Larry’s Show Mattered

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This cancelation has hit the Screen Scholars’ staff especially hard, and we’re trying to deal with the first Monday without it by (a) pretending that it’s one of their seven or so yearly vacations, and (b) writing about it. There are not many programs that were doing as important work as The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, and when at the top of its game, few were funnier. Here’s our editors’ thoughts the day after The Nightly Show‘s clock hit permanent midnight.

Katherine M. Hill

I loved a show by Larry Willmore.
It died, it died.
The network pulled the plug.
They lie, they lie!
Why oh why is my favorite show dead?
We all know the network’s racism and indifference killed it instead.

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Our Katherine M. channels her inner Lisa S.!

On Monday, Larry said, “I’m ready to announce that America is woke,” following his panel’s discussion about Donald Trump. I wish Larry were right, because if America was woke, if it were woke AF, then Comedy Central would have supported The Nightly Show instead of canceling it.

I depended on Larry and his staff to prevent me from slipping from depression to complacency. I counted on Larry to keep the populace accountable as this nation considers backsliding into disaster, and instead, the show has been ripped from my tender clutches. What, am I supposed to count on a white British man, instead? No one’s humor can cure the pain like Larry’s. I pray I can recover.

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Jason Thurston

What’s gone viral (how about that) from The Nightly Show’s final show is Jon Stewart’s sweet, if inevitable, sendoff. However, the best cut from last night’s episode was not that moment, nor was it the story of a censored moment with a dolphin, nor even his veiled thumbing off of TV neighbor and essentially its prequel over its non-alcoholic pastry gift basket.

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In his closing speech, Wilmore answered his most frequent pre-show inquiry: “Why is your map upside down,” by directly disagreeing with the premise. “As a culture, we’ve all agreed with the opinion that the world should be seen in a certain way. So at TNS our chief mission was to disagree with that premise and to see the world in a way that may not make everybody comfortable and to do it with a cast of people who don’t always have a voice in that”

Without saying it outright, Wilmore displays why it was downright un-American that Comedy Central pulled the plug so quickly on the only current comedy show with a predominantly POC cast and viewpoint, particularly as we face a historic election. Even more so, it’s depressing to see The Nightly Show dropped at a time of the continued crisis of African-Americans getting shot by the police. When the Black Lives Matter movement is portrayed as if they are some sort of violent front, while people who should know better — from aging hardcore rockers to my dad —  are tossing off “all lives matter,” we, as a country, need Wilmore’s level head and his correspondents sharp and funny digs to fight for the right to strong protest. Plus, The Nightly Show was a mainstream platform and safe space for Deray Mckesson, BLM’s brightest and most charismatic face.  

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Wilmore patterned the show after programs like MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry (another show whose cord was cut way prematurely – coincidence?), taking on topics deeper than the horserace. It was a home for dark comedy (as Wilmore said “the darkest team he’s ever worked with” in many definitions of the term), but with a biting edge where the commentary lingered after the laughter faded away. Sure, Samantha Bee and John Oliver are expanding minds weekly, but theirs can never be quite the same perspective, plus they aren’t going into battle daily.

And that’s as clumsy a segue as any into one of the most galling things about the cancellation — that in many ways, it was not helped, and in fact hurt, by its long-running lead-in The Daily Show. Between the half-hearted gift and Trevor Noah’s backhanded tribute of calling Wilmore his “colleague” (and even that was qualified by “I guess”) as sendoffs, TDS’ attitude mirrored the lack of ratings support given by the new show. This is not to knock on Noah, whose tenure has taken awhile to find his sealegs but has often provided the cutting brilliance that was on display on Thursday with a takedown of third party voters and Jordan Klepperer’s absolute evisceration of Trump supporters by turning the flashlight of their leaders’ “extreme vetting” back on them. However, Noah’s TDS has tended towards the milquetoast, and its ratings collapse has been palpable, but Comedy Central was not about to touch its tentpole (Robin, don’t say it!).

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Important programming deserves a longer chance to find its audience, not less, and certainly not the hasty hook like the Apollo’s Sandman on his orneriest of days that The Nightly Show got. The Daily Show itself shuffled its feet through years of mediocre ratings and a douchey host, and even when Stewart (in his third hosting gig) took over, it was not until roughly 2001 that it became the firebreathing institution it is today. The Nightly Show, while uneven at times, already had a game cast with breakout stars like Mike Yard and Grace Parra, and even if it could not yet boast ratings or launch viral content (another dumb jab at the show). Most importantly, it had a voice. The Nightly Show’s inverted world, questioning-the-established-answers mentality stood unique on television (at least in daily late night), and now, at this potential make-or-break moment in American democracy, it is no longer there. It deserved better.

We deserved better.

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Noooo, Grace, wrong tone!

Navani Otero

“Man… first the Fat Boys break up, and now this.”  — Bony T, Boomerang

Comedy Central dropped a bomb Monday when they announced they were canceling the Nightly Show, as in immediately — do not pass go nor collect $200. Their last show was Thursday of the same week. My first thought was WTF? It’s an election year! For sure they would keep the show on at least until November 4th. Nope!

I’m not sure who to be more upset at: Comedy Central for not giving the show enough time to have a chance … or ourselves for not giving them the ratings it needed to survive. He was the only African-American host on Late Night TV. Let that sink in for a minute. We had one diverse voice to latch on to and now that is gone. Trevor Noah is great, but he is not American. His experience is not the same.

I think for some of us, it was comforting to know Larry existed on this plane, that he was there fighting the good satirical fight even if we did not always do our part and tune in religiously. At least we knew someone would be on TV, saying things we always thought but didn’t dare say aloud, holding it down for us. Larry is that uncle with zero f*cks to give anymore; he just says what’s on his mind even when it’s blatantly not politically correct.

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Recall the White House Correspondents’ Dinner? Those stunned, uncomfortable faces in the audience the whole time he was speaking the truth? Precious moment, I tell ya. He is a master of making people uncomfortable and this world desperately needs that person right now.

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And that’s why I love him so. I grew up on his work, his writing for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, where he created a dialogue for a a family of color that was so human and positive and wonderful. The Jamie Foxx Show and The Bernie Mac Show each had the same underlying arc — positive images for POC. Larry proved over and over that he wanted what’s best for us, to show POC in a better light than the media would normally do. He challenged the status quo of the roles given to us by mainstream media in all his work. He continued to fight that fight on The Nightly Show, where he stated the show’s mission was “to keep it 100” and “to see the world in a way that might not make everybody comfortable.” You know, the way many of us see it everyday. And For that I will be forever grateful.

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Thank You Larry!

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