×

Larry Wilmore Recalls Winning an Emmy for ‘The Bernie Mac Show,’ Meeting Oprah Winfrey

Larry Wilmore is now in front of the camera nearly every night for Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore,” but he first attracted Emmy attention for his writing on “In Living Color.” Wilmore went on to win an individual Emmy for penning the groundbreaking pilot of Fox’s “The Bernie Mac Show.” And then he got fired from the show the following season. Wilmore recalls the ups (meeting Oprah Winfrey!) and downs (falling out with Mac), of the Emmy win.

What do you remember about winning?
Halle Berry had done her Oscar speech the same year. (“Bernie Mac”) had won a TV Critics’ Award earlier that summer and I did a joke like I was Halle Berry, I was fake crying or whatever. It got a big laugh and I thought, “If I ever actually won an Emmy I would do that joke.” And it just so happened that I won. I don’t know if I did it exactly the same way, but that’s what I remember, is me doing a callback to something that happened six months earlier at another award show. But it got a laugh. As a comic, that’s what you think about: getting laughs. You don’t even think about the award.

Did you thank everyone you wanted to?
For me there were a few people I thanked, who I wish I hadn’t. There were a few people who fired me at Fox and I shouldn’t have thanked all of them.

It’s pretty unusual to win an Emmy and then get fired.
They just never saw eye to eye with me on that show. It was a pretty well known thing at the time, the battles. They thought I was ruining the show and every time I’d get an award, they’d be like “Well, I guess we can’t fire him now.” I heard that’s what someone said in the bathroom. I didn’t hear it myself but there was a mole. It could be completely fabricated, but let’s just say I trust that mole. So instead they waited nine months.

How did the crew react to your win?
We served lobster on the set the next day, something like that. It’s a moment I’ll never forget, because those opportunities are rare. To get something in your peer group like that is so special. A couple of years later I ended up joining the board of directors of the Writers Guild. It made me want to do more service in the industry. I thought, “It’s my turn to turn it around and maybe I can help some people.” That’s a positive thing that came out of it for me personally at least.

Bernie was nominated that year too. Was he happy for you?
It’s a little tough to talk about because Bernie’s not here anymore. He got a little bit … let’s just say he wasn’t the happiest of non-winners. I think it put a bit of a strain on our relationship, unfortunately.

Do you remember anyone congratulating you on the win at the after-parties?
I remember at the Governors Ball, Oprah coming up and saying, “Oh my God, Larry that was great.” I thought, “First of all, you’re Oprah. What do you mean ‘Larry’? Are we friends now?” It was the most surreal of moments. It really was like a goddess who decided to come down from the clouds for a few minutes and bestow her grace upon you. That’s what it felt like at the time. I was completely not worthy at all, I think I even averted my gaze so the goddess wouldn’t frown upon me unfavorably.

Other than getting fired off the show, how did winning the Emmy change your career?
When that happens you’re looked at differently, as somebody who made a mark in a certain way. For me it validated all the things I was hoping to accomplish with that show. I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine before I wrote it a couple of years earlier. We were talking about the state of black shows and how they were being viewed unfavorably by a lot of people in the industry. They would say, “Oh, you’re working on a black show?” like it was a bad thing. We were like, “How do we change that? We’ve got to do it ourselves.”

It was one of my goals to try to help change the image of the shows we were doing by having them viewed as quality shows. It was that way at some point and then it changed. “The Cosby Show” was always viewed as a quality show. “Fresh Prince.” “Jeffersons.” You could go back. You always had shows that were considered broad, but it felt like after “Fresh Prince” went off there was this feeling that if you were on a black show it was somehow less of a show. I hated that connotation. So it fulfilled a lot of different personal goals.

After “Bernie Mac” diversity on TV went backward, but you launched “Black-ish,” which helped turn the tide again. Do you think diversity is here to stay this time?
I will never say it’s here to stay, I’ve learned my lesson. But it is a good thing. I think Shonda Rhimes really busted the gate down on a lot of that, which has been fantastic in television both in drama and comedy for a lot of different people. More than just black shows or creators, there’s so much diversity out there it’s really fantastic. I think there is more to come too, especially with the way people consume media, there’s not just the three gatekeepers anymore. With people being able to determine what they watch you’ve really gotta deliver more diverse things.

More TV

  • Tony Romo

    CBS Sports Re-Signs Tony Romo in Deal Valued Around $17 Million Per Year

    CBS Sports signed prize football analyst Tony Romo to a new deal, a major step in parent company ViacomCBS’ efforts to strike a new rights pact with the National Football League as its current contract heads toward the end of its term. CBS Sports said the company had signed Romo, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Writers Guild Says It Helped Negotiate 100 Deals for Agent-Less Members

    The Writers Guild of America has asserted that it has assisted in negotiating more than 100 deals in recent months for members without agents. The missive from the WGA West board of directors comes nearly a year after the guild leaders ordered their 15,000 members to fire their agents if the agents had not agreed [...]

  • Hilary Duff

    Hilary Duff Asks Disney to Move 'Lizzie McGuire' Revival to Hulu

    Hilary Duff has posted a statement asking that the planned revival of “Lizzie McGuire” be moved from Disney Plus to Hulu. “I’d be doing a disservice to everyone by limiting the realities of a 30 year old’s journey to live under the ceiling of a PG rating,” Duff wrote on Instagram. “It’s important to me [...]

  • Tan France Jameela Jamil

    TV News Roundup: Tan France, Jameela Jamil Among OZY Fest Headliners

    In today’s TV news roundup, OZY Media announced Tan France, Jameela Jamil and others as headliners of OZY Fest, and Netflix dropped the official trailer of “On My Block” Season 3. DATES Disney Channel‘s second season of “Just Roll With It” will premiere on Sunday, March 15 at 8:45 p.m. The sitcom follows the Bennett-Blatt family [...]

  • Lorraine Toussaint

    Queen Latifah's 'Equalizer' Reboot Pilot at CBS Casts Lorraine Toussaint

    Lorraine Toussaint has joined the CBS’ reboot pilot for “The Equalizer,” Variety has learned. She joins previously announced series lead Queen Latifah and recently announced cast member Liza Lapira. In the reimagined version, Queen Latifah stars as Robyn McCall, an enigmatic figure who uses her extensive skills to help those with nowhere else to turn. Toussaint [...]

  • Ben Schnetzer

    'Y: The Last Man' Series at FX Casts Ben Schnetzer as Yorick

    Ben Schnetzer has stepped into the role of Yorick Brown in FX’s upcoming “Y: The Last Man” series, Variety has learned. He takes over the role from Barry Keoghan, who exited the series at the beginning of this month. The show is based on Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s award-winning DC Comics graphic novel series [...]

  • Herb Dorfman Obit Dead

    Herb Dorfman, Orion Pictures Home Video Executive, Dies at 77

    Herb Dorfman, former Orion Pictures executive and a home video industry veteran, died Feb. 25 of complications from Parkinson’s disease and dementia. He was 77. Dorfman served as head of home entertainment for Orion Pictures from 1987 to late 1996. Orion was a prosperous independent studio in those days that turned out a steady stream [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content