Larry Wilmore: The TV Squad Interview
Wilmore was on hand to promote Make 'Em Laugh, a wide-ranging PBS documentary series on the history of modern comedy that's set to air in 2009 (it was announced that day that Billy Crystal is hosting the series). Right after the interview, Wilmore was on a panel with two other documentary participants: original SNL writer Anne Beatts (whom I also interviewed) and comedian Richard Lewis.
I only had a few minutes with Wilmore, so I quickly moved on from the special to ask him about how he got the Daily Show gig after a career spent behind the scenes as a writer and producer (The PJs, The Bernie Mac Show). I also asked him what it's like to work on a show that's so influential on the political and news scene. The interview is after the jump.
Joel Keller: Really quickly, just let me know what your role is on Make 'Em Laugh.
Larry Wilmore: A contributor. First I was called on just to give some help in the shape of it and that kind of stuff and ended up just talking on camera about a lot of the performers and comedy and that sort of thing.
JK: Because you mentioned The PJs and that you wrote for The Office, are you surprised that just from the appearances you make on The Daily Show – how much more exposure it has gotten you around a couple of years?
Wilmore: Yeah (laughs). Well, being in front of the camera, I mean, it's magnified – you could be anonymous behind the camera for your whole career and be wildly successful. You know, I mean, how many people know who Billy Wilder is – you know, your average American. We all know in the business, but the person on the street, I mean...
JK: Well, because the last time you were on the camera before The Daily Show was the Diversity Day episode on The Office...
Wilmore: Mr. Brown, right. (Quoting the episode) "If that's your real name."
JK: When you got The Daily Show gig, did you get it as a writer first and then go on camera?
Wilmore: No. I started my career as a stand-up and after I did the Office episode, I decided that I was going to start performing again. Instead of writing for the comedians, I'd start writing for myself. And my managers we were just trying to look for a way to start doing this as an actor and a performer. We thought of maybe doing The Daily Show and called them up and pitched them the idea, and Jon was open to it.
And when I met them, it was like one of those things of calling up the cute girl who's sitting at home because nobody asked her to the prom. I just called up Jon. I said, "Hey, man, can I be on the show?" "Yeah, alright come one down." "Really? It was that easy?"
JK: You could have done that before, right?
Wilmore: I know, exactly, if I had known that I would have called a long time ago, so...
JK: What do you see is its role in the landscape of politics and news? It seems like the people who are working on the show always seem to be much more humble about its influence than outsiders think it is. Now that you have been on both sides has your perception changed of what its role is?
Wilmore: Yes, I guess so, because Jon is such a humble guy. You know, he's really about just working hard and making a funny show, but he has personal integrity that come through. He doesn't try to do something with integrity, he already has it, you know. And so, that's infectious. You want to please that guy because everybody loves him so much.
And, so we just look at it as we're trying to do the best show for Jon, in a way. We're trying to do the best show that day; we're trying to make this the funniest thing. But not necessarily – we don't look at it as being important when we're doing it – the way people kind of receive it. We just see something, and we go, "Oh, we've got to do something on that. That looks funny." But there's no sense of "it's important."
JK: Well, what's the best example, or most surprising, example that you've seen of the show's influence?
Wilmore: Well, with the young people, it's so big, I mean, and the fact that there's a growing number of people who only get their news from The Daily Show.
JK: Does that surprise you, by the way?
Wilmore: It did, when I first heard about it. But then when I thought about it, I said, "The Daily Show really is fair and balanced in my mind, because it makes fun of everybody." And it takes the wind out of everybody's sails, which I think is good.
JK: Because of Obama's candidacy, are they going to be going to you a lot for more contributions to the show?
Wilmore: Oh, we'll see. We'll kind of do it as it calls for it. I never liked to be too overexposed in the show, and I'm developing a sitcom that deals with race and politics. You know, it's kind of based on Obama's run for presidency. So I'm going to really explore that in detail on a sitcom.
JK: Is there anything that you know that's upcoming that you guys might be doing, maybe something in conjunction with the conventions?
Wilmore: No, we'll figure out when we get there. Since it is truly a daily show, there are some things you kind of plan in advance, but you really are open to whatever is going on and is happening so you can be in the moment of it. So I'm as excited to find out what I'm going to be doing as everybody else.
We will be at both conventions, which is very cool.
JK: Which is good, and I'm always liking the the pieces you do... the ones with John Oliver are especially very funny.
Wilmore: Yeah, those are a lot of fun. Well, we just try and make each other laugh. I mean, that's how those go usually, you know, and try to just say the most outrageous thing you can to the other person.