Monday, May 02, 2016

Larry Wilmore bombed at the White House Correspondents Dinner

I keep wanting to like Larry Wilmore.

From what I hear he’s a lovely guy. And I sure liked THE BERNIE MAC SHOW, which he ran.

I know he’s talented. I know he’s funny. I was pleased when I heard he was taking over for Stephen Colbert.

But when I watch that show it just doesn’t do it for me. It feels smug and I rarely laugh. Samantha Bee – I laugh. Trevor Noah – Well, I wasn’t expecting much anyway. But Larry Wilmore – it’s like when your five-year-old hits the ball in T-ball but runs to third.

I still tune in from time to time hoping he’s settled in and finally knows to run to first base. But there he goes up the third base line.

Fortunately, I know other people who find his show entertaining, so maybe it’s just me. You can’t tell from his studio audience because those bleachers are filled with screaming hyenas that go batshit over every line.

In any event, I was looking forward to seeing how he’d do hosting the White House Correspondents Dinner Saturday night. And honestly, I was rooting for him.

Ohmygod. He was painful.

Now, it didn’t help that he followed President Obama who was hilarious. Say what you will, the man knows how to deliver a joke. And apparently how to hire excellent comedy writers.

Larry absolutely bombed. And without the benefit of his Red Bull/orgasmic normal audience his material was getting groans. In many cases, the best he could hope for was silence. The only real laughter was sporadic nervous chuckles – coming from Larry himself.

Hard to know who to blame – bad writers, bad judgment on his part, or a less-than-polished delivery. But his monologue was a disaster. Lame jokes and cheap shots. Kelly Ripa jokes. Ha ha. Bill Clinton hooker jokes. Snicker snicker. Jeb Bush jokes. Yawn.   Ben Carson jokes. Zzzzz. And Bill Cosby jokes. Outright disgust. At times I thought people were going to storm the stage.  CNN Correspondent Don Lemon gave him the finger. 

He had no less than twenty jokes about Ted Cruz being the Zodiac killer and not a single one worked. You would think after the fifth one tanked he would know enough to scrap the remaining fifteen.

And it’s not like he didn’t know he was bombing. At one point he said, “Hey, groans are good.” Another time he said to the audience, “You guys are tough.”  No, they weren't.  They laughed uproariously for a half hour before he got on. 

He wrapped it up by saying to the President of the United States, “You did it my n*gga!”

Yikes.

If ever there should have been walk-off music, if ever there should have been a hook or a gong five minutes into a monologue this was it.

It’s as if your five-year-old hit the ball then took off his pants – moments after Roseanne sang the National Anthem.

And I like Larry Wilmore. 

48 comments:

Matt said...

When I watch his show I want to like him. Some of his material is inspired. But on the whole he never seems to own his audience. He often comes off as amateurish. I sometimes watch his bits on YouTube, but not his show.

Now Samantha Bee, that ***** is funny.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Obama was also charming and funny on Jerry Seinfeld's COMEDIANS IN CARS GETTING COFFEE - in which the secret service refused to let them off the White House grounds, so they had to drive around in circles before parking and going into some staff basement for coffee.

wg

Bugdun said...

Wilmore immediately started in on Wolf Blitzer, and I turned it off. Sounded more like he was simply going to be an asshole instead of delivering clever, funny lines.

Mitchell Hundred said...

Eh, there were some jokes that didn't work, but just because he couldn't get that room to laugh doesn't mean he wasn't funny. I mean, Stephen Colbert supposedly bombed as well doing the same job, and his speech was brilliant.

Also, I fail to see what's wrong with Larry Wilmore using the n-word.

VP81955 said...

If Hillary is coronated, I expect Ms. Bee to have next year's WHCD slot. Though if I were president, I'd walk to the podium, tell the correspondents I'm sick of the self-congratulatory bullshit, and leave, never returning to the event for as long as I'm in office. It typifies the smugness of today's insular official Washington, and this former D.C. area resident doesn't care for it one bit.

