Larry Wilmore on Thursday will host The Nightly Show one last time. After the unexpected (to most) news of the show’s cancellation earlier this week, there’s been plenty of hand-wringing about what this means for Comedy Central, the shaken-up late-night landscape, and, of course, Wilmore himself.
We spoke to him Wednesday evening shortly after he taped the series’ penultimate episode, during which he did what he’s been doing all week on the show: drinking. “I guess everybody thinks I need to be drunk?” he joked. With a somber tone in his voice, Wilmore went on to discuss The Nightly Show‘s woes, the evolving nature of late night, his final episode (look out for Jon Stewart), and his plans for the future (other than drinking).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How’s your day been?
LARRY WILMORE: We’re hanging in there.
On the plus side, it looks like you guys have been having a good time with all the booze you’ve been getting.
Absolutely. We got some booze from Stephan Colbert. We raided the minibar. So we drank a little bit of that tonight. I guess everybody thinks I need to be drunk?
Did you guys finish the Samantha Bee wine?
I did! Well, not all of it of course — not all those cases. That’s some good wine.
So tell me about the episode you taped today.
It went really well. The audience is so appreciative, very excited. I got in my last dig on [Bill] Cosby, which was good. We had Lewis Black, he’s just one of our favorite people and favorite guests. He gave a couple of his rants. I’m drinking booze during the whole episode, so that was special.
It must feel bittersweet — your next episode is your last one. What are you guys planning?
We’re just going to be simple tomorrow night. We’re gonna do a little reminiscing. I’m going to talk to all the contributors — although Mike Yard and Ricky Velez unfortunately aren’t going to be here because they already had plans to be away. But everybody else should be around. Jon Stewart is going to drop by, and I’m going to talk to him. So he’ll be popping in.
What’s the mood like as the staff heads into its last day?
It hasn’t been too bad — you know, we’re celebrating having done the show that we’re all proud of. But at the same time, we are sad that it’s going away. It’s a mixture of moods. But you’re still making a show, too, so you still have that worker-bee hat on that you always have.
You’ve said before that The Nightly Show isn’t quite designed to produce mega-viral hits the way Jimmy Fallon and James Corden’s shows do. Do you think there’s a place in late night for shows that don’t play that game in the current landscape?
Well, I didn’t quite say that — it’s just that when you’re responding to questions about that, you give answers and then it feels like you’ve made a statement like that — but I really didn’t. I’m happy to have stuff go viral. We’ve had things go viral. It’s just that the style of our show doesn’t lend itself to compete with the things that go crazily viral. That’s really what it’s about.
I’m not having puppies race, that type of thing. We’re not doing broad comedy, you know — we have a smaller target. So automatically…. I mean, we’re talking about race, class, and gender, for goodness’ sake. [Laughs] Not everybody wants to hear those issues late at night. I mean, I get it, you know? So our show is gonna have a smaller target. And I’m not knocking those shows when I make that statement. They’re really good shows. It’s just a different focus, you know — it’s not saying one is better than the other.
As you mention, The Nightly Show has furthered the conversation on race—
And we feel that’s an important thing! And things like that aren’t going to… an audience and that aren’t necessarily two things that are going to marry each other and have a happy life together. So that’s kind of the bargain that you have.
Without The Nightly Show filling that space, do you think there’ll be bit of a void in terms of late night shows that regularly address topics of race and class?
I’m sure some shows will cover some of that. But it’s hard for me to comment on it, because I don’t know what they’re going to do.
Do you think you’d want to try your hand at late night again in the future?
I would love to, that would be a nice thing. But I’m going to take some time to think about it and see what I really want to do. I still like scripted shows and that sort of thing, so I’ll probably get back into doing some of that on the producing side.
To that end, you’ve helped produce Black-ish and Issa Rae’s upcoming HBO comedy Insecure. Will you become more involved with those projects again?
No, well, Black-ish I’m done with because I had to leave to do Nightly Show. Insecure, we’ll see, we’ll see what happens. I know they have a good team over there, but I might still be in a consulting capacity or something like that. We’ll see.
We spoke a few weeks ago before the RNC and DNC, and you joked that Comedy Central wasn’t willing to pay you to take the show to the conventions. Do you feel like the network could’ve done more to support the show?
It’s hard to say. You know, I don’t really want to get into grousing about they should’ve done this or that, because none of that makes a difference at this point. And we didn’t get better ratings, either, you know? So shame on us also. It cuts both ways in TV.
Anything you would’ve done different on the show?
No, not at all. I’m proud of the show that we did. Not in terms of making the show. I wish we could’ve done better promotion for it — that, and just, you know, found a more effective way to get the word out there. Because we have a lot of passionate followers, it’s amazing. Just being on Twitter today, seeing all the reactions from fans is amazing. I’m overwhelmed by it.
They’ll still be there when The Nightly Show is over — do you have plans to service your fans and provide commentary during the election season through other methods?
That I don’t know. I’ll need some time to think about exactly how to do. It’d be a fun thing to do, it’s something I want to think about.
I’ll take a break from politics for a while, believe me — because I won’t have to write a show every day about it. [Laughs] But I’ll follow along just like everybody else. I’d love to moderate a debate, that’d be awesome! Could you imagine that? It’d be hilarious.
After the final taping, what are your plans?
Yeah, we already had a little soiree planned, like an end-of-summer thing—but now I think it’s going to be end-of-show thing. So I’m sure there’ll be a lot of drinking, and just a lot of emotions and goodbyes and all that stuff. It should be fun—I’m going to try and make it a good time.