The first thing we’re going to have to do is take a deep, collective breath and accept the fact that Stephen Colbert is gone. Not entirely and not forever. The comedian will resurface as the host of CBS’ “The Late Show” in September, taking over for the retiring David Letterman. But he’ll be plain old Stephen Colbert, not “Stephen Colbert” the clueless conservative commentator we’ve grown to know and love on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.” That guy is gone.
Now we can move on to the person who’s occupying Colbert’s old time slot, Larry Wilmore. “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” is Comedy Central’s new companion to “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” And it is, looked at in its own right, a worthy occupier of the recently vacated spot.
Wilmore is best known as a special correspondent on “The Daily Show” (the same gig Colbert once had). He’s been one of the show’s sharpest contributors for years, commenting on racial affairs as the show’s “Senior Black Correspondent” (and occasionally “Senior Executive Commander-in-Chief Who Happens to Be Black Correspondent”). His style is a bit like Lewis Black, if Black were too bemused by the stupidity of humanity to actually go apoplectic. In the past Wilmore has written for “In Living Color,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “The Jamie Foxx Show.” He created and produced “The PJs,” “The Bernie Mac Show” and “Whoopi,” and was a consulting producer on “The Office.” Dude’s got chops.
So it’s no surprise to find “The Nightly Show” a generally polished affair straight out of the gate. Right now is an opportune time to highlight African-American voices in the media. In his first week Wilmore courted controversy from both ends. One night he confessed to viewers, “I voted for Obama because he’s black. I’m just clearing it up. People always ask me ... ‘Larry, do you agree with Obama’s policies?’ Here’s the truth: I agree with the policy that he’s black.” Another night, he lit into Bill Cosby, declaring him guilty based on the number of women who have accused him. “The current tally stands at 35 women. How many more do we need? That’s like if Bill Cosby drugged and raped every U.S. President from George Washington to John F. Kennedy.” Clearly, Wilmore isn’t afraid to draw blood.
Wilmore’s cutting racial observances aside, “The Nightly Show” isn’t formatted much different from “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report” or “Last Week Tonight” or “Politically Incorrect” or the “Weekend Update” segment on “Saturday Night Live.” Wilmore takes some jabs at a few of the day’s headlines, then turns the show over to a roundtable discussion with some comedians and commentators. This features the expected amount of hit-and-miss comedy. But Wilmore sharpens it up by introducing a few thorny issues—like asking comedian Bill Burr, who is married to an African-American woman, what race he would prefer for his child. Those who refuse to answer directly enough are labeled “weak tea,” while those who get “real” are awarded a cool sticker.
Of course the show is still finding its legs. Improvements and adjustments will surely follow. But if the first week is any indication, Wilmore is a welcome addition to TV’s fine lineup of fake newscasters.