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JOE PALCA, host:

In the last election season, it took a lot chutzpah to refer to John McCain as the black candidate. But that's just what comedian Larry Wilmore did on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

(Soundbite of TV show "The Daily Show")

Mr. LARRY WILMORE (Senior Black Correspondent, "The Daily Show"; Author, "I'd Rather We Got Casinos and Other Black Thoughts"): McCain's been showing me some flavor lately.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILMORE: Jon, he's angry at the man…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILMORE: You know, thinks the media's out to get him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILMORE: Which of the candidates has been doing his job for 26 years, waiting to get a promotion, then some inexperienced, Harvard egghead comes in and snaps it up? Oh yeah, I think McCain's feeling pretty black right about now, Jon.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PALCA: Now, when they write his obit, it won't just say that Larry Wilmore was once senior black correspondent for "The Daily Show," or that he won an Emmy for the "Bernie Mac Show." Now, they can say he was an author. His first book is just out - "I'd Rather We Got Casinos: And Other Black Thoughts." It's filled with un-PC insights about black people, like why black people don't report UFO sightings, and why chocolate is a better racial term for African-Americans.

Today, we talk to him about black humor and all that that implies. If you want to talk with Larry Wilmore, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our Web site. Go to npr.org, and click on Talk of the Nation. Larry Wilmore joins us from the studios at NPR West. Welcome to the program.

Mr. WILMORE: Thank you, and it's good to know not only do I have chutzpah but someone's writing my obit. Thank you very much.

PALCA: Well, eventually…

(Soundbite of laughter)

PALCA: I can tell you, as a science correspondent some of the time from NPR, someday there will be an obit necessary.

Mr. WILMORE: I hope so.

PALCA: But, I hope it's not for the next 20 minutes, because otherwise we're in big trouble.

Mr. WILMORE: No, you'll be in a lot of trouble.

PALCA: I don't have any other guests lined up for this hour.

PALCA: So, OK. Has the climate changed for being a black correspondent for "The Daily Show," senior black correspondent?

Mr. WILMORE: Thank you. Yes, senior black correspondent.

PALCA: All right. Don't want to leave that out.

Mr. WILMORE: Don't want to leave that out. I don't know if the climate has changed. I mean, we just kind of see the news and make fun of it and keep going from there.

PALCA: So, OK. So, what's with the book? Why - you've got a lot of gigs going. I heard you describe that work on "The Bernie Mac Show" as a labor of love, you know, and worth the pain. But in the foreword to the book, you describe the book as a lot of pain, too. So, what's up with that?

Mr. WILMORE: It's all pain, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PALCA: Life is pain.

Mr. WILMORE: Yes, it is. Writing - it's like - it's a lot like childbirth, you know. Women describe it as very painful but then, somehow, something makes them forget that pain, and they have another one. But God bless them for it. You know, I enjoyed doing it. The book kind of came out organically kind about a year and a half ago, it just - the idea kind of popped into my head, and I thought it would be a fun thing write.

PALCA: I see. And - OK, so, how would you characterize - I mean, I hate these questions. You know, having a serious question...

Mr. WILMORE: Well, you should not ask them. Let's go to the other questions.

PALCA: Well, but the trouble is, how do you have a serious question from a comedian?

Mr. WILMORE: Want me to ask the questions?

PALCA: I mean, you want to say, OK, Larry Wilmore, why don't you say a few funny things, and I'll just sit here and laugh, you know?

Mr. WILMORE: There you go.

PALCA: But that's a little tricky.

Mr. WILMORE: Why don't you go to the bathroom for 10 minutes, and I'll just talk?

(Soundbite of laughter)

PALCA: OK, go. I'll be quiet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILMORE: (Laughing) OK.

PALCA: No, seriously. I mean, what are you doing here? I mean, is there a particular style? I mean, I was thinking back to some of the black comedians that I've listened to.

Mr. WILMORE: Yes.

PALCA: You know, and I was remembering Flip Wilson. You remember Flip Wilson?

Mr. WILMORE: Oh, yeah. He was one of my biggest influences.

PALCA: So, yeah - so, Flip Wilson - you were talking a lot about NAACP changing its name. And I remember an album I had of Flip Wilson where he says - you know, he was making fun of NAACP. And he said, they're going to go out and get - they're going to get equality for everybody but me.

