I’m not going to lie. My hackles went up when I first heard that “The Colbert Report” would be succeeded on Comedy Central by a new show titled the “The Minority Report With Larry Wilmore.” The news, which broke over the weekend, dominated the entertainment news cycle yesterday and was heralded almost universally by the press as a good thing. I needed a day to think about why the announcement bothered me so much. My concern began with this: as “The Daily Show’s” Senior Black Correspondent since 2006, Wilmore has been periodically called upon by host Jon Stewart to, as the LA Times put it, offer his “wry takes on contemporary issues of race.”
In that capacity, Wilmore has been consistently astute and frequently hilarious. But the post and its purview, as reflected by its gag title, are obviously limited. Would a show headed by a Senior Black Correspondent only focus on issues of race or report news items through a specifically black lens? Given that there is actually no single, homogenous black perspective, what would that presentation even look or sound like? Who would be insulted by it? Who would be left out? Would viewers be in for more of the same narrowcasting and stereotypical signifying that Comedy Central gave us previously with “Chocolate News?” For a moment, my own imagination gave me a taste of what conservatives must feel like when I tried to envision Wilmore consolidating confining “black” tropes into a satirical, Colbert-like persona through which to filter commentary. If Colbert’s “Colbert” began as a parody of Bill O’Reilly, on what prominent black pundit could Wilmore base his alter ego? Tavis Smiley? Cornel West? Sharpton? The mind shudders.
Let’s back up. When I first uncovered the news that the “Daily Show’s” Larry Wilmore would be taking over the time slot vacated by Stephen Colbert, I was actually just skimming headlines and misread this as an announcement that Wilmore would be taking over the “Colbert Report.” In hindsight, this makes absolutely no sense, but bear with me. In that brief, delusional instant, I experienced a supremely satisfying, idealistic vision of diversity — one in which a black comic could step onto a much coveted, wide-reaching platform and not be expected to deliver specifically black humor or cater to anyone’s expectations of what that means. It comes down to the age-old question of pigeonholing; is Wilmore a black comedian or a comedian that happens to be black? By all accounts, he is a funny and prolific individual, a writer and show-runner with a career in television much more extensive than most of the other “Daily Show” correspondents. But of all his appearances on “The Daily Show,” how often has he been asked on to talk about terrorism, or Martha Stewart or the Olympics? Is it so inconceivable that he could anchor a fake news show, not necessarily a fake black news show?
So, yes, the “minority” label was momentarily stuck in my craw. But upon further reading, I realized that this often misused word might be the key to the yet-to-air program’s greater potential. Apparently, Wilmore’s show will be based, not on the cult-of-personality genre that Colbert’s was, but on panel discussion shows like, say, “Fox and Friends.” This, quite possibly, puts Wilmore in the position of moderator and appropriately expands the notion of “minority.” Imagine a panel of comics/commentators ranging from Hari Kondabolu to Anjelah Johnson to Negin Farsad addressing an unlimited range of topics. The truth is that late night television generally suffers from a lack of diversity. Any move that helps amend that predicament should probably be given the benefit of the doubt. In one sense, a show that has to broadcast its “otherness” may not be the dream manifestation of diversity. But given the recent, persistent, and polarizing racial dialogue in this country, it is clearly not the time for such dreams to be realized. Hopefully, Larry Wilmore will be able to include more voices in that dialogue and keep it funny long enough to earn his own shot at “The Late Show” — if he even wants it by then.