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Larry Wilmore tackles race in debut of 'The Nightly Show'

Wilmore talked Ferguson, Selma, and race in America -- and he asked Sen. Cory Booker if he wants to be president.
Larry Wilmore speaks on stage during Comedy Central's \"The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore\" panel at the Viacom 2015 Winter TCA on Jan. 10, 2015, in Pasadena, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Larry Wilmore speaks on stage during Comedy Central's \"The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore\" panel at the Viacom 2015 Winter TCA on Jan. 10, 2015, in Pasadena, Calif.

“The Oscar nominations are out, and they’re so white, a grand jury decided not to indict them!”

That was Larry Wilmore’s opening line in the premiere of his new late-night talk show on Comedy Central, The Nightly Show. From the first moment, Wilmore pulled no punches, diving right into serious, heavy news topics. 

“We’re talking Selma, Ferguson, and Eric Garner. It’s Comedy Central’s worst nightmare: A brother finally gets a show on late-night TV!” Wilmore said, receiving thunderous applause from the audience. Wilmore is currently the only black person hosting a late-night talk show.

If there was any doubt over what Wilmore's show would cover, he made it clear right away that his show would tackle questions of race: “I feel like there’s so much to talk about … especially if I had this show a year ago! All the good bad race stuff happened already! Seriously, we’re done. There’s none left. Happy MLK Day everybody!”

In his opening monologue, Wilmore discussed the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominations, the racial unrest following events in Ferguson and Staten Island, and the state of protesting in America in the past year. 

"In the old days it was about being able to sit at a lunch counter," Wilmore said of the civil rights protests of the 1960s. "Today it’s just about not getting shot at on our way to work," he joked. 

Wilmore then convened a panel to continue discussing the topics of racial unrest and protests that Wilmore had touched on in his opening monologue. The panel included New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, rapper and activist Talib Kweli, comedian Bill Burr, and comedian Shenaz Treasury.

One of the more interesting moments of the panel came when Wilmore asked his guests to play a game called “keeping it 100,” where he asked each guest a question and challenged them to answer completely honestly, or he’d throw a bag of “weak tea” at them if he felt their answers weren’t 100% honest.

When it was Senator Booker’s turn, Wilmore revealed his question: “Do you want to be president?”

Booker quickly answered, “Uh, no,” and the audience booed at his response.

Wilmore responded by pelting him with tea bags, signaling that he thought Booker wasn’t being entirely forthcoming. “Yes, the answer is yes!” Wilmore yelled at Booker.

"The Nightly Show" premiered on Comedy Central at 11:30 ET on Monday night. Wilmore took over the timeslot formerly held by Stephen Colbert in "The Colbert Report," after Colbert departed to take over CBS's "The Late Show" upon David Letterman's retirement.

Wilmore was previously the "Senior Black Correspondent" on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, and it was Stewart who suggested Wilmore as a candidate to replace "The Colbert Report." The world of late-night TV has historically lacked diversity, with most shows being hosted by white men. Many have hoped that Wilmore will bring a fresh voice to late night TV, and if the first episode is any indication, he's certainly not afraid to tackle controversial topics and dive into heavy issues at length.

Tomorrow on The Nightly Show, Wilmore says he'll talk about Bill Cosby. 

Watch a clip below and watch the full episode here