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Norman Lear Crafts the Perfect Metaphor for America Today

He joins Larry Wilmore to talk television and how society resembles a burlesque show

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Welcome to the debut episode of Larry Wilmore’s podcast, Black on the Air. In the episodes to follow, Wilmore will combine monologues and interviews to examine politics, pop culture, science, and a host of other topics. Today, he talks to Norman Lear, the legendary television producer. Also known for his activism, even at 94, Lear pays attention to current events. On the podcast, he shared how modern society is like an old burlesque show. Let’s jump into it.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Norman Lear: [Near] Emerson College in Boston there [is] a Scollay Square [and] there was a theater there called the Old Howard. And it was the pre-eminent burlesque theater in America, I believe. I used to go every single Saturday and I would watch the straight men and the comics and learn so much. You think of Abbott and Costello, [where Abbott] knew everything and he was positive about everything and he had the comic, [Costello], bumping into walls with his advice. The comic was smashing himself and the walls, while the straight man had everything.

I think of our culture today as leadership is the straight man and we, the people, are the comics. And the straight men are full of shit and they’re giving us the wrong advice and they’re taking us in the wrong direction and they want everything for themselves and they have us bumping into walls. Perfect metaphor in my opinion, perfect metaphor.

Larry Wilmore: Do you see Trump as Archie Bunker [from All in the Family] today? This lovable bigot.

Lear: I don’t happen to see anything lovable about Donald Trump.

Wilmore: I know but he became president. When I [say] lovable, [I mean] it feels like a lot of people excuse the things that would get any other president kicked out of office.

Lear: In this conversation I am matching Trump and Archie. Archie had a relationship with his daughter, one of the greatest scenes in the history of that show was when she lost a baby and he came into the bedroom and talked with her.

Wilmore: I remember that.

Lear: In the most severe arguments there was no doubt about his love for that little girl and he made it clear just in every way, every attitude of his body. Then I match that or I think of that with the moment, which I could never forget, of Ivanka and Donald Trump on a couch talking to a television host. The host asks Ivanka [something like], "What do you and your dad have most in common?" She thought for a moment and she said [something like], "Business."

And [the host] turned to Mr. Trump and he said "Sex." His hand went into a pointing direction and he said sex and that was the first thing out of his mouth and that moment I could never forget.