‘The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore’: First Impressions

21 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

An Uneven But Auspicious ‘Nightly’ Opener.

It’s perhaps not surprising that the strongest part of The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore on its debut Monday was the part that looked the most like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, with which it shares considerable DNA. 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. Wilmore opened with an observation that the Oscar nominations are “so white a grand jury decided not to indict them,” he acknowledged Selma, and said the words “Eric Garner” and “Ferguson” in the teaser before the show open even rolled. (What was on Colbert’s show the “pre-eagle” moment.) The first segment, which brought Wilmore to the anchor desk — which is simply the head of the glass-topped table he used later for the panel segment — was top-notch, flitting from the ubiquity of Al Sharpton (“Al, you don’t have to respond to every black emergency; you’re not black Batman”) to the state of protesting, including the success of a demand that Harry Potter-branded chocolate be free trade, which Wilmore called “the only chocolate that got justice.” Wilmore broke, however, with the formats of the previous Comedy Central late-night shows in the Jon Stewart multiverse when he introduced a panel in the second segment including Senator Cory Booker, musician Taleb Kweli, comedian Bill Burr, and Shanaz Treasury, the one woman on the panel and the only one listed as a regular contributor to the show. 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. With Wilmore, it makes for a five-member roundtable that did one segment that was a little over seven minutes, which consisted mostly of a series of one-on-one conversations between the panelists and Wilmore, and very, very little engagement between them.

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. 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. It’s a quality familiar to those who’ve watched him as the “Senior Black Correspondent” on “The Daily Show.” Indeed, the original name of Wilmore’s show was “The Minority Report,” until Fox decided to make a series based on that movie.

Furthermore, any lawyer would tell you it’s assuming facts not in evidence to take it as a given that hip-hop is (1) monolithic enough to categorize in either of those ways, or (2) either solution or problem. 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. As Kweli looked at the ceiling and tried to make sense of the question by restricting his answer to “corporate mainstream hip-hop that celebrates negative images of black people,” Wilmore again cautioned him to “keep it a hundred.” Yes, shows like this are always trying to generate conversation with sometimes outrageous prompts, but it seemed particularly unfortunate for the very first question to essentially equate any recognition of nuance — the understanding that the question is flawed — with a failure of realness.

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. Stuff like that is important, because this show is designed to be really smart as well as really funny, and smart comedy doesn’t really need traps like that.

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. My hope would be that they’ll either come up with a different recurring segment or keep it to the more personal questions that worked a little better, like asking Treasury which side of the street she would walk on if a white person were walking on one side and a black person on the other. (Her answer was to sidestep by saying it would be based on which person was hotter, which somehow earned her an “I Kept It 100” badge even though it neatly evaded the obvious point of the question.) The panel stuff needs a little work, on the whole, but that’s entirely to be expected.

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.

It’s hard to settle on the right amount of crosstalk, and it’s hard to get people into doing it if they’re used to appearing on shows where everyone waits politely to be asked a question by the host. Wilmore argued that the racial protests occurring across the country are not less focused than the civil rights marches in the 1960s, but their goals “are less tangible.” “In the old days, it was about being able to sit at a lunch counter, going to the same schools, or even voting.

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. Wilmore played a clip of a news report last week out of Florida that revealed North Miami Beach police officers had used mug shots of black men for target practice at a gun range. “Now, how can we see that and be surprised when it happens in real life? 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. Wilmore said how excited he was to have his own show. “I feel like there’s so much to talk about, you know, oh, especially if I had the show a year ago.” He paused and sighed. “Man, all the good bad race stuff happened already.”

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