Larry Wilmore tickles funny bones, goes for throat in 'The Nightly Show' debut

Colbert's replacement goes after Sharpton
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Story highlights

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

(CNN)It's funny. It's serious. Seriously funny? We'll see.

Larry Wilmore's "The Nightly Show" debuted on Comedy Central Monday night, taking over the "Colbert Report" time slot. And right from the start, it was apparent, the show wasn't going to shy away from race.
One of his first jokes? "A brother finally gets a show on late night TV, but, of course, he has to work on Martin Luther King Day."
    Yes, "The Nightly Show" not just dove right into racial humor. It swam in it, skewering everything in its path.
    On climate change: "If we don't figure this out, then it won't just be black people saying, 'I can't breathe.'"
    On Al Sharpton: "Al, slow down man. You don't have to respond to every black emergency. You're not black Batman."
    But predictible, it wasn't.
    "A very powerful motion picture was snubbed. This film's message is as poignant today as it was when I was a kid," he said, as he prepared to dress down the Academy Awards and its snub of black talent in this year's nomination.
    And then the punchline: " How did the "Lego Movie" movie not get nominated for best picture?"

    Who is Larry Wilmore?

    If you're not familiar with him, Wilmore's a writer and comedian, who has largely made his mark behind the scenes.
    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."
    His brother Marc is a writer for "The Simpsons."

    Back to the show

    In Monday's debut, "The Nightly Show" wasn't all fun and games.
    Wilmore hosted a 10-minute panel discussion on the "state of protests" in the nation, featuring U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, rapper/activist Talib Kweli, comedian Bill Burr and show contributor Shenaz Treasury.
    Making a point about the perception of black men in America, Wilmore asked the sharp-dressed senator from New Jersey a rhetorical question.
    "You look very nice in a suit. Do you feel like you're just a hoodie away from being face down in the pavement?"
    Funny? Yes. Serious? Yes. Seriously funny?
    There's no doubt that Wilmore is out to make a point and have America join in on the conversation.