20 Things You Didn’t Know about Larry Wilmore

2014 Summer TCA Tour - Day 8Larry Wilmore is the host of The Nightly Show on Comedy Central. During his more than 25 years of work in the TV industry, he has been a comedian, writer, actor and producer. He earned a Peabody Award in 2001 and an Emmy “Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series” in 2002 for his creative input on The Bernie Mac Show.

Wilmore is an intelligent, creative, sometimes quirky, but almost always outspoken man with a viewpoint on most everything. He can be controversial, with meaningful conversations with people who come from all manner of professions, social positions and political leanings. He is a humanitarian who sees the bizarre in people and enjoys not only keeping people laughing, but often thinking at the same time. He likes to talk about what he views as the authentic truth. He also doesn’t mind telling stories about himself and his experiences while he includes his audience in on the joke.

Here are twenty things about the man who’s not afraid to discuss racism, religion, sexuality, politics…and just about everything else.

1. Larry started his career as a stand-up comic and an actor.

He said that he wasn’t sufficiently “urban” to be accepted by Hollywood as a comic. He studied acting in school, but he said that Hollywood wasn’t hiring “his kind of thing” at the time when he first started looking for work. He said Hollywood expected black comics to be “from the ghetto” and his style of comedy just didn’t fit those expectations. He forged ahead with his career anyway, and made his own success with his takes on the absurdity of racism and other social issues. He is often part of discussions which utilize his excellent intellectual talents and gritty humor.

2. He doesn’t watch his own shows.

He says he goes home at the end of the night he cannot watch his shows. He says he can’t watch himself because he is too self-conscious. He says the first thing he thinks is “God! My head is fat!”.

3. He says his book “I’d Rather We Got Casinos: And Other Black Thoughts” is a fake collection of things.

The book’s contents are supposed to be as if he wrote his thoughts over the years. There are essays about all sorts of things, supposedly collected from his ideas as he wrote over time and someone collected them and put them into a book. But he says that the essays are not actually chronological. He noted that his essay “Bring Back the Shetland Negro” was not a factual essay, but rather, a satirical essay about the smaller, cute, black stars which “America Loves”. His theory is that America was at its happiest when these cute stars were on TV and was “unhappy when the Shetland Negros went away”.

4. Larry was more than surprised that his show would take over Stephen Colbert’s time slot.

Speculation continued for about a month about who would get the slot. He says he “wasn’t on anybody’s radar screen” and “No one was thinkin’ about me.” He had previously done a talk show format special where he led a panel discussion. He thought “the window was closed” for something like that. Having the opportunity to do the show came at the same time he was filming “Blackish”, and he was very surprised that things turned out as they did.

5. Moderating for his show is very difficult for him.

He says it’s the hardest part to get used to. He finds that the shift from comedy monologue to moderating the interview portion is difficult. He says “It makes your brain explode.” He notes that the amount of work to prepare for the different topics, you must be informed, you must facilitate the conversation and keep it entertaining. He says, “It’s very intimidating.” He may not even know until the day before a show what the topic will be.

6. The role of sticking up for the underdog is the main theme of his show.

He says he is fascinated with the idea of how big the topic of class is, and he enjoys talking about things that cross over ideological lines. He also finds that diversity of ideas and experiences which are contrasting are fun to discuss. One of his favorite contrasts is between old and young, and he loves having conversations about everything the term diversity covers.

7. He has no limits for hot button topics.

He said that he doesn’t think there are any limits. He would tend to avoid very sad or tragic discussions because those are not as suitable to a comedy show, though he might discuss these things briefly due to their importance. Hot topics are exactly what he wants on the show. One of the things he loves is when things are taken to the absurd level. He enjoys absurdity.

8. There is always something he would have done differently.

He wants to be clear that he often finishes a show and the first thing he does is think of something else he should have asked or said. When asked specifically about his extremely controversial vaccine show, he said that his own son has Asbergers on the autism spectrum, but his son has been vaccinated. He felt that he also didn’t want to risk having his son die from a disease. He was surprised that protecting someone from disease would turn out to be such a divisive topic. The huge amount of misunderstanding, misinformation and emotion that exists made this a topic which he wanted to discuss even more. The topic was revisited on a second show about it. He often takes on topics which he could discuss for hours, even though he only has a half hour show. The best of the discussion is what is aired on the show.