Mr. WILMORE: Right.

PALCA: So, I mean, I felt there was something resonating there, so I'm glad I picked up on that or - if I did.

Mr. WILMORE: Yeah, well, in - the book is, like, a fake collection of op-eds that supposedly appeared in newspapers, excerpts from my supposed radio show, things like that - random black thoughts sprinkled throughout the book. And one of them is an essay that I had supposedly written where I was asking for African-Americans to change their names, because I just felt it was time to move on. And that we do - we change our name more than porn stars, we really do. It was like colored, Negro, black, afro - it was Afro-American. We actually named ourselves after a hairstyle.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILMORE: I mean, it really was insane. I was - you know, white people never called themselves beehive-Americans, you know. So, and Americans…

PALCA: Although, my father once wanted to describe the similar haircut on Jews an Isro, which I thought…

Mr. WILMORE: The Jewfro.

PALCA: The Jewfro, yeah, yeah, the Isro, right.

Mr. WILMORE: Very popular in Israel.

PALCA: Yeah. So - but you were saying, your father - I didn't mean to interrupt.

Mr. WILMORE: Oh, no, no, no, no. I was saying, then we were Americans of African…

PALCA: Yep. Oh, right.

Mr. WILMORE: Descent or whatever and then African-Americans. And I just thought, you know what? Why don't we just change it to chocolate, because who doesn't like chocolate? And in the book, not only do I suggest that, but then I have, like, these letters to the NAACP trying to convince them to do it as well.

PALCA: Right. Well, I thought the most convincing one is that they wouldn't have to change their stationery.

Mr. WILMORE: Exactly. They could keep it NAACP.

PALCA: Right. No, that's really excellent.

Mr. WILMORE: It is an overabundance of (unintelligible), is how I like to look at it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PALCA: An overabundance…

(Soundbite of laughter)

PALCA: Although, what it also brought to mind was - I think there was a Super Bowl commercial where there was this chocolate guy, and people kept biting arms off of him or something like that.

Mr. WILMORE: Well, we don't want that to happen.

PALCA: No, probably not.

Mr. WILMORE: If we are chocolate, we have to tell people not to bite unless given permission.

PALCA: Not to bite unless they're good friends.

Mr. WILMORE: Right. Correct.

PALCA: OK. Let's take a call now and go to Mike in Saratoga Springs, New York. Welcome to the program

MIKE (Caller): Hi. How are you today? I just - first of all, want to say I love your work on "The Daily Show."

Mr. WILMORE: Hey, thanks, man.

MIKE: And I guess my question could go more personal. I just want to know, were you the nerd? Were you the only black guy in a white school? Like, where did you find your comedy roots, and how did you develop them?

Mr. WILMORE: It's a very good question, although the nerd part, I'm not too sure about. I guess I was a nerd in some kind of ways. I was into science and magic and that kind of stuff - you know, in the drama club, and that kind of thing. But I was one of the few blacks in an all-white school in high school. And in grade school, it was mostly Latino and white. And so, I always kind of felt like I was at a family reunion but not quite in the family, you know. I've had kind of an outsider's point of view, I guess you could say. But I've always been attracted to this type of humor, kind of self-deprecating, kind of ironic- type stuff - Woody Allen's writing. One of my biggest influences for writing the book was Woody Allen's books, "Getting Even," "Without Feathers," that I read in high school and was really influenced by, so.

MIKE: Well, great. Well, keep up the great work.

PALCA: What - thank you. Appreciate it.

MIKE: Thank you.

PALCA: Thanks, Mike. What part of the country are you from?

Mr. WILMORE: I'm from Southern California. I grew up in a town called Pomona and…

PALCA: No kidding.

Mr. WILMORE: Yeah. And went to Catholic school.

PALCA: Yeah. No, I went to…

Mr. WILMORE: Do you know Pomona?

PALCA: Well, yes, un - well, fortunately, yes. I used to drive…

Mr. WILMORE: I heard the un.

PALCA: No, no, no. I - well, I used to drive down - there was a grocery store at the bottom of Indian Hill Highway, down south of the freeway. We used to go down there to get groceries in the middle of the night because I went to - dare I say it - Pomona College.

Mr. WILMORE: Yeah, it was a very good school.

PALCA: Yeah.

Mr. WILMORE: It was a great…

PALCA: Actually, Robin Williams was at Claremont Men's, I guess it was called at the time.

