Fans of "The Daily Show" are used to hearing host Jon Stewart introduce Larry Wilmore as the show's "senior black correspondent." In fact, Wilmore is the show's only black correspondent, a joke he plays to the hilt.
Wilmore's character suffers repeated indignities, from being asked to expound on the meaning of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday to being told he can't cover Wall Street stories -- a situation Wilmore feels isn't too far form reality.
"Most of the time, your black anchors are on the weekend, I've noticed," he said. "We don't want to see them during the week, you know. We can take black people on the weekend. But one of the things I noticed, too, when a really bad thing happens in a black area, the black correspondent's going there, and they're going to report on it."
When asked if that represents a cliché, Wilmore said, "It definitely is. Without a doubt."
Wilmore is a veteran of television comedy, but until recently, he worked behind the camera, not in front of it. He was a writer for the groundbreaking comedy series "In Living Color," working with future stars like Jim Carey and Jamie Foxx.
He helped create "The Bernie Mac Show," winning an Emmy award for writing its pilot episode. And he's an occasional producer and writer for "The Office," where he also made his onscreen debut as Mr. Brown, enforcer of office diversity.
'MLK' and 'KFC'
Wilmore was born and raised in Los Angeles, drawn at an early age to the hometown industry, and he has thrived. He gave "Nightline" a spirited tour of tony San Marino, where he now resides with his wife and children.
"Every time I drive in this neighborhood I drive like this, "Yo, yo what's up white people! You got a brother in the neighborhood!" he said. "Oh, they love it."
But "The Daily Show" is based in New York, so every few weeks, Wilmore flies across the country to match wits with the best fake journalists in television.
While humor is their business, Jon Stewart, Larry Wilmore and the show's writers are deadly serious about getting it right. When "Nightline" visited, they were poring over Larry's script for a bit that would air in just a few hours.
Wilmore's humor turns on observations of the black experience, observations often unexpected from an African-American. When asked by Stewart on the show if he believes Black History Month serves a purpose, Wilmore said, "Yes, the purpose of making up for centuries of oppression with 28 days of trivia. You know what? I'd rather we got casinos."
Nor does he believe that African-Americans should feel obliged to observe Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday with any more reverence than most Americans display on other holidays.
"And that's why I propose changing its name to MLK Day," Wilmore said on the show. "MLK Day could be anything! That's what Kentucky Fried Chicken did. You drive by that place, you have no idea what KFC is selling. You just know you want a bucket of it!"
'Do You Understand How Rap Works?'But Wilmore saves his greatest firepower for the n-word, especially recent attempts to ban it, as seen in a memorable encounter with fellow "Daily Show" correspondent John Oliver and New York City councilman Leroy Comrie in March.
Oliver: Leroy, are you at all concerned that we're banning one of the most versatile words in the English language. It can be used as a noun:
Wilmore: Yo, yo what's up my n---er.
Oliver: A verb.
Wilmore: Hey, man, don't n---er those potato chips.
Oliver: An adjective.
Wilmore: Oh, so now you're n---er rich.
Oliver: An adverb.
Wilmore: Man, that's some n---erly sh--.
Oliver: Would you say goodbye to all of this?
Comrie: I think all of those usages are vile and just need to be stopped.
Oliver: What do you say to rappers who need that word in terms of their rhyme scheme?
Comrie: Need the word? I don't think you need the word.
Wilmore: I'm not sure about that, Leroy. Finish this phrase: 'I'm not sayin' she's a gold digger, but she ain't messin' with no broke --.'"
Comrie: Um … I'm not sayin' she's a gold digger, but she ain't messin' with no broke … fool.
Wilmore: Do you understand how rap works, councilman?
Recalling that show, Wilmore said, "Oh, we tortured him. It was fantastic. And just saying it to him would make him flinch.
"The actual satirical point was if you tell kids not do something, you know, they're always going to do the opposite," Wilmore said. "So, if you tell kids, 'Hey, you can't say the n-word,' all day long, they're just going to want to say [it], because they're kids. They want to rebel."
When asked if he himself uses the word, Wilmore said, "Not really. I mean, I use it for humor, you know, in that way. Blacks have a different relationship with that word … if we use it, it's in a different context than if someone just comes up and says, 'Hey, n---er' … So it doesn't mean the same thing that it does if I'm using it satirically. I'm making a point if I'm using it like that."
His humor touches on serious issues, but Larry Wilmore is clearly having the time of his life after a long career of toiling behind the scenes. And not even his interviewer was spared.
"I'm sure there'll be Martin's voiceover over this," Wilmore said, and then launched into his imitation. "As Wilmore goes through the Hollywood rituals of putting the fake on top of the real, appropriate for a fake news show, I decided to go through his wallet … and you wouldn't believe what I found."