The Colbert Report is over, and the reign of The Nightly Show has begun. Unlike many of Colbert’s fans, I’m very happy that Comedy Central’s 11:30 p.m. timeslot now features Larry Wilmore. Here’s why.
The Colbert persona never really resonated with me, for a few reasons. I’m sure that it was partially because I was a much bigger fan of Jon Stewart’s wise-ass newscaster and saw the two late-night hosts as essentially competing with one another. But Colbert’s faux right-wing act also sometimes rang hollow to me, because it felt like the hosts he was imitating were so far off into wingnut territory that parody seemed redundant. The show’s relentless focus on Colbert himself and his exaggerated Team America-style grandeur occasionally worn thin, like a joke you’ve heard a million times before.
Now, don’t get me wrong. At its best, TheColbert Report was a brilliant and frequently hilarious show that at times was much more informative than cable news, as when Colbert walked his audience through the insane series of loopholes and shady arrangements that super PACs have turned our electoral system into since Citizens United. He invented ‘truthiness’. His on-air tribute to his mother made us cry. One particular segment in 2013, when Colbert challenged liberal perceptions of small-town folks as small-minded bigots by showing how Vicco, Kentucky residents were rallying around their openly gay mayor, deserves to be remembered as a quintessential work of American art. Finally, his charming on-air relationship with Jon Stewart made tuning into Comedy Central late at night feel like a family event.
So I understand why some people feel so strongly about Colbert’s departure. But fanbases don’t call the shots for a reason: they suck at doing it. They never want anything to change. Meanwhile, the possibility that Colbert perhaps was tired of limiting his considerable range to play one kind of character is its own consideration. (The classic Frasier joke about playing the same character for 20 years is equally applicable here.) Colbert himself told Slate that getting into character every day was a “long process of fits and starts,” noting how difficult it is to slip between the roles of writer, producer and performer each and every day. He’ll be doing plenty of that at the Late Show too, but with a fresh start. Rather than sticking around past the best-by date like The Simpsons, Colbert also got to exit The Colbert Reportat its peak.
Frankly, Colbert can wipe the field of every late-night competitor with the possible exception of Conan O’Brien. He has nowhere to go but up.
Meanwhile, Colbert’s slot has been filled by Larry Wilmore’s The Nightly Show, which is already showing great promise in just its first few days of broadcasting. Wilmore’s now the only prominent black voice in late-night television, and he’s already demonstrated that the show’s more substantive, talk-panel format is capable of dishing out brutal insights on issues like police violence and the serial rape allegations dogging Bill Cosby. Take the below clip, in which Wilmore compares Cosby’s 35 separate rape allegations to as if he had “drugged and raped every single U.S. president from George Washington to John F. Kennedy,” telling people who care about the exact total at this point to “please fuck off forever”:
Wilmore’s also proven himself eager to strike out his own territory as a commentator, calling out racist white Americans and the cops in the same piece he delivers brutal rejoinders to Al Sharpton and Oprah:
So far, I’m impressed at how well he’s doing out of the gate. One key difference between Wilmore and Colbert was noted by The Atlantic’s David Sims, who said the newcomer’s show was more about “finding the humor in dark topics, and finding a way into talking about issues many Americans at home might not be able to broach.” Compared to the frequently genius but ultimately one-man show The Colbert Report gave us for nine years, Wilmore is trying to cultivate a place where diverse voices can be heard weighing in on the topics network news still treat with kid gloves.
“The Daily Show, its cousin is the nightly news, [so] it’s going to be reporting on things and reporting and reporting,” Wilmore told NPR. “Our cousin is a discussion show, so we’re going to have a conversation about something. My relationship to the audience is, ‘I’m opening up this conversation.’ I’m looking at this in a different way.”
It’s honestly way more interesting to me than another year of Colbert pantomiming Bill O’Reilly, so count me in on Team Wilmore.