Black Voices Matter, in late night political comedy as in serious news commentary, documentary reporting and history.
Larry Wilmore, in his nearly year long stint as hosting “The Nightly Show” in the unenviable post-“Daily Show” slot once held by Stephen Colbert developed into one of the sharpest political satirists of the era, keeping a wry eye on the increasing craziness of the political process (the election process was called “The Unblackening” of the White House) and other daily outrages in a monologue that topped any in late night, minute for minute, in hitting what needed to be hit that day squarely and solidly.
With Wilmore came that kind of moral outrage that often accompanied Jon Stewart’s most memorable screeds — something missing in “Daily Show” replacement Trevor Noah — who, though I mostly like in his similarly unenviable job of replacing Stewart, mostly seems more bemused as a transplanted South African than outraged as an American watching craziness arise in his country all around him.
Wilmore also presided over a nightly roundtable that sometimes suffered when his house comics tried to outdo one another with jokes. But Wilmore, like Bill Maher, always seemed motivated by really wanting to know what his guests thought about issues that arose, hoping for some thread of enlightenment from the airing rather than some easy punchline.
He may have been undone, though, by the middle portion of his show, when his uneven cast portrayed various characters, imagined or real, in half-baked sketches. There was a pretty good Trump impersonator in the mix, and a couple of standouts, but overall, there were limitations to having comedians portray subjects in the news rather than correspondents (“The Daily Show” formula was the winning approach — have the cast portray only fake reporters, even when they interviewed real people in the news).
With Wilmore on hand as straight man, it still got so bad you were tempted to turn the channel and move on.
That’s what Comedy Central decided to do abruptly in a big way this week, announcing “The Nightly Show” was over, even amid the rich period of political excess. Its last broadcast will be Thursday. In its place will be “@midnight,” the show where punch lines and dick jokes are the prime goal.
Besides being the only black host in late night, Wilmore was also in another disfavored demographic: Being over 50.
Rather than taking advantage of his wisdom and ability to advance serious thought with the aid of well honed comedic timing, Comedy Central went with the kind of thing its young people like in almost all of the rest of its programming: Dick jokes.
Farewell, Larry Wilmore. Hope you don’t go too far and will be invited often to give your sharp point of view elsewhere.