Larry Wilmore, of 'The Daily Show,' says there's always room for good writers

By Whitney Marin

February 14, 2014

Entertainer visits Newhouse for annual Conversation on Race and Entertainment Media

When asked to describe what he does, Larry Wilmore, of “The Daily Show” says he’s in the business of telling a good story and making people laugh.

Wilmore shared his experiences of working on shows such as “In Living Color,” “The Bernie Mac Show,” and the TV role he is perhaps most famous for: “senior black correspondent” for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Wilmore spoke to a packed auditorium on Feb. 12 at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University for the 13th annual Conversation on Race and Entertainment Media.

Newhouse Dean Lorraine Branham introduced Wilmore and touched on his many accolades as a comedian, writer, producer, Emmy and Peabody award winner. Leading the conversation was Newhouse assistant professor Charisse L’Pree.

Wilmore, in his familiar and laid-back comedic style, answered questions about his experience in the media. He also talked about how he’s able to talk about race through his position on “The Daily Show.”

Wilmore says “people are scared to talk about these things today,” referring to race and other sensitive topics. He says comedy is “a great way to start a conversation.”

Diversity was a major theme of the evening. Wilmore says he believes in a diversity of ideas, but that he likes to be more specific about what that means.

“Diversity just means a mix of different things, but I think many times we need specific pushes and approaches,” he says. “I’m not thinking diversity, I’m thinking specifics… that I want to do something about that culture.”

Wilmore mentioned two current examples of diversity in media today: “The Mindy Project,” an NBC sitcom featuring an Indian woman as the main character, and African-American screenwriter Shonda Rhimes of the hit show “Scandal,” which represents diversity both in front of and behind the screen.

Despite outward success, Wilmore says he too, has struggled. On co-creating, writing and producing “The Bernie Mac Show,” he admitted that he didn’t have the greatest relationship with Fox. Writing for the show won him an Emmy in 2002, but the network later fired him.

“We had creative differences,” he says of the firing. “I was creative, they were different.”

Wilmore says it was a huge disappointment for him and one of his “lowest moments.” He started working for NBC not long after that, however, and that lead to “The Daily Show.”

“That low moment opened up this whole other thing that I had kind of forgotten about, and that was performing.”

As the night wound down, Wilmore offered advice to aspiring writers in the audience.

 “There is always room for another great writer. Always, always always,” he says. “The landscape that you’re working in is always changing and sometimes you’re part of that change. If you’re doing something no one has done, consider that a good thing. You might be leading the way instead of following the way.”

Whitney Marin is a junior television, radio and film and public policy dual major.

Photos by Tammy Chan, a senior broadcast journalism and policy studies major.