Igor said...

I agree w/ you on this pretty much, both about the dinner and his show. And "wanting to like" him. And I totally get the T-ball analogy, it really does explain it. But even now, rereading it, I wince at "it’s like when your five-year-old." And yet as I said, I get it. So maybe it's just me.

I wasn't a big fan of Jon Stewart's Daily Show, but wherever I'd see it and Wilmore had a bit, I almost always liked it. Some better than others.

Mike Botula said...

I was wondering, as I gritted my teeth listening to Larry Willmore, just what Ken Levine would say about his routine. It appears that I guessed right! The President was hilarious. Good lines delivered flawlessly. Willmore didn't even come close.

Anonymous said...

Larry Wilmore was painful to watch. The Correspondents Dinner can be one of the best shows of the year, but not this one. I didn't think it was possible but Wilmore made me yearn for the brilliance of Wanda Sykes or Rich Little, even Don Imus's memorable fiasco.

The host should taken the mic back after Wilmore and said, "Thank you, alleged comedian Larry Wilmore. Thank you for explaining to us why no one watches 'The Nightly Show'."

-30-

Linda Teverbaugh said...

Amen. I feel the sam way about is show, too. It's not just you. -- mike t

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

He seems uneasy in his own skin. Maybe the fix might be three glasses of wine and some good material. Gotta have both.

suek2001 said...

Craig Ferguson's monologue was great when he did it..and he managed to chastise the press in that moment..
..and Ken...a random note, the other night, our local TV station anchor..in Duluth, MN...was introducing a piece on the winds of Lake Superior this week..and his intro went something like "You've heard of Big Wave Dave's, well take a look"...
So, your show got a shout out from Duluth, MN...

normadesmond said...

i was uncomfortable watching him, but then when it was over i questioned myself.
i'm an old poop, what do i know? the world isn't "mine" anymore.
there are new young people deciding what's what, what's new, what's funny, what's cool.

or maybe these new young people don't know shit?

SharoneRosen said...

I like Larry Wilmore. I watch his show every night, but it is about a 50/50 good/bomb ratio on the bits. The sketches fall flat most of the time, but I do like the panel discussions.

Larry's Correspondents dinner performance was achingly, excruciatingly painful.. and I so wanted him to hit a home run.

Michael said...

Ken - any thoughts on the controversy surrounding the Gary Owen SHOWTIME comedy special? It has offended many in the intellectual disability community who are calling for SHOWTIME to pull it from their schedule.

H Johnson said...

I like him too. I get the feeling that he knows whats funny but he just can't be funny. I watch the nightly show from time to time. Mike yard is hilarious, Larry Wilmore and the other comedians not so much.

The correspondent's dinner speech was hard to watch. I wondered if maybe it was really hip and I just didn't get it. He's indicated previously that he doesn't think Obama's done a good job but he has to support him because he's black. So all through his routine, he'd kid around with him and then send a random bomb in that didn't mesh with the rest. I thought it would've been better to either go all soft ball or give him the heat. He seemed to want to skewer him but didn't want to get crossed off the invite list. No guts.

I also agree with your description of his TV audience. But it's not just his show, it's everything now. Audiences don't make the entertainer earn it anymore. The cult-of-personality has turned everybody into worshiping, bleeting sheep. I think it started with the Arsenio Hall Show. Ugh.

Anyways it will be interesting to see Wilmore's take on his performance. Think there will be a humbling effect? Sure.

Aloha

LinGin said...

I am curious about the racial identity of those commenting today. Because on my Twitter feed most African-Americans loved Wilmore's routine.

Michael Spadoni said...

I was sitting with my partner watching the WHCD on CNN (or was it MSNBC?). And I was shocked. I like Larry W. on "The Nightly Show," but if I were doing jokes for an audience that includes POTUS, I'd make sure it was the best it could be. Larry simply took some of his TNS material and managed to make it unfunny. True, Obama is a hard act to follow, but Larry didn't event try, IMHO.
Next year, bring on Samantha Bee. Or John Oliver. They're fantastic!

