PASADENA, Calif. — Larry Wilmore, veteran senior black correspondent on “The Daily Show,” kicks off his own late-night series Monday on Comedy Central.
He steps into the 10:30 p.m. time slot long lorded over by Stephen Colbert, who ended his 11-season run on “The Colbert Report” to take over for David Letterman Sept. 8.
“Ironically, Steve and I are both doing the same type of thing: We both played a character and now we’re both being ourselves,” Wilmore said during the TV critics’ press tour last week.
Just who is Larry Wilmore?
At age 53, he’s already had a prolific career in television, more so on the production than the performance side. But he’s hardly a household name, even among fellow African-Americans, who, like women, have been sorely under-represented on the late-night landscape.
“What’s cool is that I’m just about to appear on the radar screen for a lot of people,” Wilmore said. “Only three black people total watch ‘The Daily Show’ at any given time.”
The “Bernie Mac Show” creator, whose parents are from Chicago but moved to California shortly before he was born, was all set to be the showrunner on ABC’s freshman sitcom “Black-ish” before Jon Stewart tapped him as heir to Colbert.
“I actually had talked about doing a talk show with [Comedy Central] a couple years ago,” Wilmore said. “There just wasn’t real estate at the time.”
Before Wilmore throws open the doors to his new home, here are five things to know about “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore:”
That wasn’t the original title
Stewart, who produces the show, wanted to call it “The Minority Report.” That conflicted with Fox’s plans for a TV show based on the movie. Lawyers agreed to let them use it as long as Wilmore’s name was tacked on to the title and the show was never referred to as just “The Minority Report.” (“At which point I said, ‘Well, then, let’s just call it “Star Wars with Larry Wilmore,” ’ ” said executive producer Rory Albanese.) “If you’re tweeting or you’re on Tumblr or Facebook and you always have to refer to ‘The Minority Report with Larry Wilmore’ with that long title or someone may sue you … it was a mess,” Wilmore said. Calling it “The Nightly Show” made sense because it airs between “The Daily Show” and “@midnight,” and it doesn’t come with any preconceived notions. “’The Nightly Show’” gives us an opportunity to have the show just say what it is instead of people making something up ahead of time,” Wilmore said.
It’s part scripted, part spontaneous
“It’s kind of a hybrid of ‘The Daily Show’ and maybe ‘Politically Incorrect,’ ” Wilmore said. “The first part of the show is the scripted part where I’m weighing in, giving my take on the events or event of the day that we’re going to be talking about. The second part is more of a panel discussion, where we’ll deconstruct that event a little bit more. That will have a lot of surprising elements. It may be comic. It may be provocative. [The first panel’s guests will be Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), rapper Talib Kweli and comedian Bill Burr.] We’ll have contributors on the show — not really correspondents. They’ll do a variety of things. They’ll do comic pieces. They’ll report from places. We’ll throw them on a panel now and then, too.”
It debuts on Martin Luther King Day
“I had a dream that a brother needed to work on that day,” Wilmore said in a nod to the slain civil rights leader’s famous speech. “I was given the option of starting on Monday or Tuesday when they were making the schedule, and I said, ‘Well, is “The Daily Show” open on Monday? … Then I think we need to be open Monday.’ There’s no symbolic importance to it or anything like that. There may be after the fact. I’ll probably have to call attention to it — now that you brought it up — once we start. So thanks for that one.”
The head writer learned her stuff in Chicago
Some 417 people applied to be writers for the show, but the head gig went to Iowa native Robin Thede (“The Queen Latifah Show,” “Real Husbands of Hollywood”), a Northwestern University grad who studied at Second City. Wilmore first saw Thede perform with L.A.’s all-female sketch comedy group Elite Delta Force. When Thede applied for the position — back when the working title was still “Minority Report” — she came to the interview armed with an 18-page binder full of ideas for the show, names of people to hire, an outline of how she’d run the writers’ room. And one more thing: “I brought in Larry’s head Photoshopped over Tom Cruise’s body on ‘The Minority Report,’ ” she said.
Wilmore doesn’t plan to preach
“I’m not interested in doing a show where I give my opinion and I have people react to my opinion,” he said. “I’m more inquisitive. Our show is more in discovery of things.” Some of the topics will be heavy, but at the end of the day, it’s a comedy show. “If we’re talking about Ferguson, I might make a joke about it. But in the next segment, I might say, ‘Hey man, there’s some s— going on here that I don’t like,’ and I’m going to be dead serious. That’s the kind of relationship that I want to build with the audience. That’s how they’ll get to know me and say, ‘OK, Larry can keep it real. And he can keep it real funny.’ ”
“The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” airs from 10:30 to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays on Comedy Central.