A lot has happened in the nine months since Comedy Central unceremoniously canceled Larry Wilmore’s Nightly Show. And the veteran comedian and writer cannot wait to start sharing his opinions with the world again.
When Wilmore and I spoke last summer, just one day after he found out that he had lost his television platform, he said he would “definitely look for another opportunity” to do a late-night-style show. After co-creating HBO’s Insecure with Issa Rae and developing a slew of shows for ABC, Wilmore has decided to team up with Bill Simmons for a new podcast on The Ringer, titled, appropriately enough, Black on the Air.
“It’s something I’ve been mulling for a while and this just seemed like the right way to do it,” Wilmore tells The Daily Beast by phone from Los Angeles the day before his new show is set to premiere.
Moving from the crowded late-night world to the much more crowded podcast universe, Wilmore plans to do one longform interview each week — the first episode, out today, features Norman Lear; future guests include Bernie Sanders and Neil deGrasse Tyson — while also leaving some time for him express his unique perspective on the news. For everyone who has been missing his voice in the age of Trump, this is your chance to hear exactly how he feels.
Below is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.
How did this new podcast come together with Bill Simmons and The Ringer?
Well, it’s funny, after The Nightly Show went down I had many people ask me about doing different types of things and podcasts was one of the things that was brought up by several different entities. But I just didn’t feel like I was ready to do that yet. I wanted to take some time to think about what I wanted to do next. And I think in October, I did Bill Simmons’ [since-canceled] show Any Given Wednesday on HBO. I had a blast and we really hit it off. I don’t know if we talked about podcasts then, but I think I agreed to be on his podcast at that time. So then as I’m figuring things out, I end up doing a deal with ABC and creating shows, the kind of thing I’ve been doing for a while. But I still wanted to figure out a way to keep in touch with my audience and keep a presence out there, you know? It’s so amazing. I hear from people every day, where it’s like, “Larry, we need you, where’s your voice? We miss you,” and that type of thing. And people are so nice about it. And I feel like, man, The Nightly Show really struck a chord with a lot of people. So I thought, maybe I should do something like a podcast where I can keep that expression going. When I did Bill Maher’s show a couple of months ago, I got so much response from that that I thought, OK, maybe I should start doing this now.
I felt like for me, because I’m so busy, the kind of show I should do is talking to people. One of the missions of The Nightly Show was to have a conversation with America in a sense, and talk about the things that people didn’t want to talk about it. This is a little different, this is more of just my personality—talking to people I think are interesting, maybe in culture, maybe in politics, maybe in the arts, maybe in sports. But also having a dialogue with the audience. So maybe at the beginning of the podcast, I can weigh in on current events of the day, so I still get to have that outlet as well.
Obviously the interviews will be a major part of what you’re doing on the show, but what can we expect from the other part of the show? Will it be similar to the type of stuff you were doing on The Nightly Show?
It’ll be more casual. Because I don’t have the wherewithal to do something very produced. Like I can’t do an hour of produced comedy, I just don’t have the time. But I do have the time to share my thoughts on something and be more conversational about it. Especially if I have a point to make, which, these days, man, every day there seems to be something. That’s what’s been killing me too, it’s like every day there’s something! And what I like about podcasting is that you really are in conversation with people who are listening and it’s a different type of relationship than what the artifice of television is, where you’re putting on a show. So this is very cool, it’s a very cool feeling. I already interviewed Bernie Sanders and Norman Lear. The Bernie one will probably play in a couple of weeks. Norman I talked to on Monday. What I do is I’ll record the weigh-in part of it close to air so I can keep topical.
So should we expect to hear your thoughts about the firing of James Comey on the first show?
I’ll talk a little bit about that, yeah. I’m still figuring out how to do this, to be honest with you. I’m also introducing myself to people. There are a lot of people who don’t know who I am and are catching up and I’m kind of reintroducing myself and talking about what the podcast is. And then, you know, I talk a little bit about our favorite subject, the president. But I think I’ll figure out a way to do that most effectively as I do each one. That’s what I like about this format: it allows you to experiment a little bit. Plus I want to hear from people, too. I want people to tweet me if they have questions, if they want me to talk about certain things. They can say, “Hey, Larry, can you talk about this issue that nobody’s talking about?” I would be happy to do that kind of thing too. It was one of the things that I loved about The Nightly Show, too, is we tackled things that nobody was tackling in late-night. What I can’t do is, I can’t compete with the shows that are doing it every night and doing it on that regular basis, because this isn’t an as immediate thing to do.
Speaking of late-night, how do you think political comedy is doing so far under President Trump?
Well, I think he may have pushed us into a golden age of commentary. I mean, Stephen [Colbert] has certainly hit his stride on his show, I’m so happy to see that. [John] Oliver has always been irresistible with his take. And Sam Bee just came out of the box just firing blazing guns and I don’t think she’s going to be letting up at all. Trevor [Noah] has really found his stride at The Daily Show. He’s really got a nice loyal following over there. Even [Jimmy] Kimmel, I love what Kimmel’s doing. Oh man, when he talked about his kid, I get emotional just thinking about that. Jimmy’s so honest, that’s what I love about him. And he is who he is. He’s one of the few people who can talk about anything: sports, politics, entertainment, and you’re just on his side.
Yeah, what was so amazing about that speech is that he’s not seen as a very political person, so do you think that gave it an even bigger impact in a way?
It’s possible. But he was slammed for it, too. Some people said some really nasty things about him, which I really — for the life of me, I don’t how you can listen to that and make a nasty personal attack. I can see someone saying, look, I don’t think the guy should have said that or used that for political means. But to make nasty attacks, that’s the part I don’t understand. Politics today is like a United flight. I feel like the Constitution is the thing getting dragged off that plane right now; we’ve got to be careful about what we’re doing here.
It’s people’s right to do that. But first of all, I don’t understand it because he was bleeped when he said it, so I don’t get it at all. And the president has actually said much worse things and he became president. And Stephen has been more inappropriate on his previous show, so you’re kind of going after the wrong guy. But I think that’s going to blow over, to use a horrible term to describe it.
Since you brought up when you were on Bill Maher’s show, I have to ask about your reaction to Milo Yiannopoulos’ downfall so soon after you told him to “go fuck himself.”
He actually took my advice! [Laughs] I’m not the type of person to have a schadenfreude. I don’t take pleasure in anyone’s demise, really. But I think he just shouldn’t be in front of a couple of brothers telling us that we’re stupid. One of them is a CIA expert [Malcolm Nance] and the other is a former comedian who can hold his own with any type of heckling.
So you have Norman Lear, Bernie Sanders and Neil deGrasse Tyson coming up as guests. Do you plan to interview people who don’t have their own podcast as well?
Absolutely. I know, I’m only talking to other podcast people at this point. Once I exhaust all of that, then sky’s the limit, baby! Everybody has a podcast these days, what happened? What’s up with that? Matt, do you have a podcast?
Not yet, but you never know...
You should get one. I’m telling you, it’s the thing to do. But yeah, the type of people I’ll be talking to will hopefully be very varied, I guess you’d say.
Is there anyone on your wish list that you’d like to put out into the ether?
I would love to talk to the former president at some point—that would be great. I think that would be a really fun conversation. We could cover a lot of different subjects, not just politics, which would be interesting. And I would be very good. I would not refer to him as my… you can fill in the blank.