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Larry Wilmore Debuts Tonight as The Only Black Face on Late Night Talk TV

The late night talk show lineup is about to get darker and spicier tonight. At 11:30 p.m. on Comedy Central, the nation will be introduced to the clever, sardonic wit of Larry Wilmore, who will officially be the only African-American late night talk show host.

Of course it’s a time slot that has seen diversity before, with the likes of Arsenio Hall and George Lopez. Now Wilmore gets his shot, taking over from Stephen Colbert and benefitting from the generosity of an extremely popular lead-in show in Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show.”

Stewart, who created virtually his own genre of talk show with a format that skewers the ridiculousness of the media and bone-headed politicians, suggested that Wilmore, 53, replace Colbert when he left to take over David Letterman’s time slot on CBS after Letterman retires later this year.

As a correspondent on Stewart’s show, Wilmore’s job was to confront race on a regular basis. Don’t expect that to change on Wilmore’s own show, which is called “The Nightly Show.” He told NPR that from his position, there aren’t many sacred cows he can’t go after.

“There’s the ‘Top Dog/Underdog’ rule,” he said. “Underdog gets to make fun of Top Dog, but Top Dog can’t make fun of Underdog. And people get mad at it, but sorry … that’s just how it is.”

“It happens in gender, race class — every situation… Top Dog, you can’t make fun of Underdog,” he said. “But guess what? You get to be Top Dog. Congratulations.”

And he couldn’t get a more auspicious day to commence than the nation’s Martin Luther King holiday, which you can be sure will be pointed out tonight by Wilmore.

But Wilmore also told NPR that he’s committed to the idea that the Black guy doesn’t always have to talk about race.

“I may be talking about Obama’s boring budget speech,” he said. “So the show’s not marginalized where I can only talk about a black thing or the Minority Report thing.”

In describing what his show will look like, Wilmore said each broadcast will probably begin with him sitting behind a desk commenting on the day’s news — perhaps featuring field reports from contributors. That’s kind of the way Stewart does it. But then he would move on to an unscripted panel discussion, sort of along the lines of Bill Maher’s show.

Wilmore will kick things off tonight with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and rapper Talib Kweli as his first two panelists. So we get an early indication that he won’t be running from race—not with the outspoken and fearless Kweli in the mix.

“I look at it as, ‘Who do I want in my barbershop talking s – – – with?” Wilmore said with a laugh. “That’s the big group of people we’re collecting for the show. … Who’s our [longtime Colbert guest] Andrew Sullivan? Who’s that kind of person who is going to be our Nightly Show-type of guest?”

Hopefully Wilmore will have many years to answer that question.

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