes over for David Letterman in September, he is funny and appealing in his own quite different way. The one that prompted all chocolate sold with Harry Potter’s likeness to be fair trade. “After Ferguson and Garner, it bugs me a little bit that in 2014, this is the only chocolate that got justice.” Wilmore ran a clip of an upset South Florida family who discovered that the North Miami Beach police were using photos of black men during weapons training. “That story was reported way back in … today.

His guests were New Jersey Senator Corey Booker, hip-hop artist and activist Talib Kweli, comic Bill Burr, and model, actress, and “Nightly Show” regular Shenaz Treasury. But, generally speaking, group conversations can be awkward on TV, as people talk over one another, as spontaneous jokes fail to emerge, and as the cameras struggle to capture exchanges. I hope the talk on “The Nightly Show” will loosen up as the guests better understand the tone of the show, and as “The Nightly Show” staff chooses guests who may be more polished at this kind of friendly debate.

Kweli set him straight, saying, “In activist movements you have what’s called solidarity, and you realize what we are fighting for, so you don’t go to a rally to beat cancer and say well you know, all diseases matter.” Mr. Cable news networks like CNN and MSNBC have a lot more diversity on air and off than “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report” – for years, the almost all-white, all-male teams of writers who would show up onstage in black tie for Emmy Awards looked like the stag line at a debutante ball in 1959.

You think about the past year, how it began with Donald Sterling, and then Ferguson, and Eric Garner, and… It was the best of times, it was the worst of times—and it clearly was the worst of times. I’m a fan of back porches!” I think there’s a big hole in late-night commentary that hasn’t been filled in a long time, and people want someone good to do it. Politically, you call yourself a “passionate centrist.” Is comedy easier for centrists, because you have more options–you can skew right or left–instead of just approaching every joke from one party’s platform all the time? I wanted to be an astronaut as a kid, so I’m imagining you on screen, like…” [Wilmore does a spot-on Cronkite impression] “‘Astronaut Larry Wilmore blasted off yesterday.’ But at most, I’d be lucky to get something like, ‘Larry Wilmore was arrested yesterday.’ In a strange world, it could be: ‘Former astronaut Larry Wilmore was arrested yesterday.’” That made him laugh.

Wilmore, you’re going to have to cut your hair.” And I’d say, “Well, Father, technically, the rules say it can’t go down over your ears.” [Laughs] No, I didn’t think of it that way. And so he gave this speech and he walked out of the gym and I did this impression of him: [Wilmore takes on an Irish accent] “May I have your attention please?

My teacher said, “Larry, you should audition for that.” It was a show we wrote through improvisation with messages about drugs and stuff, and we toured it around to schools. So the kid comes over, looking for grape soda, and it’s like, “Oh, you would assume we had grape soda?” And the kid’s like, “Found it!” [Laughs] That’s very funny to me. She’s black!” Back in her day, people would pass as white, so from her point of view, it’s like, “She’s black!” But for me, it’s like, nobody’s hiding the fact that they’re black. There was one episode that Kenya wrote called “The Nod.” [Editor’s note: In the episode, “the nod” is half-jokingly described as “the internationally accepted yet unspoken sign of acknowledgement of black folks around the world.”] Some people just don’t know what that is, so you have to explain what that means.

In 2001, I sat down with my manager, and I said, “I want to really start branding myself.” And then later on, I said, “Now that I’m branded, I need a platform.” I don’t know if I make goals so much as throw something out there and start walking toward it.

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