It's a terrible idea. America needs Larry Wilmore on TV more today than ever. Wilmore, as the only African-American late-night comedy host, was also the only one in late night uniquely qualified to help people -- especially white people in America -- make sense of what is going on with non-white people in America. ("The Daily Show's" Trevor Noah is not African American, he was born and raised in South Africa and only moved to the United States in recent years.)
But Comedy Central executives apparently believed that was not enough, announcing the cancellation of Wilmore show, effective this Thursday. True, the show's ratings were below
than that of his predecessor, Stephen Colbert, in the time slot. But that only means the show was not a good fit for Comedy Central -- not that the show isn't a good fit for our nation on another cable network or on a digital platform.
Here is why you should.
Wilmore is not a 25-year-old guy made to order by TV execs to appeal to the all-important young, male viewer demographic. But he is the guy those young viewers need to hear from — a man in his 50s whose jokes about race and politics ring trenchant and true because we know he has lived through these issues.
That's why when Wilmore recently did a focus group with six African-Americans
who were genuinely supporting Donald Trump it resonated so powerfully — and was so funny -- when Wilmore asked, "What the f*** are you thinking?"
And Wilmore, who created TV hits such as "The Bernie Mac Show" and was showrunner on "Black-ish," had the credibility to go after Bill Cosby over his sex scandal in a way that other late-night hosts could not. He didn't just make it clear that he believed Cosby was guilty, he even called for Cosby to stop his comedy tour, because it was in poor taste to continue.
Wilmore showed a clip of Cosby dealing with a heckler
at a recent standup show by telling the heckler: "Shush..shush..Stop it." To which Wilmore responded, "'Shush...shush...stop it'?! Are you trying to quiet a heckler, or is that your pillow talk?!"
Wilmore took on issues of racism in all areas, from police misconduct cases to the practice of leaving people of color out of media panels discussing the situation in their own community. Last year he went after Fox News' Bill O'Reilly
for, incredibly, having a discussion about Black Lives Matter with just white people on his panel.
Wilmore remedied the situation by gleefully "inserting" himself into the show and correcting — hilariously -- the inaccurate blather of a panelist playing down American racism, and then finished up with a takedown of O'Reilly for making light of slavery.
But Wilmore didn't just address black and white issues on his show. He stood up for other minority communities as well. In fact the original title of the show was "The Minority Report" and it was intended to be a platform for minority voices -- the type usually ignored or tokenized by mainstream media. (The name of the show had to be changed because Fox TV was developing a TV version of the movie, "The Minority Report.")
I appeared on Wilmore's show three times and was part of a test show before it premiered. We discussed issues — often concerning the Muslim American community — in a way that was both funny and, hopefully, thought provoking.
On one show we had a brutally honest discussion
about the made-up term "radical Islam" and how it's laughable to hear Trump and others on the right, say, in effect, that if President Obama would simply use that term, the guys in ISIS would respond: "Uh--oh, they got us -- time to shut it all down." In contrast we see cable news shows discuss this term without ever demanding Trump and his surrogates define exactly what it means. (Spoiler alert: They can't.)
On Wilmore's show Monday, after it was announced the show would come to end, Wilmore joked: "Our show going off the air has to only mean one thing: Racism is solved."
Obviously, far from it. Losing Wilmore's show — which took on the tough issues about race in a way that made us laugh, think and learn — doesn't help us get any closer to that goal.
And if other networks are smart, they will get this man back on the air before this election is over, because his is a voice we could really use right now.