Larry Wilmore Takes Over Stephen Colbert; Becomes Only Black Anchor At Late …

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore’ tackles racial themes with laughs in MLK Day debut: review.

Since Stephen Colbert exited The Colbert Report last December in preparation to take over The Late Show from David Letterman in September, America has been deprived of half its funny news hour.Stephen Colbert had “truthiness.” Larry Wilmore’s got “keeping it 100.” The former “Daily Show” correspondent taking over the 11:30 p.m. spot vacated last month by Colbert’s “Report” debuted Monday night, rolling in with a show that’s fast, funny and unapologetically black.

These aren’t the words you might expect to hear from the host of new late-night comedy show to describe his television program just days before the premier.Larry Wilmore speaks on stage during Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” panel at the Viacom 2015 Winter TCA on Jan. 10, 2015, in Pasadena, Calif.

For the last nine years, a generation has grown accustomed to the transition from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show to Colbert’s brilliantly sustained nightly performance. Wilmore paused briefly before his “Keep It 100″ segment to explain what the heck he was talking about: “For all you people who don’t know what the expression ‘keeping it 100′ means, it means ‘keep it 100 percent real,’” Wilmore said. “I guess the white version is ‘Truth or Dare,’ except here we don’t have the dare.” “Uh, no,” Booker answered.

The Emmy-winning Wilmore, who joined Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” as the program’s “senior black correspondent” in 2006, has made no bones about how he planned to use his show to tackle tricky topics with humor and passion on a program originally titled “The Minority Report.” Working from the studio that housed his predecessor, Stephen Colbert’s “Colbert Report” (and, more important, Colbert’s plum post-“Daily Show” timeslot), the likable Wilmore leveraged his Martin Luther King Jr. He discussed, among other things, “no-go zones” in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe where Muslims allegedly administer their own law, and police and non-Muslims don’t enter. And if the billing of his show is any indication, “The Nightly Show” will truly be unlike any other nightly late night comedy show on television today. 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. Kamau Bell was trying to achieve with “Totally Biased,” but with sharper, more focused writing and a slickly-designed set that comes as a result of having the full backing and faith of Comedy Central kingmaker Jon Stewart.

In fact, when I asked the show’s executive producer, Rory Albanese, whom I’ve known for years, if he would be comfortable if I wrote an article titled “the show that doesn’t care about laughs,” I thought he was going to hit me. It’s Comedy Central’s worst nightmare: A brother finally gets a show on late-night TV!” Wilmore said, receiving thunderous applause from the audience.

As diverse as The Daily Show’s roster of correspondents is, the face and voice of the host dominate; Jon Stewart is well aware he should not be the only comedian-with-a-conscience delivering monologues on America’s currently disastrous race issues. Bell had no national profile before his show began in 2012. “Totally Biased” was preceded by “The Orlando Jones Show,” which made it all of eight episodes before its cancellation in 2003. They are just not things we see that often on TV apart from places like “The Daily Show” and the best of the sketches on “Saturday Night Live.” Wilmore described his new show’s sensibility being as “if The Daily Show and Politically Incorrect had a baby.” In some ways that statement is accurate, but in one great way, it’s not. 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.

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”). 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. But Wilmore, a writer-director who has done time on every black comedy of note from The Fresh Prince to In Living Color all the way to the current Black-ish, grew in confidence during his opening monologue, jabbing at Al Sharpton (“the black Batman”), Oprah, the Oscars and the ineffectiveness of black protest.

Lopez’s late-night show on TBS, “Lopez Tonight,” was canceled after a two-year run. “Jimmy [Fallon] was able to be able to get his legs and try things before he got ‘The Tonight Show,’” Lopez said. “There has to be kind of a honeymoon period where you’re able to do that. … I just don’t think that we’re able to fail like white people fail. Our failures are heavier. … Somebody’s got to believe in you, whatever color you are.” Wilmore opened with a tight monologue in his trademark deadpan that deftly weaved in Ferguson, climate change and even fair trade “Harry Potter” chocolate, all tied together by weighing the effectiveness of protests surrounding each. His writing team is led by Robin Thede, former head writer for “The Queen Latifah Show” and a writer on “Real Husbands of Hollywood.” Thede also bore some responsibility for Chris Rock’s irreverent takes at the 2014 BET awards, where he took aim at Rick Ross, Solange Knowles, Donald Sterling and Justin Bieber.

In fact, the guests for the show’s premier, Democratic Senator Corey Booker, rapper Talib Kweli and the very smart comedian Bill Burr, give you a sense of the what the show aspires to be: funny, intelligent, and compelling. In his debut, Wilmore had words for both Oprah and Al Sharpton, and called out the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences by labeling its “Selma” snub business-as-usual. The show is divided into two segments: Wilmore’s opening monologue and a four-person panel discussion that will likely include correspondents Ricky Velez, Mike Yard and Shenaz Treasury rotating through the fourth spot. Interestingly, Wilmore told us before we started the discussion: “No jokes from your act, keep it a real conversation and the humor will flow organically from that.” Well, Wilmore was right.

We did have a provocative conversation about issues from police brutality to anti-Muslim bigotry to Bill Cosby that was both very real and often very funny. Larry responded, “Yeah, great idea.” Stewart then added; “And I want you to host it.” Wilmore said he was stunned for a moment, but then responded, “Yeah, great idea.” Will the show find an audience? On Monday, after answering “What’s the last racist thought you had?” (“I think it was walking down the street yesterday and I’m like, ‘Does that white woman think I’m going to steal her purse?’”), Wilmore paid tribute to his predecessor, offering a “tip of the hat and a wag of the finger.” Politicians used to have to squirm their way through Colbert interviews while trying not to appear ridiculous — perhaps the only one that ever bested Colbert was Rep. And in 2008, the Comedy Central audience did not take to David Allen Grier’s “The Chocolate News” – a look at the news in a comedic way from the black point of view.

Albanese described Wilmore as “comedy Jedi.” Now, if I had not spent time on a test panel with Wilmore hosting, I could dismiss that claim as a producer puffery.

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