Larry Wilmore has spent the past nine years as the "senior black correspondent" on "The Daily Show." But that's possibly the least interesting part of this life, 53 years in the making.
Consider these parts instead:
He's married to Leilani Jones, the veteran stage and voice actress, who played Chiffon on the original Off-Broadway run of "Little Shop of Horrors."
He's an excellent basketball player.
He created "The Bernie Mac Show."
He's a theater buff. He's an author. He's a stand-up. He was a producer and star on "The Office," a friend of Eddie Murphy and Steve Carell.
He's even a sleight-of-hand magician.
And for his next trick (ta dummm), this: He will host "The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore" on Comedy Central, which -- even on the eve of launch -- still refuses easy categorization because the man in the title refuses to be pigeonholed. It debuts Monday night at 11:30 in the former "Colbert Report" time slot.
"I've always been in many different compartments," he said last fall on Marc Maron's podcast -- the de rigueur stopover for all comics.
Up until a month ago, "Nightly Show" was named "The Minority Report," which was also the title of the classic Philip K. Dick short story, and Tom Cruise movie. More pointedly, it was an indication that Wilmore would continue to explore America's racial divide with the same sort of gently ironic detachment that characterized his coverage of race for "The Daily Show."
But that had to go when the movie producers told him they wanted the title back for a planned TV series. Wilmore was then left with a decidedly blander -- and less compelling -- title, but also perhaps with a silver lining: Host and show would not be burdened with any preconceptions at all. Monday night, in other words, is just one more new compartment for Wilmore to fill.
Asked at the TV Critics' winter press tour last week about the show, words like "minority" or "race" weren't the only ones that apparently came immediately to his mind. Instead, he said, as quoted in Variety, "Our show is more about the discovery of things. I want people who will teach me something. We'll have people on who maybe get their minds changed."
Born in Los Angeles, and raised in Pomona -- due east of L.A. -- Wilmore is one of six kids (a brother, Marc, is a veteran writer on "The Simpsons"). His father was a probation officer for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's office who at age 40 decided to go back to college to become a doctor. He did and one of his sons was left with an indelible life lesson, and model -- that change, even radical change, is possible.
Wilmore was one of two African-American kids in the graduating class at Damien High, a Catholic school in La Verne, California, where he always felt like "I was at a family reunion and not in the family," he told Maron. He later went on to Mt. San Antonio College, known as Mt. "SAC," in nearby Walnut, then to Cal Poly, where he pursued his three passions: theater, basketball and comedy.
After a flirtation with becoming a "serious" actor, he drifted to the latter. His comic beacons growing up were Flip Wilson and "Get Smart," his instincts sardonic and apolitical, at least initially. Without graduating college, he worked the standup circuit for a decade, then segued to writing and production, first on Fox's hip-hop music/comedy variety newcomer, "In Living Color," later moving on to series like "Sister Sister" and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," then to Eddie Murphy's company, where he produced the animated series "The P.J.'s."
The real break arrived in 2000: to create a series built around one Bernie McCullough, a dazzling stand-up and star of the Spike Lee comedy film "The Original Kings of Comedy," better known as Bernie Mac.
Wilmore's idea was to essentially turn "The Cosby Show" inside out, with a more visceral take on black family life. He won an Emmy (outstanding writing) for the first season but clashed with Fox over creative control. He left, and set about building another compartment,
Not too long after the rancorous split with Fox, he got a call from "The Daily Show" to audition for a correspondent role. It did not go well. The crew initially avoided him, or as he referred to their standoffish reaction, "You don't name your farm animals because you might eat them."
That quickly smoothed over and he became a vital utility player, as the guy who helped Jon Stewart deconstruct, or disembowel, racial hypocrisy and injustice. Never angry, always deadpan, Wilmore's character once famously suggested a way to bridge America's racial divide -- by changing the term "black" to chocolate, or castigated Black History Month for its brevity, only 28 days.
Come Monday night, a new compartment arrives, and expect something old, something new. Mostly expect a seasoned, smart comic and commentator who jokingly refers to himself as a "passionate centrist" -- a guy who constantly disagrees with himself.
And if this "Nightly Show" title gets stale, he might want to consider that instead.
‘Nightly Show’ to fuse late-night molds
What will "The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore" -- the "Colbert Report" replacement, launching Monday (Comedy Central, 11:30) -- be about exactly?
We'll know more when we see it, but clues do abound while the new host suggests late-night molds won't be broken as much as fused.
There will certainly be elements of "The Daily Show," with Wilmore exploring in some comedic depth news of the day at the top of the show, much as Jon Stewart does.
But in the second half, a change of late-night gears -- Wilmore will have a panel of "analysts" along with guests. He's cited one model, Bill Maher's old "Politically Incorrect," which ended its late-night run on ABC in 2002.
The panelists include Shenaz Treasury, a Bollywood star, and formerly on "One Life to Live"; Ricky Velez, a Queens native and stand-up comic; and Mike Yard, a veteran of the New York stand-up scene.
Wilmore has said that the plan, or at least the ideal, isn't to bring on a guest with whom he and the panel can agree or disagree, but perhaps someone who is willing to change his or her mind. Wilmore promises that he is even open to changing his own.