Daily Show contributor, author, television writer and — whether you know it or not — hugely successful producer Larry Wilmore will debut his first comedy special Larry Wilmore’s Race, Religion & Sex in Utah Saturday on Showtime at 11 pm ET. It isn’t your typical comedy special. Wilmore basically hosts a town meeting (in Utah!), taking questions from the audience, moderating debates and doing man-on-the-street pieces. He’s joined onstage by comedians Jeff Garlin and Andrea Savage, as well as Don Harwell (a Mormon leader) and gay rights activist Troy Williams.
I chatted with Wilmore this week to get his thoughts on how President Barack Obama has done so far, whether anything will actually change after the election and much more. Check it out below. Enjoy!
Your special isn’t a typical stand-up special. So, can you tell me what we can expect?
It’s not a stand-up special. It’s more of a discussion talk show with comedy in it. Closer to what Bill Maher does than a stand-up special. The original idea was kind of ‘Larry Wilmore talks to America.’ And I wanted to do a show where, instead of just being in New York or Los Angeles, talking about the issues of the country, I wanted to actually go out to the country and talk to the people about the issues directly. And I picked Utah because I felt that Romney’s Mormonism is as unique to him in this election as Obama’s blackness was to him in the last election. There’s a monologue in the beginning, then a couple of filmed pieces in the show, like doing interviews with the Mayor, and then we have a panel discussion with a couple of celebrities.
So, the word on the street is this can turn into a regular series for Showtime, correct?
Well, let me just say that I like that there’s word on the street.
That’s very nice. Um, yes, there was always the possibility of that. You know, if everybody likes it and it seems like it has potential for that, then we’ll wait and see, you know. I think it’s hard to judge something until it actually gets on television, and then you’re able to see it as it exists on television. I know that sounds weird, but for some reason, you know, that’s what you look for. How people react and all those type of things. And we’re all happy with how it turned out. We had a lot of fun with this special.
What was really great about it is to go to a place where people are excited to see you. They’re happy that you came to their place to talk to them. And you make discoveries. I didn’t want to do a show where I had an opinion about something and then the whole show was me proving my opinion. I wanted to do a show where I could learn about something and make discoveries. And then my comedy comes out of me having fun with the discoveries that I make. It’s kind of a different point of view. And I’m more of a political centrist, where I don’t really have an agenda or I’m trying to prove something for either side. I’m more of the comedy referee. I like being in the middle of it. And I’ll take a side just to be contrary, you know? I don’t care.
And, what’s really fascinating. I didn’t know a lot about Mormonism and I think a lot of Americans don’t. I would really like to go back to Utah and find out a little bit more about that, talk to anybody about Salt Lake City, and just have a discussion about some of these issues that are around today. Gay marriage was one of the issues we talked about on the special. It’s an issue that the Mormon church has to grapple with now. So it’s not just talking about gay marriage, but we’re talking about it in the context of how the church is dealing with it, as well, so there’s a dual kind of discussion going.
So let’s talk a little bit about politics and this upcoming election. You label yourself a centrist. I try to listen to a lot of unbiased political radio–
The closest thing I’ve found is, the POTUS channel on SiriusXM.
I’ve seen it. I haven’t listened to it much, though. Is it pretty good?
I think they do a pretty good job of being unbiased and basically laying out what’s going on and presenting everybody’s opinions and kind of just allowing people to, you know, chime in and have a discussion.
Right, and now I go a little bit further than that, as well. I call myself a ‘passionate centrist,’ and what that means is that I have opinions, I just don’t care if they’re on the right or the left. Yes, I’ll have an opinion, I’m just not trying to prove either side.
So, let me ask you this then. Obama and Romney, it’s going to be a very close race. In your opinion, how has Obama done the last three and a half years?
Well, I look at what he had to deal with, and you have to think of maybe where the country is going and how people perceived it and all those things. Part of being a leader is giving off a perception that things are going well, that the country is headed in the right direction, even if it’s not. And it’s been tough for Obama to connect that aspect of his presidency to people. I think that’s been his biggest challenge– projecting optimism for the future.
I think his message has been more like, ‘It’s difficult getting things done.’ And I don’t think that’s good messaging. That’s why it’s going to be a very close race. Because, overall, job-wise, I don’t think he’s done a poor job, you know? I think he’s done some pretty good things. I wasn’t a big fan of the healthcare act, not so much for some of the provisions, but more because of the timing of it. All said and done, I think Obama is very likable. I think people like him as a person and I think that your average person feels that President Obama’s intentions are good and he very much wants to do the right thing. It just appears he’s having a difficult time with it. I find it hard not to like the guy, personally.
Right, you’d have to be a pretty dark-hearted person if you couldn’t find Obama likable.
I think you’d have to already have it made up in your mind that you don’t like him and then you’d just find reasons to support it.
Right. And whether or not he’s an effective leader, I guess that’s another story.
Yeah, because leadership has a lot of different roles to it. Sometimes it’s messaging, sometimes it’s registration, actually getting things done, sometimes it’s just being funny. Like Reagan was funny, you know? He would make you laugh most of the time even if you didn’t agree with what he was doing.
Does it even matter who wins? Is anything going to change regardless of who’s president the next four years?
Some things obviously won’t, because there’s only so much more you can do in the current situation. I believe that there’s very little government can really do stimulating certain parts of the economy. Like, the manufacturing aspect of the economy has been declining since the 1960s. That’s not the result of one presidency. Middle class has been declining since the 1970s. Those are systemic problems, so it takes a BIG vision with a lot of different factors to turn that ship around, you know? And a lot of the things that the candidates talk about are tax rates, tax cuts, those type of things, as opposed to well how you bring a major industry back to America How do you do that? How do you get the whole class of manufacturers, people that have labor jobs that don’t have them anymore, that’s a whole craft of workers that have to find something else. How do those people find income and livelihood? So those are broader discussions than just taxes.
We always hear the phrase ‘political theater. And the more I listen to and read about politics, and strategy, and all this other stuff, it seems like political platforms don’t matter. It all just seems like entertainment and theater to me. I feel like it’s all about strategy, it’s all about what you can make somebody think, and it’s rarely about what actually is going to happen.
Yeah. I think there’s a combination of things. I think that’s a big part of it and probably the biggest part of it, and in fact, even your conventions now are all political theater, right? I mean, it’s one big commercial. The other part of it is your grassroots movements, you know, and like, if you take the Tea Party. Many times, the Tea Party is in conflict with the actual theatrics of the Republican party.
Take Akin. I believe he was supported by the Tea Party, but there’s a conflict of theatrics with the Republican party. So it’s kind of interesting to see those two things play out. Occupy Wall Street and the Democratic establishment didn’t quite get along necessarily that well, either. Like back in the day, those were really in conflict. At the 1968 convention, you know, here you had the Democratic convention, uh, and you had progressive, liberal left protesting that convention. The anti-war movement. They weren’t at the Republican convention doing that, they were at the Democratic convention doing that. And that fractured the whole Democratic party at the time. That was the real crash of theatrics between grassroots movements and political parties. You couldn’t stop that grassroots movement.
So the grassroots movement felt that the Democratic party wasn’t progressive or liberal enough– so it’s like you had levels of liberalism fighting against each other?
Well, back then it really was about the war and it wasn’t even a question about liberal or conservative. Because both sides said they wanted to end the war, both presidential candidates, but they both had to escalate it before they could end. Except Nixon didn’t say he would. That was the problem.
Check out more info on Larry Wilmore’s Race, Religion & Sex in Utah at Showtime’s official site.