Pierce: Comedian Larry Wilmore was great; Salt Lake audience wasn’t

By Scott D. Pierce

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: August 24, 2012 11:22AM
Updated: November 30, 2012 11:33PM
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A still from "Larry Wilmore’s Race, Religion & Sex." Courtesy Ricardo Tirado | SHOWTIME

The audience that attended the recent Salt Lake City taping of “Larry Wilmore’s Race, Religion & Sex” hour-long Showtime special definitely didn’t represent mainstream Utah.

That was clear immediately when they booed the mention of Mitt Romney.

Not that there aren’t Utahns who don’t vote Republican. Who sport tattoos, white-guy dreadlocks and gauges and represent a variety of sexual identities.

But they clearly don’t exist in the same percentages as were represented in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center when Wilmore’s show was taped on Aug. 14. Which came as no surprise. A lot of those in attendance knew Wilmore from his position as “senior black correspondent” on “The Daily Show.”

Wilmore, by the way, is one of the funniest guys on TV. His opening monologue for this hour, which airs Saturday at 9 p.m. and midnight on Showtime, is hilarious.

And he produced some taped pieces that will make you laugh out loud and cringe at the same time. (Um, racism is alive and well in Utah.)

Those elements are interspersed in a panel discussion about race, sex and religion. Religion, as in mostly Mormonism, because of Romney’s presidential candidacy and national profile, but Wilmore makes it clear he’s a Catholic who doesn’t always agree with the Vatican.

Wilmore and his panelists — Hollywood actors Andrea Savage and Jeff Garlin,local radio host/gay activist Troy Williams and Utahn Don Harwell, president of the Genesis Group, an organization of African-American Mormons — discussed a variety of issues. I haven’t seen the final edit, but a lot is going to be edited out of a taping that went on for more than twice the length of the hourlong special.

The taping itself was rather contentious and, at times, absolutely uncomfortable.

There were quite a few people in the audience who had an ax to grind against the LDS Church.

(At one point, about a dozen audience members identified themselves as Mormons. Several times that many identified themselves as ex-Mormons.)

Frankly, the behavior of one anti-Mormon woman in the audience who kept shouting out during the taping was embarrassing. Self-righteous indignation isn’t attractive, particularly when you’re yelling on camera. With any luck, she was edited out.

And there were times when Harwell seemed like a straw man getting beaten up on by other panelists and the audience. He brought much of it on himself — like when he said God had created men and women and he didn’t know where gays came from — but it was unpleasant.

However, editing is what this sort of show is all about. And there was enough funny, thought-provoking material to fill the hour.

Saturday’s telecast is a pilot for a possible series. Here’s hoping it gets picked up.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.