Larry Wilmore has spent the last couple of decades as a writer on the groundbreaking sketch show In Living Color, the creator of The Bernie Mac Show and most recently the senior black correspondent on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. There, he homed in on his desire to make comedy that stings and enlightens as it entertains.
Now he has stepped into the spotlight with The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore, airing on Comedy Central after The Daily Show, on which he moderates a panel discussion on issues in the news. He already has a signature bit: #KeepIt100 (or keep it real). We caught up with Wilmore by phone.
How did the first week go?
Oh, man. It’s beyond my expectations. We were scrambling up until the last minute to launch the show. We never expected the reaction that we’ve gotten.
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What’s been easier and what’s been more difficult than expected?
The challenge of doing this every night is something that you can’t anticipate, and you have to raise the bar every day. You can’t ever rest. You always have to attack your material and be alert. It’s very challenging, but on the flip side of that, it frees you up. Especially when I’m doing the discussion. Because I’m basing it on conviction, and I’m asking different types of questions, I feel freer in it. I don’t have to worry about stepping on toes or doing anything that’s preconceived.
Will the format of the show — opening monologue, panel segment, #KeepIt100 — stay the same?
That’s what we’re starting with, and the show will evolve as we do it. As we come up with ideas, we'll start to integrate them into the show. We’ll be using our contributors more. … We’re probably going to do reports out in the field. We’re still trying to figure out how to do that type of stuff on our show.
What’s the process for coming up with the questions for #KeepIt100?
Well, we’re still learning that. It’s trying to create the most interesting dilemma that a person has to answer. Some of it is knowing who you’re going to ask the question to and trying to learn as much about that person as possible. Marry that to a topic if you can, and then create a dilemma for that person. It’s really fun coming up with those questions.
What have you learned from your time on “The Daily Show”?
Jon Stewart always raises the bar on how to write satire. He never rests on his laurels, on a shallow investigation of something. You won’t last long around him if you say, “OK, I got this. Now I can coast.” He’s always challenging me to go further, and we’ve had great conversations over the years where I’ve said, “I don’t think this is the way to do this.” It’s different from writing other kinds of comedy. When writing comedy that has commentary in it, you should really take time to think about what you’re saying. I’m shifting tone in my show from someone who’s doing something funny in the first act to someone who’s just really having a conversation and is allowed to be funny in a more natural way. Changing tone is one thing I haven’t had to deal with before, and one thing I love about that second part of the show is that I don’t have to worry about being funny every second.
You’ve referred to the show as the love child of “The Daily Show” and “Politically Incorrect.” How much of an influence is Bill Maher on what you do?
I’m not sure that Bill Maher gets enough credit for creating this space. Politically Incorrect was really a trailblazer of a show. The Daily Show hadn’t started yet, and no one was really doing that type of honest comedic talk in late night. It really started all of this, and then The Daily Show took it in a new direction.
Washington Post Service