“I thought it was very thoughtful of Chief Justice [John] Roberts to use a fireproof Bible – because once Trump touches it at any time it could have burst into flames,” says Larry Wilmore of Donald Trump’s fiery Inauguration last week. “Very thoughtful,” the former The Nightly Show host and Insecure co-creator added with a sigh and a laugh.
Having been announced as a jury member in the U.S. Documentary category late last year, Wilmore was in Park City for the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and will be a presenter at the Jessica Williams hosted awards ceremony tonight.
Before that, he chatted with me about the opening salvos of the ex-Celebrity Apprentice host’s administration and how he wished his now cancelled Comedy Central talk show was back for at least last week. With a Black-ish spinoff in the works for the former showrunner of the ABC comedy from Wilmore and original series creator Kenya Barris, the industry veteran also offered a glimpse into what else he is working on and will be talking to America about soon.
DEADLINE: So, this is your first Sundance and as a Jury member, why didn’t you come before?
WILMORE: I was asked a couple years ago and I couldn’t do it because I was too busy.
DEADLINE: It’s not that long a flight from L.A…
WILMORE: Some brothers are working. You’ve got to make a paycheck. When you work in television you’re in the writer’s room all the time. You can’t take 10 days or a week to go watch movies. Nobody’s going to sign up for that (laughs). But it’s something I had always thought if I was every asked I would definitely do it if I had the time to do it.
Now I’m in a position where I’m doing a deal with ABC and I’m actually looking for talent and looking for new voices and looking for that kind of thing, so it makes sense for me to come here now, where before I would have really just being going just to go and just to watch things. But now I have a real purpose to be here. I’m excited to see new voices out there and people I don’t know about or who’s doing what and that kind of thing.
DEADLINE: The festival has changed so much even in the last 5-years, certainly with the introduction of more TV, what’s been your impression of Sundance now that you are here?
WILMORE: You know, it’s funny, when I first thought of Sundance years ago to me it always felt like a place where films could get seen that didn’t have a chance to get seen somewhere else and could get a chance to get out there and reach the masses because they made a splash at Sundance. It also seemed like a place where directors could get known or talent could get discovered and that type of stuff. I guess in my mind I always viewed it as when you hear this premiered at Sundance – “Oh, well then I’ve got to go see it.” It’s always the way that it’s always appeared to me. So being here now for the first time, it still feels like the showcase of emerging films and that sort of thing.
Part of Redford’s goal was to nurture emerging directors. Give them a chance so they could workshop and put on projects and that type of thing. I think the spirit of that is still in there.
DEADLINE: Speaking on in there, some time has passed since Comedy Central pulled the plug on The Nightly Show back in August – looking back now, in a year that gave itself to satirizing the news, why do you think they cancelled you guys?
WILMORE: I think our audience was too old for Comedy Central.
WILMORE: Yep – We had a broad audience, not a very specific young audience. We had young people but we had everybody in our audience. I just think they’re much more targeted to a more specific, young audience.
Was that a black power salute at the end of Trump’s speech? Actually it was only half way up so probably just orange power.
— Larry Wilmore (@larrywilmore) January 20, 2017
DEADLINE: Feels like with that caustic inaugural address from now President Trump and the whirlwind of his early days in the White House, The Nightly Show missed the moment it was born for …
WILMORE: If any week was meant for it, this was. I mean the things that happened the last couple of week, I haven’t really felt it as strong, although election week I felt it really strong. But this week was another week where I just lamented not being able to cover some of these things. There’s so many stories under the stories and just around the stories too. There’s a lot.
I thought it was very thoughtful of Chief Justice Roberts to use a fireproof Bible – because once Trump touches it at any time it could have burst into flames. Very thoughtful. You know what, I think we get to see what’s going to happen now. As the person who makes fun of these things all the time and looks at them, now my eyes are wide open. I want to see what’s going to happen. That’s kind of how I’m looking at it. Other than that, for the most part I let it go because you learn to do other things.
DEADLINE: Would you ever go back to do a show like that?
WILMORE: I wouldn’t do a show that’s on every night just because I’m too busy to do that and that’s just all consuming. I would definitely do something that is different than that.
DEADLINE: Is that in the cards over the next little while?
WILMORE: There’s a couple of things I’m working on that I can’t talk about yet, unfortunately. There’s this thing I’m doing with Kenya, that Deadline broke, the black-ish spinoff – I think that’s going to be very exciting and other things too.
One other thing will be me speaking to the audience directly in a way that’s very cool. When we finalize that kind of thing I’ll let everybody know. Right now, the focus of what I’m doing is creating shows again and producing TV and that kind of thing. Really, I’m focusing on finding new talent, young talent, diverse talent.
DEADLINE: Are these things all for ABC?
WILMORE: Yes, for ABC Studios, which can be sold anywhere these days. I love the fact that Issa’s doing her own thing now with Insecure season 2 and more. People say are you sad that you’re not over there? Look, I’m happy that they’re killing it. It doesn’t matter if I’m over there or not. Who care? They’re killing it. That’s what makes me happy. I’m that type of person. I like to get things going. I get so many different ideas, whether it’s film, TV, whatever. I’m excited to be at a place now where I can now do a lot of those different ideas and collaborate with a lot of people that maybe I haven’t had a chance to collaborate with before. I mean it’s a ton of talent over there at ABC Studios, everyone from Shonda Rhimes to John Ridley, to all kinds of people. That’s going to be fun.
DEADLINE: Like getting Insecure up and going for HBO?
WILMORE: That was a fun process. There’s so many different issues around that and having been involved in it a few times. From Issa and I’s point of view, we start with nothing or the basic germ of something and just start building things, and you don’t even know if things are going to work. I remember when Issa mentioned broken pussy and I was like we have to have that in the script. We were just laughing about it and everything not knowing it would really become a big thing. We were just making each other laugh and that kind of thing. I always say when you create a show it belongs to you but once it’s on TV it belongs to the audience. They let you know that too, they let you know it all the time.
DEADLINE: What do you mean?
WILMORE: Even though you’re in charge you’re not completely in ownership. You know, the audience takes a huge ownership of your show. Look at comments about shows and tell me if I’m wrong. Look at shows like The Walking Dead and the ownership that the audience has of that show. My daughter was reacting to the finale of Sherlock. She’s a huge Sherlock fan and she has complete ownership of that show. The people that were talking about it and how they were so disappointed and all this. At the same time, they’re proud parents when it’s great and that kind of thing but don’t cross them and that kind of thing. It’s really kind of interesting.
So then you’re in charge of something. You start as a creator and then you become a curator of something.
DEADLINE: Having said that then, are you involved in season 2 of Insecure at all?
WILMORE: No – and that’s great, Issa has this.
DEADLINE: You have the wisdom of experience and few wins and bruises showing through, no?
WILMORE: You have to remember – it’s show biz. For me, I’ve been doing it such a long time I have a good relationship with it and what drives me is the passion of creating these projects and doing them. So that’s what moves me to the next one. I know nothing is going to make me. I’m too busy making things.
I get asked, “How’d you get into comedy?” I say, “well, I’m actually in show biz so I could get comedy out of me.” If I worked in a bank I’d still be making people laugh. I just wouldn’t be getting paid for it. I’d probably get fired.