Larry Wilmore: Trump ‘Was a Lock’ Before the Coronavirus
On this week’s episode of “The Last Laugh” podcast, Larry Wilmore breaks down Trump vs. Biden, shares behind-the-scenes stories from “The Daily Show,” “The Office” and more.
Larry Wilmore knew Donald Trump was going to win the 2016 election from the very beginning.
“I did not like that prediction,” he tells me on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast. When it actually happened, he adds, “I was still surprised, but not shocked. Most of the people I know were shocked.”
Four years after Comedy Central canceled The Nightly Show, Wilmore’s unique perspective is still sorely missing on late-night TV. He says his show probably would have been “on the ground floor” when it came to covering how the coronavirus is disproportionately affecting not just the African-American community but the “underserved” more broadly. “We would have taken that angle very early on, I’m sure,” he says, adding that his days hosting that show feel like “another lifetime ago.”
In the time since, he’s started his own podcast, cheekily titled Black on the Air, and helped launch scripted shows like HBO’s Insecure and ABC’s Grown-ish. The coronavirus pandemic has given him ample time to stay in and start developing new projects for NBC Universal, where he landed an overall deal last year.
“In the beginning, I feel like a lot of people were like, ‘So this lockdown, is this going to be like a week and a half?’” he jokes over Zoom from his house in Los Angeles. “It felt like it had an expiration date at first and then it became, no, there’s no set time.”
Wilmore has been trying to cut down on his cable news consumption—“You can only take so much of that,” he says wearily—but remains just as engaged in the 2020 election as he was when he was telling jokes about the 2016 race every night on his show.
“For me, I just want Trump gone,” he says. “I’m a very simple creature. This is one of the rare times I’m voting against someone. I rarely do that.” He worries that, like John Kerry in 2004, Joe Biden is running a “cynical campaign” that’s only about ousting Trump and not about making a positive case from himself. “The incumbent always has an advantage,” he adds. “Before [the coronavirus], Trump was a lock, as far as I was concerned, only based on the economy.”
Oddly, the pandemic has given Wilmore a glimmer of hope when it comes to the future of American politics. But he’s not holding his breath. “We always seem to get what we deserve, unfortunately,” he says with a laugh.
Highlights from our conversation are below and you can listen to the whole thing right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Should cable news broadcast Trump’s daily press briefings?
“Yes, we should be hearing what’s going on, but we have the worst person doing it. He tells the same story every day and gives himself a pat on the back, which is so annoying. I wish he had just handed it off to Pence and really gotten out of the way. Because I really think right now, we need calm, sober leadership. Whether you agree or disagree with that person is so irrelevant. And the times when Trump has been more measured, he’s been more effective. For the sake of the situation we’re in, he really should try to do that as much as possible. I know it’s impossible. It’s like trying to tell your cat to stop playing with that ball of yarn.”
How the coronavirus made Joe Biden ‘invisible’
“Nobody cares about Joe Biden. He’s not on the radar screen. I don’t even think he knows he’s running right now. Biden seemed just dead in the water. Remember the Democratic Party was scrambling, going, ‘What do we do? We like Bernie, but we were just kind of kidding. We like him as friends, we don’t want to date him.’ And then for Biden to make that comeback… Remember all those gaffes he was making and they were trying to reduce the number of times he was speaking in public? COVID kind of took care of that! It took him off the map. Whether that’s going to help him or not, I have no idea. People close to me who think like I do, they all say, ‘I think Trump’s going to win.’ Because Biden feels invisible right now.”
How he became Senior Black Correspondent on ‘The Daily Show’
“We were trying to figure out, what should be my point of view? And someone said, ‘Maybe you should be a black Republican, that could be funny.’ Then someone suggested that I could just be the Senior Black Correspondent, which was very funny. Jon [Stewart] could never quite see things from the black point of view, and that was funnier. And so we were going to write two pieces and record them and see how it went. I remember being very nervous. And the rehearsal for it did not go well. So I was going out there [on the show] and I think the feeling was like, this guy will be OK, but we won’t see him again. Before I started, Jon looked at me during the commercial and he said, ‘Hey man, just look in the camera and just fucking give it to America.’ I was so happy he said that. How nice is that? It’s exactly what I wanted to hear. And it really relaxed me. And it crushed. I mean, it killed. I’ll never forget that.”
On dropping the ‘n-word’ at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner
“When I did that, ‘You did it, my nigga, you did it,’ at the end, [Obama] could not have been nicer. Because the whole experience was surreal. I’m doing these jokes and it’s not going well in the audience. Some of the tone didn’t come out quite the way I intended. By the time I got to that last part, I was still thinking, should I do this part or not? Robin Thede, who was helping me put that together, she was like, ‘You absolutely have to do it.’ And it was one of the first things I thought of when I was going to do it. But even up to the last minute, I thought of changing it to, ‘You did it, my brother.’ It would have been fine, but it would have been different. And I knew the significance of saying that. Because I was not doing well, I just said, fuck this, man, I’m just gonna do this line. I don’t care about these people. So I almost did it defiantly.”