Comedy with a conscience
All things being equal, Larry Wilmore would rather be in Pasadena
By Carl Kozlowski 02/05/2009
Larry Wilmore is a black man with a unique perspective on the world. That much is evident when he makes one of his frequent appearances on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” But he’s really letting the world have a piece of his mind as the author of the new book, “I’d Rather We Got Casinos and Other Black Thoughts.”
Tackling everything from his belief that black people would rather have casinos than a Black History Month to make up for past injustices to his suspicion that hurricanes are inherently racist because “they start off the coast of Africa and work their way across the ocean to the Deep South,” Wilmore’s tome is fast, witty and filled with intelligent comedy. One would expect no less, coming from a man who has not only won an Emmy Award but an even more prestigious Peabody Award for the late, great sitcom he created: “The Bernie Mac Show.”
“I thought of the book a year and a half ago. The idea came to me of doing a book of sketches or a fake collection of supposed articles and radio interviews from elsewhere,” said the San Marino resident when reached by phone while on a book tour in New York City. “The title came from a bit with [“Daily Show” host] Jon Stewart. He asked why I wasn’t excited about Black History Month. I said, ‘Jon, 28 days of tribute doesn’t make up for 400 years of oppression. I’d rather we got casinos.’”
Wilmore is quick to note that neither the book nor his “Daily Show” commentaries necessarily represent his real opinions, saying “I’m not on the show to give a real op-ed.” In fact, he often gives opinions that conflict with what he actually believes, because “I can take both sides of an issue and argue it equally.”
A born and raised and still practicing Catholic, Wilmore’s favorite essay in “Casinos” is titled “In Search of Black Jesus.” He notes that many blacks have always argued that Jesus was a black man, due to some descriptions of his olive skin and “wool-like hair,” but Wilmore points out a couple of things that take the argument even further.
“From the moment of the Immaculate Conception, the question of ‘who the baby daddy’ was already an issue. And even his cousin had the first hip-hop name: John the Baptist, a full 2000 years before Cedric the Entertainer,” laughs Wilmore. “I’m sure that my fellow Catholics will really love seeing that stuff.”
Wilmore is gravitating more and more these days toward a full performing career, which is actually a return to his original show biz ambitions as a standup comic. Frustrated with a lack of quality material, he moved into writing on a series of shows including “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” before co-creating the controversial series “The PJs,” which viciously satirized ghetto life, and “The Bernie Mac Show.”
After a few years with “Mac,” Wilmore’s managers decided to submit him as a candidate for “The Daily Show” and he quickly gained popularity as the show’s “senior black correspondent” (aka the show’s ONLY black correspondent). He’s now developing a sitcom for himself to star in and is relishing life both in San Marino and in his favorite Pasadena cigar shop haunt.
“I’ve always been in love with Pasadena since I was a kid. I didn’t grow up here, but a couple of grandmas lived here, my dad and his dad too. I always wanted to live here and I finally moved here in 1997,” Wilmore explained. “I try not to take anything too seriously and have as much fun as I can. Once I start taking myself or the world too seriously, I get in trouble. That’s why I like cigars; they’re like a glass of wine in that it mellows you.”
Larry Wilmore will be discussing, signing and answering questions about “I’d Rather We Got Casinos” at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit www.vromansbookstore.com.