Larry Wilmore rises to the top

Larry Wilmore's "Nightly Show" premieres Monday on Comedy Central.

Story highlights

  • Larry Wilmore's "Nightly Show" taking over Colbert's old time slot
  • Most of Wilmore's experience behind scenes, though he's appeared on "Daily Show"

(CNN)There used to be an ad campaign for American Express featuring the line, "Do you know me?"

Larry Wilmore could probably be its poster boy.
The writer and comedian, whose new "The Nightly Show" debuts on Comedy Central on Monday after Jon Stewart's "Daily Show," has generally stayed behind the scenes.
    Sure, he's popped up occasionally on "The Daily Show" as "Senior Black Correspondent," but he's devoted much of his career to writing and producing.
    It didn't start out that way. In the 1980s, he dropped out of college to become an actor and stand-up comedian. (You may remember him as a police officer on "The Facts of Life.") It was a few years later when he decided to become a TV writer.
    As Wilmore tells it, he was just being practical.
    "I knew Hollywood wasn't going to find me," he told New York magazine of his acting years, when the standard casting call wanted black men closer to Eddie Murphy's fast-talking types. "I needed to be able to control my own destiny. Being an actor was too flighty."
    After success as a writer for "In Living Color," "Sister, Sister" and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," he turned producer with "The PJs," the animated Eddie Murphy show, and the offbeat "Bernie Mac Show."
    He had returned to standup and done some hosting with a touring show called "Larry Wilmore's Race, Religion and Sex," but was ready to go back to producing as the show runner for "Black-ish."
    Instead, he decided to stay in front of the camera to host "The Nightly Show," which is taking over the "Colbert Report" time slot.
    He doesn't seem intimidated. Not only is he going to be in Colbert's old offices and using his old studio, "I'm also moving into Stephen's house and driving his old car," he told The New York Times.
    Wilmore grew up in the Los Angeles area, where comedy was a regular part of his growing up. It's still a family affair: His brother Marc is a writer for "The Simpsons."
    Hard work is also in his makeup. His father was a probation officer who decided to become a doctor -- in his 40s.
    "He started taking premed courses, and he just did it. He was a really solid student because he had perspective," Wilmore told The New York Times. "He wasn't out playing beer pong every night. It was such a lesson to me."
    Wilmore has distinguished himself on "The Daily Show," where his Senior Black Correspondent has chimed in on such subjects as Black History Month, Barack Obama's presidency and the Ferguson violence.
    He's already had to adjust to changes at "The Nightly Show," which was originally announced as "The Minority Report with Larry Wilmore." Unfortunately for Comedy Central, Fox decided to develop a project based on the 2002 Tom Cruise movie, so Comedy Central opted for "The Nightly Show."
    But the easygoing Wilmore is OK with that. Besides, the show wasn't just going to be about people of color, he told The New York Times.
    "It was never intended to be a show only about minorities," he said. "It's a show about underdogs, and that happens in a lot of different forms, whether it's race, gender or whatever."
    According to New York magazine, the new show will have some regular cast members, a few panelists and Wilmore, anchoring it all with monologues and his distinct take on the news.
    Rory Albanese, the "Nightly Show's" executive producer, told The Wall Street Journal that Wilmore's training behind the scenes will serve him well.
    "Larry's like a Jedi" of TV and comedy, he said.
    Wilmore himself is taking a casual attitude to the inevitable attention. You didn't know him before? You may soon see him everywhere, but he'll be the same Larry Wilmore regardless.
    "It's too late for success to do anything to me. I'm too old. Success had its chance," he told The New York Times. "It's too late for you, success. You had your shot. You're not going to change me at this point."