Mr. WILMORE: Yeah. Now it's Claremont McKenna.

PALCA: Yeah.

Mr. WILMORE: Yeah. This is real fascinating stuff, I'm sure, for your audience.

PALCA: Yeah. No, I'm - people are falling asleep all across America right now.

Mr. WILMORE: We're burning up the airwaves right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PALCA: All right. Let's hope that Jack from Marble Hill, Georgia, can help us out here. Welcome to the show, Jack.

JACK (Caller): And a good afternoon to you, sir.

PALCA: Thanks.

Mr. WILMORE: Hey. Hey, Jack.

JACK: OK, you ready for my question?

Mr. WILMORE: Oh, yeah.

PALCA: OK.

JACK: My question is, there's an awful lot of comedians - let's say, black comedians - that tell jokes, whether they're about blacks or about whites, and they're funny, and everyone laughs, and they think nothing of it.

Mr. WILMORE: Right.

JACK: But if a white dares to tell a joke about a black, all of a sudden, they become racists.

Mr. WILMORE: Right.

JACK: And I would like to understand the difference and why that is the way it is.

Mr. WILMORE: Well, you said, all of a sudden they become racists.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILMORE: I may differ with you. No, I'm just kidding. You know what it is? It's - I'll give you a way to easily understand it. It's the difference between women being able to make fun of men, and men being able to make fun of women. Women have traditionally been in the role of, you know, kind of being second-class citizens throughout history or, you know, even in abusive relationships or whatever. And women have more permission to make fun of men than men have of women. Men can do it. They have to do it very well to get away with it. And I've seen many white comics - and by the way, I'm making a huge generalization when I say that, I'm not comparing black people, you know, in that sense.

But it's that type of relationship when you're - kind of been the underclass making fun of the larger group, you know. And it's not just black and white. There are many relationships like that, you know, where certain people can make fun of the other side, you know, but it doesn't sound right going the other way. Whether or not that makes you racist, I think that part is probably a little more ridiculous. I just think sometimes it's just inappropriate because it's - you just have to be really good at it, I think. Like, I'll give you an example. Don Rickles was fantastic. He could make fun of everybody.

PALCA: Right.

Mr. WILMORE: It didn't matter. But he was really, really good at that, you know.

PALCA: So, yeah. So, how did he get away with it?

Mr. WILMORE: Because he did not care. He didn't care what people thought about what he did, and he was very good. He honed that act in some of the toughest nightclubs in front of some of the toughest audiences. And it was one of the reasons why he became so confrontational, because he had to. And he was really brilliant at those kind of quick, kind of witty assaults on different cultures and things.

PALCA: So, let me ask you. Do you know the movie "Blazing Saddles"?

Mr. WILMORE: Oh, absolutely.

PALCA: So, did Mel Brooks get away with that in his use of - and I'll just use the - well, you - the N-word, we'll say.

Mr. WILMORE: Well, Mel Brooks was - well, that was a different time, by the way.

PALCA: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WILMORE: And Mel Brooks was so over the top with a lot of his things. It was the - just the mere fact that he did those things was what was kind of funny about it, you know. And you had Cleavon Little, who was fantastic…

PALCA: Right.

Mr. WILMORE: In that too, you know.

PALCA: Right. OK.

Mr. WILMORE: I mean, look, Mel Brooks had…

PALCA: But - so it's like you can get away with it, but you have to be - could he get away with it today? Could he make "Blazing Saddles" today?

Mr. WILMORE: Mel Brooks got way with Hitler dancing on Broadway.

PALCA: That's true.

Mr. WILMORE: I mean, Hitler's responsible for the Holocaust, for goodness sake.

PALCA: That's true.

Mr. WILMORE: You know, so that's huge.

PALCA: He's pretty good. Yeah, he's pretty good.

Mr. WILMORE: He's pretty good.

PALCA: Yeah, he's pretty good. All right. Let's go to another call now and Andrew in Cleveland, Ohio. Welcome to the show.

ANDREW (Caller): It's funny, Joe, you just covered what I was about to ask about.

PALCA: All right. Well, thanks for calling.

