How Larry Wilmore’s Program Is Diversifying Nightly Talk Shows

Comedy Central has had its turn at bat trying to add a little color to late night. The short-lived Chappelle’s Show will live on forever in our hearts despite its host, shrewd comedian Dave Chappelle, getting out early while the getting was good (if you ask him, at least). David Alan Grier’s news satire, Chocolate News, made its best effort but wasn’t quite smart enough for an audience still in withdrawal from the Chappelle magic. The network’s most successful attempt at late night was Mind of Mencia and that show had more hate-watchers than a Dallas Cowboys home game (and about the same effectiveness). They just couldn’t seem to find the right formula.

Who would have thought that all you needed in the end was Stephen Colbert’s old time slot, a Daily Show alumnus and a fairly gimmickless format? Add all these together and you get The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore (originally meant to be titled The Minority Report). At first glance, the comedian’s new late-night follow-up to The Daily Show does a lot to mirror its big brother, hosted by Jon Stewart. You get a sharp, savvy monologue that’s half “A” block news rundown, half standup routine, and highly effective at both.

The real treat here is a raw fearlessness not seen on Comedy Central since Saint Chappelle himself. Not the “Senior Black Correspondent” Daily Show fans have grown to love nor a black version of Colbert’s hyper conservative caricature (modeled after Bill O’Reilly), Wilmore is unburdened by any mandate to play a character. When he expresses his disenchantment with Al Sharpton (“You don’t have to respond to every black emergency! You’re not Black Batman!), it’s not a well-landed Stewart gag that he’ll waste tweets clarifying later. When he stops to place extra exclamation points on his attitude toward Bill Cosby’s Dead Sea Scrolls’ worth … because “laundry lists” are too short … of rape allegations (“That motherf***er did it!”), that’s him talking.

The courageousness goes even further as The Nightly Show follows Wilmore’s well-crafted monologue with a panel discussion. Unless you count those “after-party” shows that talk about the popular show everyone just watched like Talking Dead, panels are rarely done with late-night comedians (with the exception of Bill Maher) because it means they control less variables for a funny show. And make no mistake, the panelists are not mere ringers. From cerebral hip-hop artist Talib Kweli and comedian John Leguizamo to news personality Soledad O’Brien and columnist Jamilah Lemieux, these are opinionated people of mention that give as good as they get.

Read more from Oz Longworth at Black Nerd Problems