Late night TV has been ruled by a gaggle of white J-names for as long as I can remember. Lucky for us, NBC asked Amber Ruffin to step up to the late-night desk for their streaming service Peacock. The show is phenomenal and has already been renewed for a second season based on the success of the first. I will for sure be tuning in, and maybe making it the sole source of my news while I’m at it. Here’s why you should too:
1. New face, seasoned comedian.
Though she is relatively new to the late-night hosting gig, she’s been behind the table before on Late Night with Seth Meyers for their “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell” segment. And, coming from The Second City’s comedy program in Chicago, she has cut her comedic teeth razor sharp. Just watch her segments or listen to any interview she’s done, and you’ll know immediately why she’s been in comedy for so many years. She’s a new face, both in the sense that we haven’t seen her behind the late-night desk before, and as a Black woman, she is a newer face in the very homogeneously white male (and Joan Rivers, for a period) structure of behind-the-desk late night.
2. The writer’s room is amazing.
This writers room houses comedians like Shantira Jackson of 3Peat, Big Mouth, and Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, among her many, many other projects spanning from podcasts, to TV writing, to Chicago improv; Demi Adejuyigbe, writer on The Good Place, The Late Late Show with James Corden, and various publications like College Humor and The New Yorker; Dewayne Perkins, who previously wrote for The Break with Michelle Wolf and Brooklyn Nine Nine; and Ashley Nicole Black, who is notably competing against herself in this year’s Emmy category for Outstanding Writing in a Variety Series for her work on The Amber Ruffin Show and A Black Lady Sketch Show.
3. An oppositional gaze in a strange political climate.
The mouth that comedy is coming out of is important. The whole reason behind the segment “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell” was to bring comedy and satire onto the show that could only be observed and written from the perspective of a Black woman. While it wouldn’t make sense for a white host to naturalistically say some of these things, however true they may be, jokes written by a Black woman are delivered most effectively by a Black woman. And considering the other late night talk show hosts on the air right now, she gives a totally different perspective from the way issues are seen under the white male gaze.
4. The jokes are sharp.
Amber Ruffin conveys her comedy through song and sketch, as well as the traditional host’s monologue. But by exploring the material in such different ways, there are plenty more opportunities to find humor in unexpected ways. Whether it be her commentary on the ways that systemic racism has stayed in place in her sketch “Amber Explains 2020 to a Time Traveler from 1793,” or she’s singing about how body beauty standards and race are intertwined in “Amber’s Giving Up Jokes About White Women’s’ Flat Butts,” she brings a level of synthesis to topics that goes far beyond the traditional setup-punchline structure
5. The Emmys say it’s great. So, it’s great.
After only one season, the show is already a formidable contender for the category of Outstanding Writing in a Variety Series. Amber Ruffin has regularly been nominated in this category as a writer since 2017 for her work on Seth Meyers, but this is her first nod on the show that bears her namesake. And if she doesn’t win this year (which would lead me to do something to the Television Academy that might be considered “criminal intimidation” in court) there is no doubt in my mind that she’ll have next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, and the year after that, and any future years, as long as it continues to be renewed.