As the heir to Stephen Colbert’s Comedy Central time slot, comedian Larry Wilmore knows he has some big shoes to fill. Plenty of so-called “fake news” shows have tried and failed to repeat the winning formula that Colbert, and his lead-in Jon Stewart perfected. Ahead of the premiere of Wilmore’s new series, “The Nightly Show,” the comedian sat down with reporters Friday on his set to talk about the new show.
The 53-year-old Wilmore, who emerged as a breakout star on “The Daily Show,” knows that even nailing down a signature show name is crucial to ingratiating yourself with a late night audience that has plenty of options to choose from. And Wilmore’s program has already gone through a couple iterations – it was originally titled “The Minority Report with Larry Wilmore,” a nod to the comedian’s previous role as the “senior black correspondent” for “The Daily Show.”
“If we used it, we had to use the whole title. All the time it had to be ‘The Minority Report with Larry Wilmore,’ all the time, in all forms,” Wilmore said. The show risked a legal battle with owners of the title “Minority Report,” Steven Spielberg’s 2002 movie starring Tom Cruise.
“We said forget it, let’s just not get in this fight. I mean we were hearing from their lawyers all the time,” Wilmore said, adding, “I was going to call it ‘Meet the Rest,’ that was another name.”
Ultimately the team settled on “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.”
Arriving at the right blend of information and comedy is key for any late-night satirical news show. But Wilmore also wants to elevate overlooked or new voices, many of whom will be minorities. And he wants to find his own voice, too.
The head writer is Robin Thede, who previously worked as head writer for “The Queen Latifah Show” and a writer for BET’s “Real Husbands of Hollywood” before coming to Comedy Central. Wilmore’s team also plans to feature personalities such as Mike Yard, Ricky Velez and Shenaz Treasury.
How does he find new voices?
“You just look, you just look,” Wilmore told the reporters surrounding him on his new set. “It’s as simple as that, you just look. Most people don’t look, you gotta look. You gotta say who’s out there? Let’s go find them.”
As for his own voice?
“As a performer, just finding what my actual, you know, voice is,” Wilmore said, before shifting directions slightly. “Some people know me as the ‘senior black correspondent’ on “The Daily Show,’ or they might know me from my work behind the camera. So for me, personally, it’s a big challenge to say, ‘Ok, where do I want to sit right now, what parts of me do I want to bring to this?’”
Wilmore has done multiple rehearsals in the lead-up to his premiere on Monday night, and he has found a few moments that he hopes will become trademarks of his show.
“We had our last test show and it felt really good. And we had a moment where I was forcing people to be real and that felt really nice and I thought, this is what our show is and that was a lot of fun,” Wilmore told msnbc. “We have a segment called keeping it 100 [as in keeping it ‘100% real’] where I go around and [the panelists] have to keep it 100, right now. If they don’t the audience is going to boo and if they do, [the audience] will applause. I ask them one question. It’s the last part of our show. It’s really fun.”
There will be a lot of pressure on Wilmore when his show debuts Monday, which also happens to be Martin Luther King Day. Comparisons will inevitably be made to “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” – Wilmore tapes in the same studio.
“Look there is always pressure to deliver on a show,” said Wilmore, whose previous works includes time as a writer on “In Living Color” and “The Bernie Mac Show.” “And all you can do is do your show and hope people show up. So that’s it.”
And if you want to show up, his show premieres at 11:30 p.m. ET Monday on Comedy Central.