Mr. WILMORE: Nice talking to you Andrew. See you later, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANDREW: I have something to share. First of all, I have a question and then a quick comment. Well, on "The Daily Show," I've always been curious - my wife and I are both curious - as to how much of your material Mr. Stewart is aware of before you sit down at the desk.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILMORE: That's a great question. Someone asked me that once before. Jon has no idea what I'm going to say. No, of course. Jon is very much involved in the conception of the piece. Usually, I'll pitch the idea or they'll run an idea by me, and I'll write it up, and we'll show it to Jon, and he'll have ideas. But right before air, Jon and I will go through it, and go through it line by line. And we actually rehearse it and everything. But usually when we do it on the air, it's the first time we're doing it like that. So, many times his surprise is genuine, because he hasn't really heard it in front of an audience yet.

PALCA: Well, Andrew, sorry to steal your question, but I guess this is a case of great minds think alike, right?

ANDREW: Well, yeah, Joe, and if I could just to share this, you know, I had kind of the mirror universe experience. I auditioned once for the Def Comedy Jam here in Cleveland and …

Mr. WILMORE: Oh, really?

ANDREW: And I was the only white man in the room who wasn't wait staff and (laughing).

PALCA: That's great. Welcome to my world of the '50s, right? But you know…

ANDREW: Oh, man, it was so hilarious. I opened up - my first joke, I stood up there and I said, wow, this must be what Custer felt like, and that was …

PALCA: I bet you killed, right?

ANDREW: Yeah, and that killed, and then I bombed for six minutes and 30 seconds.

Mr. WILMORE: That's too bad, but you know, there's a comic named Bill Burr. Have you ever seen Bill?

ANDREW: Yeah, I've seen Bill Burr.

Mr. WILMORE: Bill's really funny, and he does a whole routine about dating a black girl and taking the subway up to Harlem. And he's this white guy, and he does not care about how people think that - the fact that he might be afraid to do that. And it's the way that he does it that's really funny, because he expresses things that people might be thinking. But it's his lack of fear about expressing it that, to me, is really funny, you know, and very genuine, too.

ANDREW: It's a pleasure talking to you, sir. Thank you much, Joe.

Mr. WILMORE: No, my pleasure.

PALCA: Andrew, thanks for that. Let's go once now - I think we have one more, quick call, from Josh…

Mr. WILMORE: Quick call.

PALCA: From - quick call - South Carolina.

JOSH (Caller): Yeah, I just wanted to say thanks, because the way you make fun of blacks is the way me and my black friends do it. We just cut up, we recognize stereotypes because there's a lot of truth to them. That's why they're stereotypes.

Mr. WILMORE: Right.

JOSH: And I just wanted to know, where should I draw the line?

PALCA: Where to draw the line.

Mr. WILMORE: It's a great question. I say, when you're with your buddies, there shouldn't be a line, as far as I'm concerned, you know. It's your buddies. But if you're doing it in front of people professionally, in public, I say, it's always fair to make fun of yourself, but be careful if you make fun of other people. It's kind of the nappy-headed hos rule that Imus found out about. But hey, man, I say, if it's your buddies, you know, all bets are off. That's why you're buddies, you know.

JOSH: I want to give a shout-out to my friends Rick and Bubba.

Mr. WILMORE: All right, Bubba. Yeah.

PALCA: All right. Well, that was my next question. Is there any place that you won't go?

Mr. WILMORE: You know, I really don't think like that, to be honest with you. I certainly don't like making fun of, you know, people who, you know, are really down and out or sick or that kind of thing - you know, disease or, you know. It's fun to make fun of people who are in power. That's why politics is a lot of fun. And to me, it doesn't matter who's the president, you know. It's like whoever's in there, it's your chance to get it. So, that's kind of the rule.

PALCA: So, you think you'll have fun for four years?

Mr. WILMORE: Oh, absolutely, I can't look for - I can't wait, you know.

PALCA: Yeah, no, I've already seen you. You're on a roll; it's going to be good.

Mr. WILMORE: Thank you. I'm enjoying myself. And I really appreciate all the fans and people who watch. It really means a lot.

PALCA: Well, it's amazing stuff, and it's a great read. So, thanks for joining us today.

Mr. WILMORE: Thank you. It was my pleasure.

PALCA: Larry Wilmore is the senior black correspondent in "The Daily Show." His book is "I'd Rather We Got Casinos: And Other Black Thoughts." He joined us from NPR West in Culver City, California. Thanks very much. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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