Colbert’s Heir Does See Race

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 28 2015 @ 11:00am

Max Ufberg looks back at the first week of The Nightly Show:

So far, [host Larry] Wilmore has already mocked the Academy Awards, poked fun at Al Sharpton, and taken down Bill Cosby (“That motherfucker did it”). The response has been favorable. Critics have praised Wilmore’s affability and wryness, even his “ideological unpredictability.” He has, as the New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley puts it, “a disarming way of laughing at his own jokes and those of others.” The show’s closing Bill Maher-style roundtable discussion format, while less of an immediate hit, certainly offers long-term potential.

Genetta M. Adams observes that Wilmore “comes at current events in the same manner that brothers at the barber shop or sisters at the hair salon do: straight up and no-holds-barred”:

And even if Wilmore’s takes on topics like Cosby aren’t particularly new, as Slate’s Willa Paskin rightly points out, “There has previously been no black perspective on late night to take these subjects on with such matter-of-fact vigor.” His signature segment, “Keep It 100,” can lead to some squirm-in-their-chairs moments for panelists who have to answer a question honestly or face the prospect of getting some “weak tea”—literally—as they’re handed tea bags. Rapper-activist Talib Kweli had such a moment when he was asked, “When it comes to black images, is hip-hop part of the problem or part of the solution?” …

Variety’s Brian Lowry wondered if The Nightly Show’s format and edgier take on the day’s news would make the show a “no-go zone” for newsmakers and celebrities who wanted to pitch their movies or books. But who cares? The last thing late night needs is another show for celebs to pimp their products.

Rawiya Kameir makes another key point:

One of Wilmore’s most important and praiseworthy attributes is his implicit acknowledgment that “minority issues” are really just American issues, and that they deserve to be treated as such.

Through a nightly panel segment comprised of actors, comedians, and journalists, Wilmore avoids the common host trope of filtering the world solely though his own worldview; instead, he allows a diverse group of guests to explain their own identities and perspectives. At the show’s core is a commitment to the idea of purposeful conversation, rather than the moral superiority that comes with being right.

Eric Thurm also considers the substance behind the laughs:

[T]he real center of attention is the dynamic between the panel members and the strength of their arguments — “The proof is common sense,” as Wilmore puts it. Though there are jokes, there’s also a sincere conversation about the implications of patriarchy and the way Cosby’s celebrity contributed to a collective unwillingness to believe his accusers, motivated largely by Ebony digital editor Jamilah Lemieux, who gets to make points about the way women who accuse men of rape are marginalized (when was the last time a rape victim got anything out of lying?). So the veneer of a comedy show allows the expression of uncomfortable truths and opinions in honesty. During the segment explicitly devoted to honesty — “Keep It 100” — there was a real, off-the-cuff fight between Keith Robinson and Baratunde Thurston over the relative importance of Thurston’s integrity and racial identity that was entertaining, revealing, and passionate. It was excellent television.

Watch that full segment here, with a segment of that segment above. Pilot Viruet points to another strength of the show:

What’s great about The Nightly Show‘s panels is that, as heated as the discussions may get, they are never disrespectful and they never get out of hand. Much of this is due to Wilmore himself, who knows how to moderate these hot-button panels, and how to rein in his guests without shutting them down. He has a very specific, calming cadence. As David Sims at The Atlantic (who was my guest for Tuesday’s taping) puts it, Wilmore is “a mellifluous radical who would say all kinds of hilarious, outrageous things that you’d barely notice because he did it so sweetly.”

And he’s not afraid of dissent:

[A]t the end of every episode, Wilmore invites Twitter to ask him questions so he too has to “Keep it 100.” This forces the host to think on his feet in response to tough queries — about race, Cosby, Obama, etc. — and keeps the show fair, because Wilmore knows that he is not exempt from the tough shit, either.

And Todd VanDerWerff notes the most obvious though no less important quality of The Nightly Show:

[U]ltimately, it’s just cool to have a show devoted to issues of interest to America’s racial minorities that primarily features those racial minorities. When white comedian Bill Burr made a joke on the panel in Monday’s debut episode about “speaking for all white people,” it was so funny precisely because the show often slots white men into the “token” roles minorities would play on other shows. There’s a fun subversiveness to this that The Nightly Show will surely play with in weeks to come.