“We will call you out on your shit.” “We will keep it 100 percent real.” “It’s going to be real versus real.”
These aren’t the words you might expect to hear from the host of new late-night comedy show to describe his television program just days before the premier. Instead, you might expect more run-of-the-mill boasts like “the show will be hilarious” or “it’s going to be wall-to-wall funny.”
But Larry Wilmore, the host of Comedy Central’s "The Nightly Show," which will debut Monday at 11:30 PM, is not your run-of-the-mill host. And if the billing of his show is any indication, “The Nightly Show” will truly be unlike any other nightly late night comedy show on television today.
Now, just so it’s clear, the show is a comedy program. And being funny is a priority.
In fact, when I asked the show’s executive producer, Rory Albanese, whom I’ve known for years, if he would be comfortable if I wrote an article titled “the show that doesn’t care about laughs,” I thought he was going to hit me. Keeping it real and keeping it funny are not mutually exclusive concepts. They are just not things we see that often on TV apart from places like “The Daily Show” and the best of the sketches on “Saturday Night Live.”
Wilmore described his new show’s sensibility being as “if The Daily Show and Politically Incorrect had a baby.” In some ways that statement is accurate, but in one great way, it's not.
The similarities are that Wilmore’s show will open with a scripted comedy segment akin to what we see on “The Daily Show,” where Wilmore has served as the “senior black correspondent” since 2006. The next two acts will feature a panel of newsmakers, comedians, elected officials, etc., in the vein of the former ABC show “Politically Incorrect.” But the big difference is that the host of “Politically Incorrect” was Bill Maher, a smug dick of a guy both on and off camera. Thankfully, Wilmore is the exact opposite.
So what exactly is this “realness” Wilmore keeps talking about? Well, he wants the humor to come out of smart, provocative conversations on issues of the day. The panel will not feature C-level reality show stars telling canned jokes or comedians doing routines from their act. In fact, the guests for the show’s premier, Democratic Senator Corey Booker, rapper Talib Kweli and the very smart comedian Bill Burr, give you a sense of the what the show aspires to be: funny, intelligent, and compelling.
I bet some are asking” will the panels really be funny if the focus is keeping the conversation brutally honest? I can give you a little insight based on first-hand experience.
About a month ago, I was part of one the show’s test panels with two other comedians discussing the issues of the day with Wilmore. Interestingly, Wilmore told us before we started the discussion: “No jokes from your act, keep it a real conversation and the humor will flow organically from that.”
Well, Wilmore was right. We did have a provocative conversation about issues from police brutality to anti-Muslim bigotry to Bill Cosby that was both very real and often very funny.
The realness of the show is not just represented by its content, but also by the voices it will feature. Our nation’s demographics are changing quickly, yet still, with few exceptions, that is not represented by the faces we see on television. (In fact, Wilmore is currently the only black host on late-night TV.) The rationale behind creating “The Nightly Show” was to remedy this very issue.
As Wilmore explained, one day while working at “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart called him in to his office and shared his idea of creating a new show that would feature the voices that are not heard regularly in mainstream media. Larry responded, “Yeah, great idea.” Stewart then added; “And I want you to host it.” Wilmore said he was stunned for a moment, but then responded, “Yeah, great idea.”
Will the show find an audience? After all, it's filling the time slot of very popular "The Colbert Report" and invariably comparisons by both viewers and the media will be made.
And in 2008, the Comedy Central audience did not take to David Allen Grier’s “The Chocolate News” – a look at the news in a comedic way from the black point of view. That show lasted only three months. While “The Nighty Show” has a different format and is far from being focused solely on the African American experience, some viewers could dismiss it in the same way they did “Chocolate News.”
But what "The Nightly Show" has going for that gives it a real shot is Wilmore. Albanese described Wilmore as “comedy Jedi.” Now, if I had not spent time on a test panel with Wilmore hosting, I could dismiss that claim as a producer puffery. But it’s not.
I can’t tell you if “The Nightly Show” will be hit. But I can say that it’s a show I look forward to watching because it will likely make me smarter while also making me laugh.