Cat said...

The gold standard for WHC dinners is Seth Meyers from 2011.
The president was hysterical. I am going to miss him.

Chris said...

Serious question here. I know you document the groans and his response, but do you think he really and truly knows he was bad? Is it possible he's surrounded himself with enough people to just sort of glide past it? Or even ignore/deny it? I'd love to hear some readers thoughts on this--and yours, Ken, if you have anything to add. As a teacher, I speak in front of people daily and have to self-critique, but then again I don't have a a claque of howlers insulating me from reality. How tough do you think he will really be on himself? Thanks for any insight.

alkali said...

Agree with SharoneRosen. I think Wilmore is funny and thoughtful in mixed amounts on The Nightly Show, and I would have liked for him to do well at the WHCD. Alas, he did not.

I wonder sometimes whether comedians doing that event vet their stuff with colleagues. Seth Meyers' 2011 WHCD set was funny, but it is almost more important that the tone was never wrong. Wilmore was really all over the place and it seems that anyone could have foreseen that.

Marc Sotkin said...

Larry just doesn't have great writers. It's why his show isn't that funny. Every great comic who we think is a genius has great writers working with them.

Andy Rose said...

I like Larry Wilmore, too, but he seems to be a comedy version of the Peter Principle. Fantastic writer and producer, great panelist, good actor, but he's always been extraordinarily awkward as a host.

Anonymous said...

@ Mitchell Hundred
You honestly don't see anything in appropriate with calling the President of the United States a "nigga" in a public forum?

Steve said...

I'm so glad you wrote this. I sat watching this as it aired and my mouth was agape in horror at how unfunny it was. I felt as if *I* were flop sweating in empathy. And then on CNN immediately after, half of the idiot panelists there said they thought it was great. I think one said it was brilliant. And I've seen people say how "black Twitter" was heaping great praise on it. I just don't get it. I wasn't upset at all that he made race a key theme -- I expected it, and I had no real problem with that. I just thought it was all, save maybe 3 jokes out of 70, shockingly unfunny.

I know that "funny" is very subjective, but I can't for the life of me figure out how people could think this was funny, except because they were so determined to say that it was. It was like Larry saying it didn't matter what Obama's policies were, as long as he was black it was cool with him. Was that all this came down to? If so, that's really sad. Chris Rock made race THE central joke at the Oscars, and although I thought it was way too repetitive and not up to his usual hilarious standards, I did think many of his jokes or lines were funny, and I can imagine mileage varying on the overall impression. Larry Wilmore at this event, though? How on earth could anyone find it anything other than terrible?

VP81955 said...

The insularity I spoke of in an earlier comment explains why Stephen Colbert's comments at the WHCD some years back were so poorly received -- they hit too close to home. And from having been in a homeless shelter where the population was two-thirds black, I heard the n-word tossed around repeatedly by them (along with "m-----f-----"; a visitor from another planet would wonder why black people are so hung up on Oedipal principles). Larry probably thought he could get away with it, a dumb move on his part.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Larry Wilmore seemed uncomfortable which immediately made me uncomfortable. He may have been uncomfortable because he knew what he was going to say. And the "my n*gga" thing to the President made me creepy uncomfortable...and sad. I'm uncomfortable just writing this.

Josiah said...

Larry's bit was fit for a minor celebrity roast. Almost. Dean Martin would've knocked his ass off the dais. Disappointing performance.

Anonymous said...

Cat, Seth Meyers is the gold standard for court jesters.

James said...

There's a cycle to the WH Correspondence Dinner hosts. Year one, you hire George Carlin who rips everyone and everyone laughs. Year two you get someone edgy like Ricky Gervais, who rips everyone and everyone hates it. Year three you get someone safe like Rich Little who offends nobody, but hasn't been funny since Billy Carter died. Continue cycle, except noting that George Carlins are few and far between, and the original is no longer with us.

