By: Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III
“Words alone do me no justice. So Mr. President, if I’m going to keep it a hundred; Yo’ Barry, you did it my Nigga; you did it.” Larry Wilmore – White House Correspondents’ Dinner
Comedian Larry Wilmore was the host of this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner. He did a fantastic job. He “killed” as they say in the comedy business.
His jokes were timely, thoughtful and spoke to many realities that too many in the room and within the larger viewing audience would have preferred he not address. As he followed President Obama’s monologue he opened with, “Welcome to Negro Night…Or as Fox News will report, ‘Two thugs disrupt elegant dinner in D.C…that’s how they do it,’” He was spot on, that’s how FOX News does it.
He thanked President Obama, the First Lady and others for hiring him and Sen. McConnell (R-KY) for not blocking his nomination. Again, spot on, timely and relevant. McConnell’s contrived and baseless logic for not holding hearings on President Obama’s nominees is BS and everyone knows it.
He introduced himself by saying, “…to say a little bit about me, I am a Black man who replaced a white man who pretended to be a TV newscaster so yeah, in that way Lester Holt and I have a lot in common.” The audience did not like that reference to their beloved Brian Williams. Even though Williams “embellished the truth” during national newscasts for personal gain, in the minds of many in the room that was off limits.
Wilmore went on to comment about the President hanging out with NBA players like Steph Curry. He said that it made sense “because both of you like raining down bombs on people from long distances.” As the crowd moaned and groaned he quipped, “What, am I wrong?” No, Larry, again you were spot on. It takes a smart, strong and courageous comedian to incorporate drone attacks and collateral damage into a comedy routine in front of the Commander in Chief. He said what needed to be said.
He aptly noted that MSNBC “actually now stands for ‘missing a significant number of black correspondents” and then introduced CNN’s Don Lemon by saying, “alleged journalist Don Lemon is here ladies and gentleman.” Calling out the fact that the Columbia Journalism Review blog named CNN’s Don Lemon one of the worst journalists of 2014, again, spot on.
Larry Wilmore closed his 23-minute “set” with some heart-felt real talk. “When I was a kid, I lived in a country where people couldn’t accept a black quarterback. Now think about that. A black man was thought by his mere color not good enough to lead a football team. And now to live in your time, Mr. President, when a black man can lead the entire free world.” Wilmore then closed with what have now become the most famous three lines in recent memory, “Words alone do me no justice. So, Mr. President, if I’m going to keep it 100,” Wilmore said, before pounding his chest. “Yo, Barry, you did it, my nigga!”
Larry Wilmore has caught a lot of heat for how he closed his set. Before I jumped on the “bash Larry bandwagon” I decided to first try to understand the why. He has since explained that he meant no disrespect. There are those in the African American community who have tried to claim or defuse the racial epithet as denoted by the “er” and embrace it by replacing the “er” with the “a” to connote affection. Or, as Wilmore said, “conjugating the slur.”
Would I have done it? No. Was I surprised when he did it? Yes. Do I wish he had not done it? Yes.
At the end of the day, Larry Wilmore has admitted his error. He has said it was bad judgment. He used a personal “in house” reference that is not even totally accepted “in house” and used it with a general audience. He did not run from his error like so many others by saying he was “taken out of context”. I commend him for standing by and owning his error.
I thought Larry Wilmore did an incredible job. He “crushed it”. He really pushed the envelope and kept it 100.
Before Larry Wilmore hosted the White House Correspondents’ Dinner I liked his humor, his style, his intellect and his approach to comedy as social criticism. Now, I still do and respect him as a man even more.