Larry Wilmore Puts Race At The Center Of The WHCD
Throughout 2016, race and diversity have been main topics of the cultural conversation, and on April 30 that continued at the 2016 White House Correspondents' Dinner, thanks to host Larry Wilmore. The Nightly Show host is only the fourth black comedian to emcee the Washington, DC, event — the final for President Barack Obama as commander-in-chief — and he definitely made excellent use of his platform. Larry Wilmore addressed race head-on throughout his WHCD speech and it was so necessary, even if some of the jokes seemed to make some attendees a tad bit uncomfortable.
Wilmore's speech took aim at everything from Obama's hair ("so white that it tried to punch me at a Trump rally") to Donald Trump ("I can't understand why everyone treats Donald Trump with kid gloves... they're the only gloves that will fit his stupid little baby hands") to Ted Cruz ("Even O.J. Simpson said, 'That guy's just hard to like.'"). But it's jokes about race, Trump rallies, Black Lives Matter, and more that really hit home. Wilmore's remarks garnered both laughter and groans, to which he responded, "Groans are good." Whatever your opinions are on how Wilmore did as host, I think his remarks were totally needed, even if there were groans and some squirming. Ignoring race would've just created an elephant in the room and ignored a huge issue that is currently facing both Hollywood and Washington — two worlds that Wilmore was simultaneously at the center of on Saturday night. Plus, this is the final White House Correspondents' Dinner for Obama, who is the first black president, making it even more significant.
The importance of the night was certainly not lost on Wilmore, as he opened his speech by saying, "Welcome to Negro night here at Washington, or as Fox News would report, two thugs disrupt elegant dinner in DC. That’s how they do it." Ouch. But in that one opening line, he addressed his race, Obama's race, media bias, and the issue of racism currently going on in the country. But the media wasn't his only target — Wilmore also made a joke about presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders, who was in the audience. "[Sanders] seems to be anti-gun except for in Vermont," Wilmore said. "He doesn't care who gets a gun in Vermont. There are no black people in Vermont."
Wilmore has never shied away from talking about race or diversity on his Comedy Central show. Earlier this year, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite resurfaced when the Academy Award nominations notably overlooked stellar performances by people of color and Wilmore hosted a panel on The Nightly Show after the Oscars, discussing the issue and potential solutions. He even made it a priority to hire a diverse group of writers for his Comedy Central show, according to Entertainment Weekly. "People ask me, ‘How is your team so diverse?’' Wilmore said. "Because that’s what I wanted. My mission from the beginning was to find people from different backgrounds and hire an eclectic team."
It should come as no surprise, then, that Wilmore ended his remarks by switching from humor to sincerity about how much Obama's presidency has meant to him in a very touching closing moment. "All jokes aside, let me just say how much it means for me to be here tonight," he said. Wilmore continued:
I’ve always joked that I voted for the President because he’s black … but behind that joke is the humble appreciation for the historical implications for what your presidency means. 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… Words alone do me no justice.
Sure, the jokes were funny and all, but that moment alone is what really made Wilmore the perfect host to close out Obama's tenure in the Oval Office and put a spotlight on the subject matter that deserves it.