Actor Larry Wilmore to speak at MU's belated Martin Luther King Jr. celebration

Monday, January 23, 2012 | 10:26 p.m. CST; updated 11:37 p.m. CST, Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Larry Wilmore, current "Senior Black Correspondent" on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, reports during a look back at March 2011 from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart's website. Wilmore will be at the Missouri Theater at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

COLUMBIA — Larry Wilmore isn't afraid to talk about controversial issues.

Wilmore, who is the senior black correspondent on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," uses comedy to give commentary on the otherwise intense topics in American society and politics.

The Los Angeles-raised actor, television producer and author will be the keynote speaker Wednesday night at MU's belated ceremony to celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.

"What the committee did — really wanted to do — was find someone who has mass appeal," said Cynthia Frisby, co-chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. planning committee. "Someone who would be able not just attract people from the university community but also the Columbia community."

Wilmore said it won't be a formal speech.

"A lot of what I do is anything but politically correct," Wilmore said. "And I think for a lot of students it's kind of refreshing to hear something that isn't constrained by how you're supposed to talk about things."

The planning committee has opted for an entertainment value to the speaker — someone who uses humor as well as challenges the audience to think.

"I am a cross-cultural journalism professor here at the J-School, and I always show from 'The Office,' the diversity day clip," Frisby said, referring to an episode of the television show where the boss humorously fails at teaching his staff about diversity.

"I read somewhere that Mr. Wilmore wrote it based on his experiences and what goes wrong with diversity training," she said. "I also saw some other clips that he did. He addressed Congress, he won an Emmy and he dealt with race issues in his work."

Frisby later found out that Wilmore was with the American Program Bureau, an organization that connects celebrity speakers with events, and was able to book him.

Wilmore, who has only been to the state of Missouri once before, said he looks forward to coming back.

"I love college campuses," he said. "There's so much great energy there, and (students) are a lot of fun."

The theme for this year's ceremony is "Share the Dream, Live the Reality." The planning committee chose the speakers in hopes that they would embody the theme.

"If the turnout on Wednesday is anything like the buzz that's been heard, oh my God, the committee did the right thing by picking him," Frisby said.

The ceremony, run by the Chancellor's Diversity Initiative, will also reveal this year's recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. award, which is given to a group or individual in the Columbia area who has made significant contributions to the community in race relations, justice and human rights.

Ty Christian, a 1977 MU graduate, will also speak at the event, which will be from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Missouri Theatre.

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