In a speech to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day yesterday, Larry Wilmore, the “senior black correspondent” for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” touched on the importance of the day and discussed his rise from a stand-up comedian to a correspondent for one of the most watched comedy shows on television.

Chris Dzombak/Daily
Comedian, satirist, and producer Larry Wilmore speaks at the Michigan Union’s Ballroom, Monday, January 19, 2009.

Wilmore spoke yesterday to a crowd of over 300 in the Michigan Union Ballroom about his career, Barack Obama and the state of race relations in America.

“A lot of people have said that now that we’ve elected Obama, America isn’t racist anymore,” Wilmore said. “I don’t know if I agree with that. I mean if we elected Flavor Flav, that would show that America is done with racism.”

Despite his jokes, there was no humor in Wilmore’s voice when he discussed the importance of the election.

Growing up in the era of Jesse Jackson, Wilmore said he knows firsthand about how hard it has been for black people to break into presidential politics and the pride that corresponds with their advancements in the past few decades.

Although Wilmore began his speech talking about the importance of Obama’s election and the inauguration, the session slowly drifted away from topics related to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and focused more on Wilmore’s personal career.

Wilmore first decided to enter show business when the roof of his house literally caved in.

“It’s funny how having nothing really prepares you for anything,” he said.

Early in his career, Wilmore began to do stand-up comedy about race and politics, but he felt the job didn’t quite fit and decided instead to write for television.

He said his first big break was working on the show “In Living Color.” The most remarkable part of working on the show, Wilmore said, was that there was a predominantly black staff.

“It really instilled pride in what I was doing,” he said. “White writers at the time had no problem getting jobs on black shows, but it was impossible for a black writer to get a job on a white show.”

From there, Wilmore moved on to work for many well-known shows, including “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Sister, Sister” and “The Jamie Foxx Show.”

Wilmore said he then wanted to take his career even further and decided to stop being a staff writer and start being a show writer. The first show to credit him as a writer was “The PJs.”

“It was almost like the black Simpsons,” he said of “The PJs.” “I really wanted to do a black satirical show, I really felt that really quite hadn’t been done.”

Wilmore then paired up with Bernie Mac to create “The Bernie Mac Show,” which he characterized as a show with some realism.

Despite earning an Emmy for the show, Fox Broadcasting Company fired him from “The Bernie Mac Show” six months later because of content disagreements.

After shortly writing for NBC, Wilmore was contacted by “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

During the speech, Wilmore said that when he first started working at “The Daily Show,” he thought to himself “Man, I am home.”

“It has been a destination that was in the making from years before.” he said, “All the stuff I had done, all the satire and politics and racism really all came together in ‘The Daily Show.’ ”

After Wilmore spoke of his career in television, he opened up the floor for questions, which focused primarily on his personal life.

After the event, several students expressed displeasure about the focus of the questions posed by members of the audience, saying they failed to address the issues at the heart of the day.

“None of the questions were really inspired by what this day is about,” said University alum Joshua Ward.

“I wanted to ask him, ‘Why are you here on this day and what does it mean to you?’ ” said Stephanie Somerman, a Public Policy graduate student.

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