When it comes to late night television, a lot can happen in a week. One thing that’s not changing any time soon— The Arsenio Hall Show’s place in history as the strongest voice in late night for Black viewers. But if last week was any indicator, it won’t be the only one. The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore — like The Daily Show but only “nightlier” — is no melanin-touting derivative. It’s much more confident than that.
The Nightly Show is a big turn from Stephen Colbert‘s brilliant satire show that originally occupied its time slot. Wilmore is known for his work as a writer for multiple favorite Black sitcoms (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; Sister, Sister; The PJs) and as an executive producer for the critically respected Black-ish. So it’s not too much of a surprise that he’s able to carry his tone with aplomb—sarcasm and unapologetic, inclusive Blackness.
Maintaining that voice is important because it’s a rarity in late night television. With the exception of President Barack Obama‘s State of the Union, The Nightly Show focuses on last year’s political issues. A multi-sided discussion on the Bill Cosby sexual assault allegations was presented in the second and arguably the strongest, episode. Ebony senior editor Jamilah Lemieux notes in the discussion that Cosby is the reason many chose to attend HBCU institutions, and now he’s a symbol of hypocrisy. Comedian Keith Robinson willfully defends Cosby under the “innocent until proven guilty” belief. Still Wilmore keeps his opinions 100. “There’s no statute of limitations on my opinion, and I’m telling you, that mother***er did it.”
That right there forms the crux of the show: dissonance. The panel discussion allows for a more thorough exploration of a topic than a singular comedic take. A voice is good, but multiple voices tend to stir up more because of how they reveal discomfort. And it helps that the show is focused on topics that need national conversation. Comedian Bill Burr remarked in the first, police brutality-focused episode that the only way to effect change is through “ridiculous acts of violence.” The audience gasped, but the idea wasn’t ludicrous enough to at least be met with a distant “maybe.”
It also helps that The Nightly Show has a capable host. Wilmore is blunt, but he’s never really crass. He acknowledges that Al Sharpton isn’t the “Black Batman” in one of his first jokes, and later notes that the president clearly just “doesn’t give a f**k,” according to his speech. The gags are there, and he doesn’t shy away from any of them.
Lastly, there’s the “Keep It 100” segment, that separates The Nightly Show from its competitors by definition. The panelists get a question, and the audience determines whether they’re keeping it 100 with cheers or boos. Those who don’t keep it 100 get a “weak” tea thrown at them. By the way, Wilmore spends some time in the first two episode explaining to the wider (read: non-black) audience that “Keep It 100” means “keeping it 100 percent real.” The Nightly Show may be more niche than The Colbert Report, but the nation is still invited.