Though his comedy career spans over a quarter-century as an actor, writer and producer, and he's got a Peabody Award on his mantle (or wherever he keeps it), Larry Wilmore is recognized in the literal sense most by people for his recent work as a correspondent for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Perhaps Wilmore's new book, I'd Rather We Got Casinos (and Other Black Thoughts), will jog people's memories a bit. Or at least get them laughing. I had the chance to speak to him over the telephone this weekend, just before he headed out on his book tour.
You started out in stand-up comdedy and have been a writer and a performer. Do you have a preference? "I was writing out of necessity. I was a writer, but I never viewed myself as a writer. It's funny. I actually prefer being viewed as a writer now. Because as a writer, I get to complain about things. Writers like to complain."
You've explained already that the title of the book comes from a quote you delivered to Jon Stewart during a Daily Show segment. But what was the first "black thought" you had that inspired the rest of the thoughts in the book?
"How can a brother get paid during the writers strike? It was really that pragmatic. I should probably do a book because there's going to be a writers strike. And then I came up with the line…I'd rather we got casinos," he said. "That's how I work a lot. I think of the title and it will give me the impetus to write something. I used to write a lot of sketch. And coming up with a good title would get you thinking and would really drive the writing."
He first thought he'd play off of the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. "And then I thought I'd do a parody of hope," Wilmore said. But he would dismiss that. "It just seemed too one note to me. I thought if I were reading that, I'd be bored by the end of the first chapter."
"It's like writing a lot of different sketches. But I almost called it 'Give us the Superdome.' But that was only after I started. I don't know what this book is, but it's a great effing title."
Have you given any thought to a joint book tour with the guys from Stuff White People Like? (Their book tour ends Feb. 10, coincidentally) Wilmore asks me who they are, and I explain that like him, they came up with a title first, then a blog, then converted it into a book mocking things that, well, white people like.
"Like polka. You'd never see polka at the top of a brother's list," Wilmore said.
One of my newspaper alma maters, the New York Daily News, devoted much of its Sunday features section to comedy, thanks in part to this week's New York Comedy Festival, but also to how much comedy has impacted politics this campaign season. There's a story from Caroline Waxler about how comedians might react to an Obama presidency, brief interviews with fest headliners Sarah Silverman, Tracy Morgan and Carlos Mencia, a profile roundup of the 11 finalists in the New York's Funniest Stand-Up contest, and a look-back at some quotes from Bernie Mac, who appears posthumously in the new movies Madagascar 2 and Soul Men.
While CNN rebroadcast its Larry King Live interview with the surviving members of the Original Kings of Comedy crew multiple times last week, that trio (D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer and Steve Harvey) and thousands more, including the mayor of Chicago, memorialized Bernie Mac on Saturday. Accounts also from The Chicago Sun-Times and The Chicago Tribune.
Here is the AP video report:
Bernie Mac, one of the "Original Kings of Comedy," has died from complications of pneumonia. Mac was only 50.
Mac appeared in the groundbreaking documentary film, The Original Kings of Comedy, which rebooted stand-up comedy. He had his own successful FOX sitcom, appeared in the three Oceans movies with George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Co., and had filmed a pilot for a return to TV earlier this year.
News reports from his hometown Chicago Tribune, including a look at sarcoidosis, the disease Bernard Jeffrey McCullough suffered from (though his publicist claimed it did not factor into his death), and the recent scrape Mac got into at a fund-raiser in July for Barack Obama.
"When I started in comedy in the clubs in 1977, blacks couldn't do certain clubs -- not because they were segregated. They just didn't want to put the [black comics] out there. In Los Angeles, the clubs would have a black night. People would say, 'Why don't you come by and do something?' I would say, 'I'm a comedian -- don't put a title on me.' Don't limit yourself. How you start is how you finish," he told the Tribune in 2007. "If you let people put tags on you, you'll never be able to remove them. You've got to make people respect you. Respect is bigger than dollars and cents."
Mac grew up on the South Side, so here's what the Sun-Times had to say.
Comedians and celebrities give their initial reactions (E! Online). From Chris Rock: "Bernie Mac was one of the best and funniest comedians to ever live, but that was the second best thing he did. Bernie was one of the greatest friends a person could have. Losing him is like losing 12 people because he absolutely filled up any room he was in. I'm gonna miss the Mac Man." From Cedric the Entertainer: "It's hard to put into words just how I feel and what a painful loss this is. Bernie was a brother, a friend and one of the comic masters of our time. Sharing the marquee with him during the phenomenon of the Kings of Comedy tour bonded us like family, and created a unique moment in comic history marking some of the most meaningful, memorable and fun times of our lives. His comedic approach was his own brand and will definitely stand the test of time. The level of his talent always inspired me and other comedians to 'bring their A-game.' I promise you that you never wanted to be the guy who had to follow Bernie's set! As a husband and father, he was THE MAN and my thoughts and prayers are with his family. He will truly be missed, but so well remembered."
Here is an AP video obit:
And here are some other clips to remember Bernie Mac, starting with an NSFW video from Def Comedy Jam, which gave him his big break in 1992...
While everyone was talking about Leno and Kimmel agreeing to go on each other's shows to break the strike, or wondering how Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert would come back on the air, or buzzing about the return of The L Word, or how The Wire is the greatest show on TV ever (which is odd considering these folks were the same ones who kept saying this about The Sopranos, and you've never heard them mention The Wire before The Sopranos ended only six months ago), or even people talking about the New Hampshire primaries, you barely heard a word about the return of Def Comedy Jam. Well, Def Jam and comedy are back together again. And Russell Simmons reminded you with a throwback clip of Bernie Mac in 1991, with an outfit that made him look more like a Graffiti Train Conductor of Comedy than a future King of Comedy. But host D.L. Hughley set the tone early, with his tie and sweater and his jokes about the presidential campaign, that this wasn't your older sibling's Def Jam show. Or was it? The first comic, Damon Jr., as in Damon Wayans Jr., didn't sound or look exactly like his father, but did show his youth with a very hacky, if well-executed act-out of a guy trying to masturbate to porn without completing during the close-up on a guy. The show also featured a Middle Eastern comic (Vincent Oshana), a British comic (Gina Yashere), and Capone. Yep, Def Jam's back. File under the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Meanwhile, NYC comedians Baron Vaughn and Elon James White started a site called the Black Comedy Project last year to showcase different types of "black comedy" than the type you're perhaps used to seeing.