The promise of ‘The Nightly Show’

20 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore’ premiere: Keeping it 100 or weak tea?.

The first episode of his political humor late-night talk show, “The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore,” was a bit uneven, as first episodes tend to be.Seated at the head of the oblong table where he will preside over his new Comedy Central series, “The Nightly Show,” Larry Wilmore was moderating a vigorous, sometimes sincere, sometimes acerbic panel discussion about the attack on the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo.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. The show’s current structure is a monologue followed by a panel—a format that evokes British news shows and Bill Maher more than it evokes Wilmore’s former coworkers Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Sally Kohn, who contributes to CNN and The Daily Beast, said that society reacted differently to mass shootings depending on who had committed them. “When white people commit crime in the United States,” she said, “nobody says, ‘Gosh, what’s wrong with white people?’ ” This debate, held last Tuesday night on a newly constructed set at a Midtown Manhattan studio, was a dry run not meant for broadcast. 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.

Wilmore is best known as “The Daily Show”‘s “senior black correspondent” but he’s also a TV writer and producer who created “The Bernie Mac Show” and helmed ABC’s excellent “Blackish” for its first 13 episodes. But if the writers are still working on ironing out the kinks of the show’s structure, one thing is perfectly clear: Wilmore is not pulling punches. It was seen by an audience of Comedy Central executives and “Nightly Show” writers and producers, including Jon Stewart, anchor of “The Daily Show,” who sat in the front row.

The comedian made it clear right from the cold open that he was “Comedy Central’s worst nightmare”: “A brother finally gets a show on late-night TV! It starts with a monologue (which show airing after 11pm doesn’t?) that seems like it could be delivered by Jon Stewart, fellow Daily Show graduate John Oliver, or any of the other sharp-tongued guys named John on cable. Wilmore doesn’t have a bit to fall back on, and he’s tackling provocative subjects, race in particular, in a more straightforward, news-driven way than “Colbert” or even “The Daily Show.” He started off with a strong opening monologue, last night touching on the whitewashing of the Oscar nominations and Al Sharpton’s call to action (“Al, Al, slow down. But of course, you gotta work on Martin Luther King Day.” Wilmore’s style is such that he almost doesn’t seem like he’s delivering jokes: Where Stewart goes for loud and Colbert goes for mannered, Wilmore is soft-spoken and casual. These viewers will be watching for how this show distinguishes itself from its highly regarded predecessor, “The Colbert Report,” whose singularly arch M.C., Stephen Colbert, will succeed David Letterman at CBS in September.

Booker to face Wilmore’s questions, he had only two options: give a good, honest answer and get a “I keep it 100” sticker like the rest of the panelists or give an answer the audience didn’t like, honest or otherwise, and get a handful of teabags thrown his way. 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. It’s basically the show Politically Incorrect would be today if Bill Maher hadn’t made those flip remarks about terrorists being brave back in September 2001. You’re not black Batman or our racial fire chief”) and the ongoing protests about police treatment of young black men in light of news that a Florida police department used mug shots of black men for target practice: “Now how can we see that and not be surprised when it happens in real life? 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 not inherently funny material—and because issues of race are understandably so sensitive, it’s hard to discuss these topics at all, let alone joke about them. Just look at his panel, which included Senator Cory Booker, rapper and activist Talib Kweli, comedian Bill Burr, and Nightly Show correspondent (and actor) Shenaz Treasury. That dude practices.” But the heart of the show is supposed to be a panel discussion between Wilmore, one of his contributors and a guest panel that Monday night featured U.S. 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. Wilmore knows he does not have the luxury to experiment behind closed doors, and he will be figuring out on his feet what works in front of an audience over the next several weeks. “I’m not doing a show where I’m setting up comics to do jokes,” Mr.

Wilmore said in an interview earlier that day. “What’s driving this is, we’re finding things out, we’re making discoveries.” Having known since May that Mr. 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 ribs both the white people who are inconvenienced by protests and the protestors themselves, saying of the action at Grand Central Station, “No better way to win the hearts and minds of white people then making them miss their train to Connecticut.” The first act, before the first commercial break, was in my view the strongest segment of the show—a head-on monologue, with Wilmore seated behind a desk, that echoed the successes of Stewart and Colbert in the same format.

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. Was it the chemistry of this group, the fact that Wilmore kept posing different questions to each panelist and moving on, as opposed to letting them provoke one another, or just opening night jitters? It wasn’t just any old conversation either – they were talking about race, specifically the aims of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City that took place just a few months ago. What did work was the “Keep It 100” segment, in which Wilmore posed a tough question tailored to each of his panelists, which they had to answer as truthfully as possible. 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.

Burr was the obvious standout—as the token white guy at the table, he was able to create some comedy from the point-of-view of a guy who doesn’t have the same problems as the others. Wilmore said he wanted his show to look at “events in the world from the perspective of the underdog,” while being “provocative and absurd, all those things rolled into one.” This blueprint has yielded a show that at its outset will have one segment of Mr. Those who did — when Wilmore asked Burr, who is married to a black woman, whether he’d rather have a white child or a black child, and Burr answered white — got a “100” sticker.

The flow of the panel seemed to work well and not devolve into silly shouting across the table like it would on other, more politically motivated shows. The rhythm of the conversation was off, with some awkward lags, but a few comments were provocative and interesting, such as when Burr said that the only way to create change is through acts of violence, leading Kweli to add, “We wouldn’t be talking about Ferguson if there wasn’t a riot.” The conversation wrapped up with a segment called “Keep It 100,” during which Wilmore asked each panelist a question and demanded an honest answer. “Do you want to be president,” he asked Booker, who quickly said, “Uh, no.” The bit didn’t move ahead easily. I wish The Nightly Show would get rid of the monologue altogether (or shorten it considerably) so that Wilmore could do what no one else is doing in late night and talk to other people well and intelligently. 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. It created some of the night’s best laughs and shocking honesty – the audience booed with incredulity when Cory Booker said he wasn’t interested in being president.

And though it didn’t totally gel in last night’s panel, it was sort of riveting, because it felt like something could happen—a real conversation between very different people with very different agendas. It was both the most anticlimactic and most brilliant part of the evening—a moment where you could see how the idea was really good, even if the execution was a little flawed. 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. But with this first episode, Wilmore and his team are demonstrating that they are not afraid of asking hard questions, whether those questions are about police brutality, representation in film, biracial identity, or how and when women feel safe in public.

Wilmore said it was exciting enough that a channel was giving this opportunity to someone who might otherwise be invisible — if not for his race, then for his age. 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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