'The Nightly Show' Is Over But Larry Wilmore's Future Isn't
The end of The Nightly Show speaks to the changing late night landscape of TV, as well as the expectations placed upon host Larry Wilmore after replacing Stephen Colbert's The Colbert Report (and Jon Stewart's departure from The Daily Show).
"One of the missions of the show when we started was to be an answer to The Daily Show and focus on race, class and gender," Wilmore said during an AMA earlier this year. "It's really those three things, though it seems like a lot of talk on race. It's one of the ways we were distinguishing ourselves from The Daily Show."
As a black host that came to prominence as The Daily Show's "Senior Black Correspondent," it's inevitable that race served as a topic of discussion on The Nightly Show. Whether that was a part of the reason the show was cancelled or not, Wilmore (and his team) experimented with the late night TV show platform, and offered a perspective that's often underrepresented.
He, along with The Daily Show host Trevor Noah (and even Jessica Williams who left The Daily Show to focus on a project of her own with Comedy Central) have shown not only the importance of representation on TV, but that black people can and should be in positions such as these.
This is all to say that Wilmore's future may be even brighter than it was before.
When you view Wilmore's contributions to television, he's always seemed to have his touch on a number of projects and series we may not have even been aware of. In Loving Color; Sister,Sister;The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; The Jamie Foxx Show; The Bernie Mac Show; and, more recently, Black-ish, as well as Issa Rae's forthcoming HBO comedy Insecure.
Also, Wilmore wasn't afraid to challenge himself and his audiences, whether he be taping an episode of The Nightly Show or serving as the headliner at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. Back in May, Wilmore came under fire for using the word "nigga" to refer to President Obama, with the divisive statement leading to a revived debate around the phrase and its use.
"It was at the point where I wanted to make a statement more than a joke. I didn't view that portion as a joke. And I really wanted to explain the historical implications of the Obama presidency from my point of view. I'm the same age as the president. We graduated from high school at the same time. And a lot of people don't have awareness of how racism exists to the people who are being affected by it. They just see things like the Civil Rights Act, you know? Slavery and events like that, but they don't have the experience of it."
"In my time, I experienced a black man not being able to be the quarterback of a football team. People thought there was a problem with that. And to see this man as leader of the free world meant something that words couldn't put into justice. And when I think of the hundreds and hundreds of years of a particular word being used against us, to take away our identity and now to turn that around on its head, something that's normally done in private, I acknowledge, and to make it public, was I thought, you know, a statement."
Wilmore was aware that the comment would be controversial and was prepared to take the fallout from it. But as divisive as it was he used the opportunity to comment on a reality that a lot of people in America are still scared to talk about, explicitly addressing that through the use of one word.
To be able to tread that line between commentary and humor and take certain risks — that's why we admire Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and Richard Pryorso much. These black comedians used their platform to voice a perspective that needed to be heard, offering their own takes on the black American experience in their own humorous way. Not every joke they told resonated, but that doesn't undermine the importance of them, because they each served a purpose.
"Do not confuse cancellation with failure," Jon Stewart told Wilmore during the final episode of The Nightly Show. "What you, my friend, were tasked to do, you have done and done beautifully. You gave voice to underserved voices in the media arena and you did it — it was a show that was raw and poignant and funny and smart and all those things. You took something and got better every fucking day."
Wilmore has nothing to worry about. What this cancellation should be seen is as this: a black man being placed in this position that has been primarily held by white men, and learning how to make it his own. To redefine something on your own terms can be just as daunting as it is liberating and, at the very least, we were able to witness Wilmore gradually transform the show into what he wanted with the time he was given.
In his departure, we should note a reminder of the challenges black people face in not only bringing their projects to life but keeping them alive. Wilmore will be alright — he knows so much more now than when he started The Nightly Show — and can hopefully apply that towards his next endeavor in the future.
We'll be waiting for you no matter what, Wilmore.