It's been a frustrating few months for Larry Wilmore. He's watched from the sidelines as one racially charged news event after another happened — the deaths of Eric Garner and Mike Brown in particular — and has been forced to wonder what his take would have been if his highly anticipated late-night show on Comedy Central The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore had already been on the air during those moments.
But he's managed to find a silver lining — of sorts. "Unfortunately, a lot of these things aren't going away," Wilmore told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview. "Fortunately for my show, unfortunately for us as a society."
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day — a date Wilmore said is intentional — his new show will take over the 11:30 p.m. slot, which was vacated by The Colbert Report in December. The Nightly Show will be a mix of Bill Maher's talk show Politically Incorrect, which was on the air from 1993 to 2002, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where Wilmore started appearing as the "senior black correspondent" in 2006.
On The Daily Show, his takes as a person of color on the news of the day were often pointedly hilarious. On The Nightly Show, Wilmore will still be riffing off the news from a black point of view, but now has complete control over what issues he chooses to address. Still, he said, his series isn't going to be the "For Us, By Us Black People's Show," which was the main reason behind the show's name change from its original title, The Minority Report.
"I really like the name because the show can just define itself," Wilmore said. "We don't have to be defined or hemmed in by what people might project our show is. I think there is more power when you have a simple name in the landscape with everybody else, instead of, 'Hey, I'm the only black guy there and it's called The Minority Report.' Being the only brother [on late-night TV] is enough of a statement." Wilmore's staff is also more diverse than the typical late-night show. His head writer is Robin Thede, a black woman, and his correspondents are an Indian woman, a black man, and a Latino man.
The Nightly Show was actually the brainchild of Stewart, who pitched a show to the network that would give voice to people often underrepresented on mainstream, and particularly late-night, television — women, blacks, first-generation Americans. (All of the hosts Wilmore will be competing against at 11:30 are white men.) Stewart's vision was that this new show would also be a mix of Wilmore's well-known punditry, news, and the fun stuff Comedy Central is known for.
All of this is new territory for Wilmore, who is originally from Los Angeles. Aside from his Daily Show stint, he's stayed behind the scenes in TV as a showrunner on culturally biting comedies like The Bernie Mac Show and Black-ish, and as a consultant on the dry-humored The Office. But he is a mastermind when it comes to portraying diversity in everyday life. There was a memorable moment in 2013 on the Daily Show where he was brought in to talk about racist allegations against Barneys that had emerged around the same time Jay Z had inked a partnership deal with the department store. After silently sitting at the anchor desk, Wilmore suddenly launched into a diatribe: "Jay Z doesn't care about black people … who want him to boycott Barneys. Shop and frisk is what the media calls it, Jon. Brothers just call it shopping! And by the way: Make up your mind, America. You can't tell brothers to pull up our pants and then arrest us when we try to buy a belt," he said; the audience laughed and applauded.
Wilmore isn't expecting that grabbing a rabid fan base for The Nightly Show is going to be easy. But he's up to the challenge.
"Every day, I wake up in a panic dream. I wake up and go, Oh fuck! I don't think we have a show!" he said. "But that scariness is part of what makes you want to do something good. It makes you want to keep showing up, and it makes you want to raise the bar and really find out what's really going on in this story. I just want to get real and say the honest truth about something. Hopefully, it will get people talking about things, whatever the subject is. And I'm just happy to start the conversation."