Next year expect Howie Mandell to be the host.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they could get David Frye or Vaughn Meador next year. They would be funnier than Wilmore and, like him, they've also died.

-30-

Terrence Moss said...

The same thing that is wrong with ANYONE using that word.

emily said...

I can't stop cringing!

MikeK.Pa. said...

After the Oscars or Golden Globes, I think the WHCD is a tough gig. Wilmore's remarks reminded me of Ricky Gervais at the GG. He got so good lines in and a lot that just made people uncomfortable. His line comparing Steph Curry and President Obama was bold, if not funny. Larry didn't care who he pissed off. The WC crowd, much like Hollywood award attendees, can laugh at anything or anyone, except themselves. BTW, any idea who writes Obama's jokes. He scored on the majority of them, although he had a couple that went flat. The video with Boehner was a good idea; just not well executed. Kudos for him for agreeing to do it. Maybe BO gave him the Lucifer line on Cruz when they were taping.

Igor said...

If you want to see plain ol' classic standup at a WHC dinner, here's Cedric the Entertainer doing it in 2005. http://www.c-span.org/video/?186439-1/2005-white-house-correspondents-dinner (Can't tell you the start time because, oddly, depends on what browser you open it in.)

I heard him on some talk show after this saying it was tough because he followed Laura Bush (who stood in at the podium for her husband, though he was there), and she did damn well.

Yes, some will say his routine was "tame". Maybe he'd be cutting if he did it today, but seems to me he did what he does. And he was funny.

Mitchell Hundred said...

I don't see anything wrong with another black person calling him that in that context. He clearly meant it as a term of endearment, not denigration (which is a common thing for black people to do). And, of course, he also meant it as a joke; my guess would be in reference to the increasingly devil-may-care attitude that the administration has taken in its waning days. I mean, in any other context these jokes would probably be considered unprofessional for the POTUS to make, but at the WHCD they're fine.

Dave Logan said...

I too keep trying to like Wilmore's Comedy Central show but sometimes it gets too preachy and holier-than-thou. "Smug" is the perfect description. His performance at the WHCD was tough sledding all the way and as you noted, it didn't help that he had to follow the President who NAILED IT during his time at the podium. Maybe they need to re-think the whole insult-a-thon approach at that event. Where's Will Rogers when you need him?

Anonymous said...

@ Mitchel Hundred
First of all maybe it's not OK for one black person to call another that. See Richard Pryor on that issue.
Second of all this isn't one black person to another in a private context, it's one person to the President of the United States publicly.
Third of all, maybe that's the problem with the concept. It eventually leads to total blurring of the line between the person and the office, and so you can basically say anything directly to the president in public. Gee I was just kidding when I called him/her a c*** Imagine the consequences - for you as well as him/her.

Barry Traylor said...

Even though I like him I could not watch him to the end. The President on the other hand was fantastic.

Mitchell Hundred said...

Well, we're obviously not going to see eye to eye on this. As a white person I don't really feel comfortable arguing the point at length, so I'll just defer to the explanation that Wilmore himself offered.

VP81955 said...

Too many people -- Medgar Evers, MLK -- gave up their lives to stop use of the n-word by anyone, black or white. Talk like a working-class lunkhead stereotype, and you're treated like one. And deservedly so.

Roger Owen Green said...

I LIKE the Nightly Show, much more than you.
And I HATED LM's WHCD speech. Even jokes that weren't bad, his timing was off.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I always thought Comedy Central fired W. Kamau Bell by mistake, instead of Larry Wilmore. Bell is doing funny, thoughtful work on CNN, of all places (UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA), and there's a promo that does the impossible -- it makes Wolf Blitzer funny.

Uncle Muckles said...

Isn't it weird how almost every Oscar host "bombs"? Isn't it odd how almost every Correspondents Dinner comedian "bombs"? At some point, you just have to accept that it's a terrible gig with a room of stiffs. Colbert made that dynamic work for him and it elevated his set, but Wilmore couldn't. Presumably because the stakes were higher, and because Colbert is a far superior performer.

