Larry Wilmore is the “Senior Black Correspondent” for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” The joke is that he was the only black correspondent. If you think that’s funny, you’ll enjoy his new collection of essays, “I’d Rather We Got Casinos and Other Black Thoughts” (Hyperion).
Wilmore is the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning creator and writer of “The Bernie Mac Show.” He’s been a television producer, actor, comedian and writer for more than 20 years, and this book is his literary debut.
On the screen his deadpan delivery is unique, if not particularly memorable; sly, but reliant on timing and his interaction with Jon Stewart. Wilmore’s strength is clearly in writing sitcom material, physical humor brought alive by facial expressions and interactions that an audience can see.
This brand of humor doesn’t always translate well to the page. But the 240-page book definitely has plenty of bright moments.
Wilmore includes four letters to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People requesting that black folks henceforth be referred to as chocolate instead of African American. “It’s a fun name, it’s easily modified and instead of slavery, it makes people think of dessert,” he writes. “Chocolate is a great way to wean people off of not just African American but all of the variations of designation society has confected.”
The letters are among the freshest material in the book, though, like the title essay about Black History Month, at times they feel recycled from Wilmore’s appearances on “The Daily Show.” There is also “Give us the Superdome,” a funny piece about reparations. He muses about what would be useful for black people to get, in lieu of those once- promised 40 acres and a mule.
Wilmore also shows off his comedic skills in an essay about how a president might apologize to blacks for slavery. In “If Not an Apology, At Least a ‘My Bad,’” he suggests that a president could easily slip an apology into a presidential address like so: “‘Oh, and while we’re talking about that horrible institution, I’d just like to say to my fellow Americans whose ancestors have been afflicted, my bad.’ And you’re done. Believe me, every brotha in every barbershop will nod their head and say, ‘Aw, don’t worry about it, man.’”
Then there are the not-so-funny essays. In one, Wilmore writes about a radio DJ who has listeners call in about “nizames,” made up hip-hop names given to kids, and about a trial to decide the fate of the ever-controversial “N-word.” This is a low point of the book. It is the type of gag that falls flat on the printed page.
But thankfully, these moments are fairly rare. Overall, “I’d Rather We Got Casinos” is a fun, quick read and worth having if you like Wilmore’s brand of humor. At its best, the book transforms comedy sketch humor into hilarious anecdotes and op-eds that you would never read in the pages of a national newspaper.
In his comedy on “The Daily Show,” Wilmore has always embraced his black-token status with a sly smile. The fact that the Senior Black Correspondent is publishing his first book to coincide with Black History Month, a celebration Wilmore once described as “28 days of trivia,” may be the biggest joke of all.
Joshunda Sanders is a writer based in Austin, Texas.