9. The year he won the Emmy for writing for the Bernie Mac Show was filled with complete surprises for him.

It meant a lot to him at the time, because he was having so many fights with the network. He had just won many awards for his work, but eight months later he was also fired from the Bernie Mac Show. But he says he learned how to “bet on himself”. He said that being fired from the show was what helped him to reinvent himself. This propelled him toward the things he needed for his own show. He views that experience and time as completely transformative. He says he was very proud of his work, and then was punished for it at the same time. It was one of the biggest transitions of his lifetime.

10. He enjoys and hates writing at the same time.

He thinks of himself as a writer first. He likes the process of writing a lot. He also enjoys the process of producing because he likes putting the various pieces of a product together. He also thinks there is nothing as fun as performing, even though it is risky and difficult to do it all the time. He says writing is the hardest, and producing is the most fulfilling overall. He enjoys writing, but writes because he has a deadline. If he didn’t have those, he says he might never get anything done.

11. He said he wasn’t born into a world of black and white; he was born into a world of colored and whites only.

He had just celebrated his 51st birthday, and had been invited to speak about race and diversity at the Chicago Humanities Festival, just before President Obama was elected for his second term. He said that he remembered a time when it wasn’t even possible for a quarterback to be black. But, he noted that racism has changed vastly since he was born in Chicago in 1961. In those days, he noted that not only were laws racist, but people were racist, and that was an amazing revelation to him. When Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, he became aware of his race for the first time.

12. He says people always ask him if he is “mixed with something”.

He says he always tells people that if he was a beer, he would be a lite Negro. He also jokes that compared to the regular Negro, he is less angry by one third. He says “if we had Racebook instead of Facebook” he “could just say it’s complicated”. He was always fascinated with the idea that a little bit of black would make someone contaminated. He realizes that people are always fascinated with “what’s inside you”, and really interested in identity, and that’s why he discusses it.

13. He walked off the stage only once in his life.

He says about that one show in South Carolina, that he was doing a stand-up comic show where a heckler slung out the “N word” at him. He realized that as a professional comic, part of his job was to slam a heckler. But he realized that he couldn’t make a joke about what the heckler called him. He looked at the audience, apologized, and walked off the stage for the only time in his life.

His called his first stand-up comedy routine “Black Away”. He created it because people always told him that he “didn’t talk Black”. He was confused by it, because he was talking and he was black. So one of his first routines was about Black Away. He said it was a mythical substance put into the mouth which took all the “heavy Black accent” away.

14. He tends to distrust all politicians.

He says that is his starting position. He never gives politicians money. He believes it’s their job to convince him to vote for them, not the other way around.

15. He calls himself a passionate centrist.

Politically, he believes in the idea of a third party in the United States. He is hopeful that someone will be able to make this happen. He tends to fall more toward Independent in terms of his political leanings.

16. His entire family is from Illinois, but he never lived there.

He says that “all his peeps” are from Chicago. Wilmore’s family is from the suburban suburb of Evanston, Chicago. He is a native of Los Angeles, California and grew up in Pomona, an Inland Valley town east of Los Angeles. His family is Roman Catholic, and he graduated from the Catholic Damien High School, located in La Verne, which is adjacent to Pomona. He studied classical theater and Shakespeare at the prestigious California State Polytechnic University, on the Pomona campus.

17. He feels that he learned everything about having to write under pressure for the show In Living Color.

He had to have five new ideas every Monday morning, at first. Later, it became pitching new ideas every day. He also said he was worried about getting fired all the time.

18. Wilmore asked for a “racist timeout” after the Trayvon Martin shooting.

He discussed the issue with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. He presented the legal points of the event, but the April 4, 2012 show included a gallows humor take on the tragedy. Wilmore asked people to avoid holding racist viewpoints for at least five minutes, and presented absurd clips of bad behavior following the tragedy.

19. He said the “N word” about 50 times in a row to a public official once.

He was trying to make a point with the public official, and he used the word to show that it can become meaningless when repeated. He says this bit of information never made the news. But, the official’s face and reaction was absolutely something to see.

20. He held a roundtable discussion over pie at a diner with local Baltimore gangs.

When Baltimore erupted in protests, he devoted one of his shows to meeting with the Crips, the Bloods and families of Black Guerilla to talk about their efforts to resolve the conflicts in Baltimore. He wanted to know how these gang members felt about justice and peace in their neighborhoods. He also wanted to present media coverage which went straight to what he viewed as the truth told by those struggling with the violence.

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