A MARTINEZ, HOST:
Syndicated radio host Lenard McKelvey, who is better known as Charlamagne tha God, debuts a new show on TV tonight. It's called "Tha God's Honest Truth." The provocateur told NPR TV critic Eric Deggans that he expects to reveal a side of himself that's more complex than fans may expect.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: This is an odd thing to hear from a guy who once called himself the architect of aggravation and the ruler of rubbing you the wrong way. But now that Lenard "Charlamagne" McKelvey is about to debut his new show on Comedy Central, the guy who once embraced being called a hip-hop version of Howard Stern says he's mellower now, wary of becoming a caricature of himself.
CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: You know, the hip-hop Howard Stern thing was one of the things that really did get me caught up in a caricature of myself. And you start, you know, giving them more of that. That's not authentic. It's not real. But it's easy to get caught up in that character when you see it working.
DEGGANS: That image has brought a lot of attention to Charlamagne and co-hosts DJ Envy and Angela Yee on the nationally syndicated radio show "The Breakfast Club." Charlamagne in particular is known for in-your-face interviews and conflicts, calling rap star Drake, quote, "a pretty albino girl" and asking rapper Tekashi69 if he was a registered sex offender. And when politicians came on the radio show seeking to reach Black listeners, he had this moment with then-presidential candidate Joe Biden.
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CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: It's a long way until November. We got more questions.
JOE BIDEN: You got more questions? But I tell you if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't Black.
DEGGANS: That quote sparked a lot of criticism of Biden, but it helped establish Charlamagne as an interviewer who could get past politicians' talking points. On the Comedy Central show, Charlamagne says he'll offer deep-dive interviews, aiming for honest conversation in an unapologetically Black space.
CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: You know, there's definitely two Americas. I don't know if that's being presented on television the way that it needs to be. Man, I'm just tackling what it is we're going through, you know, as Black people in this country, but, you know, also letting people know that this affects us all as a whole.
DEGGANS: He's getting help from a surprising source - executive producer Stephen Colbert, host of CBS' "The Late Show" and former host of his own Comedy Central show "The Colbert Report." Charlamagne bonded with Colbert during several appearances on "The Late Show," including a moment when he listed all the things Black folks might lose under Donald Trump, including Obamacare.
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CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Of course he dislikes Obamacare. It's a combo of the two things he hates the most - Obama and caring.
DEGGANS: Comedy Central is positioning this as something of a homecoming for Colbert, with promotional ads featuring Colbert and Charlamagne talking on a road trip.
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STEPHEN COLBERT: Can you ever really go home again? Or do you have to build your own home? What can one person do?
CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Well, you can start by executive producing my new show.
COLBERT: Were you sitting there the whole time?
CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: Yep.
DEGGANS: Charlamagne says Colbert's very involved as an executive producer, convincing him to drop plans early on to develop the program more as a "Daily Show"-style news satire.
CHARLAMAGNE THA GOD: He said, when I launched "The Colbert Report" - he said, I was, like, the millionth white man with a talk show, so I had to do something to cut through. He said, you don't have to do that. People know you, and they come to you for your opinions, so all you have to do is just be.
DEGGANS: There a few non-white hosts already leading talk shows in late night, including Trevor Noah on "The Daily Show," Amber Ruffin on Peacock and Desus and Mero and Ziwe on Showtime.
But at a time when the hosts of the biggest shows are still middle-aged white guys named James, Jimmy, Seth and, yes, Stephen, there might be no better time for an audacious, unapologetically Black host who's ready for a wider platform.
I'm Eric Deggans.
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