MEA CULPA

Larry Wilmore Apologizes to Otto Warmbier’s Family

A clip of the comedian ridiculing the young man for getting captured in North Korea a year ago resurfaced after his death this week.

Larry Wilmore typically opens his new podcast Black on the Air by reviewing the biggest stories of the week. On Thursday’s episode, he found himself at the center of the one of those stories.

This week, after 22-year-old American student Otto Warmbier died upon release from a North Korean labor camp, a year-old segment from Wilmore’s since-defunct Nightly Show started to make the rounds. In the clip, which has been removed from Comedy Central’s website, Wilmore described Warmbier as an ignorant “frat bro” who never should been in North Korea in the first place.

An article in Salon that covered Wilmore’s segment with the headline, "This might be America’s biggest idiot frat boy: Meet the UVa student who thought he could pull a prank in North Korea," has also been taken down.

“Listen, Otto Von Crybaby, if you're so anxious to go to a country with an unpredictable megalomaniac in charge, just wait a year and you'll live in one!” Wilmore said on his show, predicting a Trump victory. “It's coming, you guys! You know that shit is coming! Make America Great!”

Speaking about the segment on his podcast today, Wilmore said he intended it to be a “cautionary tale” for anyone who would think that they could get away with pulling a “college prank” in an “authoritarian regime” like North Korea.

It’s a point that he reiterated after Warmbier’s death, calling on the whole world to “unite and stop going to North Korea.” As much as he opposes all things Trump, Wilmore said if the president takes a stand to isolate North Korea, he will “fully support” it.

“I just wanted to say, and to say very clearly and directly, that, especially in light of these events, I want to express my sincere condolences to the Warmbier family,” Wilmore said. “They lost a kid. I would never hold the importance of the meaning of a satirical comedy show against the life of a kid.”

As a parent himself, Wilmore acknowledged that “the worst thing that can happen to you is losing a child.” And as an American, The Ringer podcast host says he shares the “moral outrage” of a fellow American being mistreated by a “hostile, authoritarian regime led by someone who is one of the epitomes of evil in today’s world.”

As Wilmore referenced, his piece on Warmbier was featured on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show this week. Carlson used Wilmore’s words to suggest that people on “the Left” felt Warmbier “deserved to be arrested because he was a white male.” After playing the clip, he added, “That guy’s show got canceled, thank god.”

Responding to the backlash from figures like Carlson, Wilmore also said he finds it “unfortunate” that he has been labeled as “evil” or “disgusting” for the piece he did about Warmbier when he was captured.

“When I do comedy, I go after issues, things that can be very divisive,” he said. “I get called names all the time. I really accept that. It’s part of the big boy pants that you have to have.”

But that being said, he told the Warmbier family, “I would never try to defend doing this comedy show against the loss of your child. To Fred and Cindy Warmbier, I humbly apologize that the words on those shows may have diminished the value in people’s eyes of what your son certainly meant to you,” said Wilmore.

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“At the end of the day, I could care less about a stupid comedy show.”