When all was said and done Saturday night, Larry Wilmore emerged from the White House Correspondents Dinner as the most controversial host since Stephen Colbert. In a new interview with The Daily Beast, he says he knew exactly what he was getting himself into.
While Colbert was initially criticized for his satirical hammering of George W. Bush, a decade afterwards, it was Wilmores relentless gags about the media, along with one well-placed colloquialism to describe the president, that has his detractors up in arms this week. Instant reviews ranged from CNN host Don Lemons middle finger to former CNN host Wharf Morgans pearl-clutching.
At the top of The Nightly Show Monday evening, Wilmore immediately addressed the kerfuffle over his use of the term my nigga in reference to the president. I altogether understand why people would be upset about that. Its a very charged word, I get it, he said, before explaining to critics the difference between the the n-word with an -a and with an -er. As the host explained, it is very important to properly conjugated that slur.
After his triumphant return to the airwaves, Wilmore called The Daily Beast to rehash his experience and fire back at some of those commentators who believed use that particular word to describe President Obama intersected a line.
So, how do you think it went on Saturday night?
It was very surreal. Just strictly as a comic, when youre in that situation you go, OK, this is not going to be easy. [ Laughs .] I could feel the resistance in the room almost immediately. I kind of realized early on that the tone of what I was doing did not match the room. But then I also realise theres not much I can do about it now, because this is what Ive prepared.
Was there anything that you adjusted or cut on the fly, either based on what Obama told or the rooms reaction?
Oh, wholly. I was was cutting jokes all over the place. I cut about 10 gags. I was going, No, thats not gonna play. Thinking, No, likely shouldnt say that. If they didnt laugh at that one, Im definitely not going to say this one. Thats why it was very surreal, it was almost like an out-of-body experience. And I suppose the first indication was the Wolf Blitzer joke, which to me was more tongue in cheek than anything else, you know? I think it came off harsher than how I had originally been aimed it. It seemed like a hard remark, but I truly meant it more roasty. Because I find all of this as a roast, truly. Like, in other words, I have nothing against Wolf Blitzer. Hes a nice guy. Im only dedicating my observation on that. And just trying to be snarky about it, but it came across pretty cold-blooded.
It seems like the president traditionally goes first so he doesnt have to follow a professional comedian .
Yeah, I heard that George H.W. Bush changed that around, because he followed a comic and told, Im not doing that again.
But because Obama has become so good at this, do you think it was fair that you had to follow him, especially after that mic drop-off?
Well, its never fair, but hes the president, what are you going to do? I entail hes unbelievable. You know what, its so funny, because first of all, hes charming, right? Hes got all that natural charm. And people like him because of that. And then hes funny too, he truly figured out timing early on, probably within the first year of his presidency. And “hes having” good writers, he has funny gags. So its that combining of the three that really builds him irresistable.
You got a very positive shout-out from Stephen Colbert last night. What does that mean to you?
That was very cool. It means so much. Stephen is just one of those great guys. That was just is a great pleasure, because Stephen went throughI mean, people forget that at the time, it was not nice at all when he did that setand his was almost like performance art. I still feel like it was arguably one of the bravest performances. Because he knew ahead of day[ how it would be received] going in. I was kind of like, Oh, they dont like this as I was doing it. I was almost caught off guard.
Like Colbert before you, your speech was received better outside of the room than inside the room. Can you talk about what that felt like in the moment versus some of feedback youve received since ?
Yeah, because of the experience in the room, I was wasnt sure how anybody received it. I thought maybe it felt like that outside too. I truly didnt know. And then Twitter started going crazy. And all these comments came in and people were saying, Oh my god, that was the best ever and I was like, Really? I was like, Thank god somebody liked it out there. Some of the things that people said in support of it were unbelievable. It was just so much good validation for what I was trying to accomplish. But there was a lot of negative as well, there was plenty of both.
Obviously the biggest commotion has been in reaction to your utilize of the n-word at the very end. Even Al Sharpton said it was in bad taste . What built you decide to close with that?
Some people are astounded, like, Why would you do this? It was a creative option, definitely. I came up with it like a month ago. Ive “was talkin about a” what this presidency has meant to me on a personal level, how much it truly affected me on a personal level and why I was a supporter of Obama from that historical point of view. Portion of it, and Ill be honest with you, Im offended every time the president has been insulted in so many different ways. And to me it goes back to years and years of what weve faced in this country. Ive been called horrible things growing up and all that stuff. And when I think about that particular word and how its been used against our people, for me to be able to turn it on its head and have almost a private moment with the president on stage, kind of like a public solitude, where he knew what I was talking about. Usually thats something we only do behind closed doors. But to do it in public, I thought, would be a strong route to objective. And I knew it would be controversial and I was ready to accept the fallout from it.
It reminds me of the outrage after Obama said the word in question during his podcast interview with Marc Maron. You pointed out on your show that at least two other presidentsNixon and Johnsonare on record using the word in a very different context.
I hadnt thought about that until after the fact. But yeah, I guess there is a parallel in some manner. To me, its kind of the antidote to You lie and that kind of criticism. Id never heard anyone tell You lie to a chairperson[ before Rep. Joe Wilson wailed it at Obama during a 2009 joint conference of Congress ]. A plenty of people I know were offended by that and assured it as more than just a difference[ of sentiment] with the president. It only didnt hit our ears that way. So this was a creative expression of those impressions.
The disagreement also came up at the White House press briefing on Monday. Josh Earnest said Obama appreciated the spirit of the sentiments that Mr. Wilmore expressed. What did Obama say to you personally about it?
He was very genuine when I first went off stage. He kind of[ pounded] his chest too, the style I did. And you know, its funny because Im the same age as the president. We graduated from high school the same year. That espouse at the end was so nice, it only felt so genuine. He was nothing but classy the whole hour, and the First Lady. At the end, we were on the dais and he was like, Hey, Larry, come over, we got to get in this painting. And Im just there supposing, I dont know, how do people feel about what I did? Did I simply blow things up here? I actually didnt know, so they built me feel nothing but comfortable and a part of everything.
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