When the News Is a Laughing Matter

Larry Wilmore

Writer/producer Larry Wilmore photographed at The Museum Of Television & Radio's 20th Anniversary. Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Emmy Award-winner Larry Wilmore is the "Senior Black Correspondent" on Comedy Central's hit program The Daily Show. Wilmore explains how he went from doing stand-up comedy to co-creating and writing for popular TV shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, In Living Color and The Office.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Comedian Larry Wilmore is a paragon of the news business - sort of. He's senior black correspondent for Comedy Central's "The Daily Show." He tackles most things black for the hit comedy show, including the N-word controversy and the upcoming animated film, "The Frog Princess."

(Soundbite of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show")

Mr. LARRY WILMORE (Comedian): (As Himself) Well, we have overcome.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILMORE: (As Himself) He's been making a movie star and a black princess. And we only have to get through a Native American princess, an Arab princess, a Chinese princess, even a half-fish princess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILMORE: (As Himself) You know, not to mention the countless cats, dogs, mice, elephants, talking car, and whatever the hell's Stitch was.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILMORE: (As Himself) I mean, for God's sake, even the "Lion King" had no black people in it when it was set in Africa.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: Wilmore did stand-up then moved to TV where he wrote for a string of hit shows, including the "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," "In Living Color," and "The Office." Wilmore even won an Emmy and a Peabody Award for his work on "The Bernie Mac Show."

Larry Wilmore, welcome.

Mr. WILMORE: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So, you are on a cell phone, which we can hear.

Mr. WILMORE: Yeah.

CHIDEYA: You're supposed to be in here with me, so where are you? You're like five blocks away or something?

Mr. WILMORE: I'm literally 30 seconds away but I had to pull over.

CHIDEYA: That's right. We made you because we want you on the air. So, let's talk about being senior black correspondent. First of all, that's - I'm jealous of that title. I wish I had that.

Mr. WILMORE: You can take it anytime you want.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: What's it like working at - you know, I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, who stopped watching "The Daily Show."

Mr. WILMORE: Right.

CHIDEYA: Because she was, like, there's no negroes on - this, you know?

Mr. WILMORE: Right.

CHIDEYA: So how were you approached because you've worked on a show like "The Office," which is not a black show as well as on shows with predominantly African-American characters, how did they approach you about this role?

Mr. WILMORE: I actually approached them about it. I had - I decided to perform again. I've done stand-up years ago. And I just thought we needed to blacken it up a little bit, you know?

Chideya: Most definitely. So…

Mr. WILMORE: I just thought it might be a good idea and they actually were losing about two or three correspondents then, and they wanted to broaden the show themselves. They had just hired Aasif Mandvi, an Indian correspondent, and then - and John Olivers(ph) from England. So they're really looking to just shake it up a bit.

CHIDEYA: There was a really great sketch a while ago about the Democratic Party. They went to both political conventions and just…

Mr. WILMORE: Right.

CHIDEYA: …having like, we need one lesbian. We need one black person, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Do you get to be really playful with the idea of, I'm sure, being the black correspondent?

Mr. WILMORE: Oh, yeah. It's a lot of fun because - I mean, we used to make fun of it back "In the Living Color" where we would do jokes about - whenever there's a big riot or something happening on the black community where there's danger that's when you see the black correspondents, you know, or doing the weekend anchoring and that sort of thing. So the idea of the black correspondence was always a funny idea to me, you know.

CHIDEYA: So what do you watching right now, whether it's politics or culture?

Mr. WILMORE: Politics and culture I try to watch as much as I can, and I try to scan the channels, you know, and see what's going on. But I was a big "Sopranos" fan in terms of drama and I'm going to miss that a lot. I don't watch a lot of comedy, to be honest with you. I like to watch what's really happening out there, you know, and a lot of sports and things like that.

CHIDEYA: What issues are catching your fancy? There's, I mean, there's so much going on in politics. It's unbelievable.

Mr. WILMORE: It really is. We're really in a really interesting time right now. I think the presidential election is one of the big ones, though. I mean, think about it, Farai. This is the first time in almost, what, 50 years that we don't have an incumbent running that's either a vice president or president. You know, and it's completely wide open - a first viable woman candidate, historical; viable black candidate, historical.

You know, and the incumbent party is the weakest party right now, too. So it's really interesting. We could see a lot of history is being named in that last year. So I'm excited about being able to tackle this in a satirical way.

CHIDEYA: So Barack Obama is going to be on our show tomorrow. Do you go full bore at him or do you think out of a sense of racial loyalty that you should temper your jokes?

Mr. WILMORE: No. There's no racial loyalty in comedy as far as I could say. There's only comedy loyalty. I really respect Barack Obama. Well, I think he's amazing, but, you know, when there's - when you're doing satire, I don't think you can put kids' gloves on anybody, you know, for any special reasons, you know. I think you have to, you know, just go with the issues and what people - what's really going on out there and what's being - what the important thing to talk about, I think, is the most important point of view.

CHIDEYA: Just briefly, do you ever feel the weight of trying to inform people because "The Daily Show" is the only news, obviously - it's a comedy show -that a lot of people watch?

Mr. WILMORE: I know. Isn't that interesting? I think it's great. I give a lot of credit to that — to Jon Stewart himself. I mean, he's really a news junkie and that sort of thing. But the show's edict is really just to be funny and be as incisive as possible, and just, you know, pick up rocks that nobody's picking up and showing what's underneath it. I think it's the point of what the show is, really. That's - I think the informative part is really a by-product of it and so we don't set out to do that.

CHIDEYA: Well, you still have the ball to run with. And, Larry Wilmore, thank you so much for coming in.

Mr. WILMORE: Farai, you know, I really would love to be - in fact, I'm still going to drive over there and say hello if you're in there.

CHIDEYA: That's right. We'll be here. I can't wait to meet you.

Mr. WILMORE: Bye. Thanks a lot.

CHIDEYA: Thank you. Larry Wilmore is a producer, writer and comedian. He's currently the senior black correspondent - that's right, the senior black correspondent for Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: That's our show for today and thank you for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show or subscribe to our podcast, visit us at our Web site, nprnewsandnotes.org. That's no spaces - just nprnewsandnotes.org. Or to join the conversation, visit our blog, nprnewsandviews.org.

NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African American Public Radio Consortium.

Tomorrow, Illinois Senator Barack Obama discusses the race of his life.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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