Audacity. It’s the first word that comes to mind when I think of Ziwe Fumudoh. The comedian is unabashed, unashamed, and bold in her challenges to the status quo. But as a fellow Nigerian American, I grew up with the word being deployed as a way to denote how “disrespectful” I was or how my directness made those around me uncomfortable. Back then, the word was a barrier for me. For Ziwe, it’s a strength.
And yet, the word doesn’t nearly do enough justice to describe how the effervescent Ziwe challenges her “iconic” (read: infamous) celebrity guests on her Instagram Live show Baited and now on her new eponymous Showtime variety show, in a world where it is the norm to tip-toe around today’s most controversial social issues. From calling out white supremacy and challenging “allyship” with polarising guests like Alison Roman, Alyssa Milano, Rose McGowan and Caroline Calloway to straight up asking Slave Play playwright Jeremy O. Harris “Why do you hate Black women?” Ziwe’s carefully crafted (and hilarious) questions are beyond mere audacity. It’s a testament to her unshakable ability to authentically channel her genuine curiosity about the provocative and the taboo and shows her reverence for the often very serious topics that she tackles, head-on.
Over Zoom, Ziwe tells R29 Unbothered that her goal is “not about putting people in the hot seat… it’s honestly about having impactful conversations.” The 29-year-old has been facilitating these kinds of conversations for years and showcasing her comedic versatility by also writing on hit shows like Desus & Mero and voicing Kamala Harris in Our Cartoon President. But her musical career — mainly her pop album, Generation Ziwe — is one of the clearest examples of Ziwe’s command of comedy as a way to cut through the fluff.
Her Showtime variety series, Ziwe, is the riotous culmination of all of her talents and passions. Ahead of the premiere, the comedian talks white guilt, her musical career, girl-bossing, and why Fenty is her secret weapon.
R29 Unbothered: Bring us in on the beauty routine, because when I tell you we see your skin glistening from space! I need to know the daily routine.
Ziwe Fumudoh: “My beauty routine? Well, I have makeup on [right now]. And it was done by this brilliant, talented makeup artist named Rebecca. But as far as my actual routine, I mean, I wash my face and I use this toner and then I use some essence and then lotion. I hydrate! I put on a lot of lotion. I wear sunscreen. Sunscreen, even if you’re Black, is really great. So, that’s probably my secret.”
What’s your favourite sunscreen? Because I know they have a couple out there.
ZF: “I use Fenty actually! Shout out to Rihanna!” [Laughs]
Let’s talk about your music singles. We need to know: what is your favorite single that you’ve made and do you have any singles coming up?
ZF: “On the Showtime show, one of my favourite songs — I love all the songs — but one of the songs that you’re going to die over is a song called “Stop Being Poor” which I recorded with Patti Harrison, who’s this brilliant comedienne who is starring in this film called Together Together with Ed Helms.
But it is absolutely a banger. What I like about my music is that it combines social issues with actual bops. So you’re going to get that tenfold on my Showtime show.”
“I think my Instagram live shows and the corresponding Showtime show reflect on how you process that weird, awkward anxiety of talking about race, but not wanting to talk about race.”
I love your song “Universal Healthcare.”
ZF: [singing] “‘Universal healthcare! Universal healthcare!’ I mean, what is a deductible? I’m still waiting! The jury’s out on that.”
Healthcare in this country is hard. And they make it that way on purpose.
ZF: “It’s so much paperwork. SO MUCH paperwork. Julio Torres is an interview guest on one of my [upcoming] episodes about immigration. And we’re talking about what is the hardest part about being American. And Julio Torres says, “There’s a lot of paperwork.” Which I think is such an honest, vulnerable answer. So shout out to him.”
An important question about your Baited series: Has any white person apologized to you in the last year? We had this summer last year where white guilt was at an all-time high.
ZF: “You know, last summer, I got a flurry of text messages from people of all races and creeds just checking in, which—don’t text me!” [Laughs].
Absolutely. If you’re going to check in, I can give you my CashApp or my Venmo. Check-in materially, because I don’t like being on the phone.
ZF: “Time is money. In the words of Kari Faux, ‘No small talk!’”
What my show aims to do is to bring levity and add jokes to this real, real, real experience… You’re watching me heal in real-time.
ZF: “Last summer was such an interesting time, because suddenly, [it seemed like] we as a collective unit discovered that racism was like a plague and that was really weird. It was a really, really weird experience. And I think that my Instagram live shows and the corresponding Showtime show reflect on how you process that weird, awkward anxiety of talking about race, but not wanting to talk about race, but doing it because it’s at the crux of every aspect of our world. And so we have really funny conversations [on the show].”
I like that you mentioned that about your show because there’s a lot of pressure for Black hosts and comedians — whoever — to directly address race 24/7. How do you navigate doing that? Because it’s something that is, unfortunately, part of our experience.
ZF: “You know, I’m no different than any other Black woman who’s existed in this country for the majority of [their life] where I have been talking about race, against my will, mind you, since I could speak. I’ve had to confront these demons all my life. So, what you’re watching on my Showtime show is just permutations of my real conversations in real life.
I’ve been at a party where someone has cornered me to talk about their Black nanny. And I’m like, ‘Wait, why are you bringing this up?’ We’re strangers to each other. Or someone’s talking about their Black friends and it’s like, dude, we’re at a Wendy’s and [they’re] a stranger, you know? I’ve had these experiences all my life. So what my show aims to do is to bring levity and add jokes to this real, real, real experience that all of us can relate to. You’re watching me heal in real-time with these conversations.”
Let us talk about this Zoom background*, because I’m feeling it! What was the inspiration for it?* (The background is from Midsommar, and shows the film’s character Dani adorned with flowers and her May Queen flower crown)
ZF: “I think it kind of reflects my comedy! I love that it looks like I’m just in a beautiful flower meadow. And then [when I move to the right] you reveal that it’s the May Queen [behind me] and there’s about to be a murder. I like the [initial] palatability and then when you digest it, it’s kind of harsh. I think that my art kind of reflects that where it’s super, super saccharine, intentionally so. And then when you process it, it’s actually talking about complicated socio-political issues.”
Follow-up question about Midsommar: What do you think about it currently representing the category of “The Good for Her” (women getting revenge on men) genre of movies?
ZF: “You know, I embrace any girl-boss, murderer or not.”
You know, we don’t get to be “bad” often.
ZF: “I think there should be more villains, honestly!”
Who is your dream guest? Who would you really [like] to put in the hot seat?
ZF: “It’s not about putting people in the hot seat, and it’s honestly about having really impactful conversations because I see my respective guests not as anomalies. They exist in this greater society and they are more reflective of the cultures in which we all grew up and out of. So, there’s no one I want to put on blast, but I think that I would love to have a conversation [with Kim Kardashian]. Kim Kardashian is one of the most fascinating characters in American history.
I think she has a lot of really important things to say about social justice and race. And I’d love to have a conversation with her. I think it would be impactful overall. That’s a guest that I would be honored to converse with, but not to put on blast, because I think that she’s iconic. Truly.”
Do you think there’ll be any concerns? Because obviously, that family is associated with appropriation, whether people like it or not. Do you think there will be any concerns about having a guest like that on?
ZF: “I think my audience would be delighted to see me interview anyone. Because I take the time, hopefully, to treat each interview with care and precision and research and ask really fun, lighthearted, but also meaningful questions. So if you’re asking, ‘Would my audience be disappointed?’ I think only after the fact if they felt that I was disappointing. But I would work very hard to not let them down because I have so much respect for my audience, and for myself, and for my respective guests.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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