Wilmore wasn't good at the Correspondents event, and Wilmore wasn't bad. He had some decent lines, most of which got no reaction, and he had some lame lines. Pushing that relentless "Zodiac Killer" premise beyond its limits would have killed on the dais at a roast-- remember Norm Macdonald's fantastic performance at the Bob Saget event? But my God, was this the wrong room to die in with theoretical comedy.

Wilmore was frequently hilarious doing spots on "The Daily Show." He was a highlight on that program. But his own "Nightly Show" has been a colossal disappointment, in which a fourth of the jokes are wordplay and another fourth are witless variations on "Hey, [Public Person]... fuck you!" I find his solo show unwatchable, which is too bad.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

Larry just doesn't have great writers. It's why his show isn't that funny. Every great comic who we think is a genius has great writers working with them.
Stewart and Colbert pointed this out repeatedly during the writers strike of a few years back.

i agree with Roger Owen Green about his timing. There was no structure to it, he was all over the map and a little too preachy-- do you want to make a point about Gitmo, or get laughs? I often enjoy his show, I was a huge fan of his TDS appearances, but again, that lack of strong writing shows through a lot on The Nightly Show.

With the exception of Samantha Bee (the only woman involved, as she and others have pointed out) the great reshuffling of late night has been a huge disappointment. I miss Letterman and Ferguson, and the old Stephen Colbert

A_Homer said...

You know he was bad when many articles followed explaining that actually people in the audience or that the President really enjoyed the set. If you have to explain away what is evident on the screen, well... especially after watching the President just do it all so much better, including --- importantly -- qualifying his blackness with a "mic drop" because he can do that after a successful set where he took all the Repubs to task ("And I'm the foreign one ...?" "You're feeling comfortable enough with the way things are going to be here tonight (or to that regard)"

The main rookie mistake Wilmore made was showing he was nervous from the beginning by chiding the audience reaction to him before he starts -and doing so under-energized, dropping his voice at the end of his lines. He did not ride the wave and energy that the President set up for him, but completely messed it up. So in the end, when he wants to be honest, a nice opportunity, and then says that line with the "n" word, it fails because unlike Obama's mic drop, he did not earn the right to dispense with protocol and be that informal with the President. To me, that was the major flaw in him using the comedic vernacular, the everyday "you and I understand" kind of wording and the bro-hug that follows - he didn't pull anything off at all to make it available to him to do. Had he been a Colbert-like presence, maybe then the switch would have been meaningful, but like this, it looked like an excuse. I actually watch Wilmore's show from time to time, but it's basically 15 min at best, the roundtable is forgettable. John Oliver and Samantha Bee are the winners from all that post-DS and Colbert mess.

Jahn Ghalt said...

@ Buttermilk Sky

Thanks for the W. Kamau Bell tip about his UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA) - wrote:

"there's a promo that does the impossible -- it makes Wolf Blitzer funny"

Not so "impossible". During the Gulf War, Johnny Carson made him famous. Mentioned him a many successive shows.

The joke was simple: "Blitzer" - kinda like the running "Frau Blucher" and frightened horses gag on Young Frankenstein.

Jahn Ghalt said...

OK,

As long as the POTUS is on-topic.

Lately at NBA playoff station breaks they have a promotion featuring Stephen Curry (the current and soon-to-repeat NBA MVP) and The President.

(they are "golfing pals" so I hear)

He "helped" Curry with his resume ("get rid of the Word Art") his shot ("roll off the fingertips") and a vinegar/baking soda volcano ("that's Science").

Very Funny - and credible in a way. A Constitutional Lawyer could help with one's resume. And based on youtube videos, then Senator Obama had a sweet stroke.

Mike Barer said...

I just watched, it sounded like he borrowed a little from Chris Rock's Oscar hosting schtick.