Final installments of late night talk shows are a tricky beast. Variety shows are supposed to be the funny, subversive pieces of entertainment that lure us into slumber. That are supposed to make us laugh, more than cry or think. That remind us no matter how absurd the real world might get, everything's going to be just fine.
So when comedians are tasked with performing the final show of a nightly laugh-based telecast, the end results are something of a mixed-bag (especially when they've been cancelled on short notice). Such was the case for the Comedy Central cult favorite, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. The program was cancelled Monday morning, four days later it would produce it's final broadcast.
And so Wilmore and his team of wacky contributors put together an earnest final program that celebrated the show for what it was: an alternate to the late night cable norm. It was never quite The Daily Show (the show Wilmore worked for years as a correspondent on), nor did it ever reach the level of Real Time with Bill Maher as a panel, but it always fell somewhere nicely between the multiple offerings of late night comedy with a style all of its own (with a little bit of Wilmore's touch from writing on In Living Color back in the day).
Wilmore started off the show at the desk, trying to give us a quick editorial on a standard issue the show might take on. Mainly, Ellen DeGeneres is a treasure and this whole tweet with her and Usain Bolt is much ado about nothing. But, true to final episode form, the bit was that none of the correspondents could be bothered with actually doing their last contributions to the show because they were already looking ahead to life after-The Nightly Show.
Cue going on vacation.
Cue revising resume mid-bit.
Cue correspondents ending their "will they, won't they" sexual tension
However, the show really hit it's stride when executive producer, Jon Stewart, wandered onto the set and immediately went to steal some of the free booze their fellow late night brethren sent to Nightly staff.
Of course, Stewart wasn't there to just try to score some of John Oliver's free champagne. No, he had business to attend to.
Stewart was there to pass the proverbial "cancellation torch" to another talented individual whose show was cancelled before it needed to be.
Stewart took a few moments to pay tribute to the Nightly staff and the important role their show played in creating a dialogue about topics that other shows wouldn't dare touch — citing, in particular, the show's mission statement of giving a voice to those who might not otherwise have one on network or cable television.
However, the most specific of testimonial love was saved for Wilmore himself, as Stewart told him that "a wise man once told him that cancellation does not equal failure," reminding the host that comedic legacies have a way of outliving a show's expiration date.
A series of words that really seemed to touch Wilmore.
Those wise words Stewart spoke of, that once consoled him at a time when MTV told him to "pack up his shit and get out," of course, were told to him by none other than his very own late night idol, David Letterman.
It was about as touching of a moment you could expect from a show that regularly prided itself on keeping things 💯 .
And, as we all know, Letterman was right on the money. Stewart would not only go on to outlive the humble beginnings of The Jon Stewart Show, he would soon find a medium that would amplify his voice to the heights of being mentioned in the same regard as his late night mentor.
The rest of the show seemed to continue making the case for the show's dedication to diversity (not just in composition, race, and gender of the cast, but also in execution of topics and comedic arsenal). For two acts of the show, Wilmore invited his cast to join him on the stage and drink the
in making good use of the free booze that had been sent to them to drown their sorrows.
And in many ways, the finale was unlike anything I have seen in late night.
Each of the cast members, relaxed (though clearly a bit bummed out by the news), and casually talking to one another as if this was a peak into what their writer's room felt like.
But Wilmore's decision to pay it forward and put his cast front and center was a classy move for a show that could have easily turned the affair into a bloated mess of a finale. It was subdued and, in some ways, very poignant.
The show's final act consisted of a simple two minute message directly to the show's loyal fanbase. Wilmore explained how the show came up with it's unique perspective and even took a moment to thank their passionate "haters" for always giving them something to talk about. In the final moments, he told his audience that he's not done yet and thanked them for allowing him and his crew into their homes for the past 20 months.
As the credits rolled, Wilmore was joined by his cast and crew one last time for a group hug, as they looked like they were at the onset of a very therapeutic wrap party.
And so, like that, the show bid us it's final goodnightly. Making it's own low-key appeal to keep the dialogue going about those topics that make us feel uncomfortable to talk about.
Time will tell exactly how we look back upon The Nightly Show and it's contribution to the Comedy Central late night block, but for now it's hard to deny the argument it made for its contributions to diversity and dialogue.
Also, for your viewing pleasure, he is me trying to make sense of the cancellation from Monday's installment of Early Late Night's Monologue Monday.
My initial response to the end of @larrywilmore's @comedycentral show, @thenightlyshow. You can read my full thoughts ok last night's excellent finale at the link below. http://goo.gl/uLUMM2Posted by Early Late Night with Raf Esparza on Friday, August 19, 2016