Ziwe, the mononymic master of the viral “gotcha!” moment, swears she isn’t out to get anyone.
Sure, the 29-year-old Nigerian-American comedian’s largely white guests on her YouTube and Instagram Live show, “Baited With Ziwe,” have a proclivity to make cringe-worthy comments when it comes to race. (The Instagram influencer Caroline Calloway couldn’t correctly identify the Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton, and the cookbook author Alison Roman was nearly stumped when asked to name five Asian people.)
But Ziwe doesn’t set out to embarrass her guests. “The goal is not to hurt anyone or get them canceled,” explained the Northwestern University graduate, who cut her teeth working on “The Colbert Report.” “The goal is to have a really thoughtful, productive conversation.”
The confrontational questions — often about race — and uncomfortable pauses are, she said, intended to be a learning experience. “They’re all willing,” she said of her guests, though even she isn’t exactly sure why they agree to come on the show. “They’re open to looking silly for a greater discourse beyond both of us.”
Ziwe, who uses only her first name professionally — her last name, Fumudoh, proved too tricky for comedy club hosts to announce — will bring her punch lines to a bigger screen when her new late-night sketch comedy series, “Ziwe,” which rhymes with “freeway,” premieres on Showtime on May 8.
With six episodes, the series will feature guest interviews, musical numbers and field pieces, and will draw from her go-to brand of humor, which she describes as “highly satirical” and “bombastic.” (Her dream guest? Kim Kardashian. “I’d love to get her perspective on race in America as one of the most famous women in world history,” she said.)
In a phone conversation from her Brooklyn apartment, Ziwe shared her cultural essentials, including how watching “The Real Housewives” counts as homework (hear her out), the benefits of box braids and why fuzzy rugs are bringing her all kinds of joy amid her claustrophobic work-from-home existence.
1. “The Real Housewives”
At first, I looked down at “Real Housewives.” I was like, “I never watch reality TV, I read books.” And then, in college, I started watching “Beverly Hills,” which is like this horrid, dark underbelly of reality TV — I’d never seen this type of storytelling before. Like, on “Orange County,” pretending to have cancer on national television for attention — who does that? As a writer and performer I’m constantly engaging with different characters and I’ll rewatch episodes trying to figure them out. I’ve watched full seasons in a day, from eyes open to eyes shut.
2. Emma Brewin Hats
These faux fur, fuzzy bucket hats are my emotional support animals. Rihanna wore a green one in 2017, and I always was thinking about it, but never took the dive to purchase one. But then the pandemic happened and I just needed something to make me feel anything, so I bought a blue hat, and then a green one and an orange one and a black one and a wide-brimmed dark red one … I wear them every day, in a different color to fit my mood. They’re also great for Zoom calls when I don’t want to do my hair. I’m wearing one right now, actually!
3. Nicholas Britell Soundtracks
I’m writing a book and can’t listen to songs with lyrics when I write, and so I often turn to Nicholas Britell soundtracks, whether it’s “Succession” or “If Beale Street Could Talk” or “The King,” with Timothée Chalamet and Robert Pattinson. I love the way he uses strings and piano chords. “Moonlight” was his breakout moment for me, but he’s a really good composer with a wide range of work. I’ve listened to his entire catalog.
I like to learn passively, and documentaries are a perfect vehicle for that. “Varsity Blues” is fantastic. The lack of impulse control to photoshop your picture as a coxswain for crew is beyond comprehension. It’s like “Real Housewives” where it’s stranger than fiction you could ever imagine. And they affect me viscerally! After watching the James Baldwin and Toni Morrison documentaries, I go to my computer and start writing furiously because it’s like, “These are great American authors, OMG, I want to be just like them.”
5. Blood Orange San Pellegrino
I ordered San Pellegrino at the beginning of the pandemic thinking it was seltzer, but I was surprised — and delighted — to learn it was actually juice. I had to cut myself off at one point, though, because I was drinking a lot of these. My friend was like, “You know there’s sugar in that, right?” I was like, “Oh no, it’s just juice, it’s cool,” and then I checked the can and there was sugar. But it’s so delicious. I have one San Pellegrino blood orange left in my fridge — if it’s just a really bad day, I get to drink that.
I think every woman hits a certain age and you've got to buy a couple of candles. Frères Branchiaux ones, which are made by three young brothers of color who also do sprays for your linens, are really nice, and the profits go to homeless shelters. There’s a candle for every occasion — lavender for the winter, citrus for the summer, or a smoggy oak wood for fall. I have three on my coffee table, multiple in my room and a drawer full of them.
I would argue my entire personality is based on this film, which was written and directed by Amy Heckerling and should have been nominated for an Oscar. It’s one of the best American satires of the 21st century. I’m so influenced by the schoolgirl outfits, the matching plaid sets, the mixing patterns and textures, the box braids. The fur cuffs — I love a fur cuff. Mona May was the costume designer for “Clueless,” and she was so forward-thinking setting trends for this definitive ’90s girl style.
8. Box Braids
When I was a kid, my mom made me get box braids, and I’d be like, “Oh, God” — what kid wants to sit for eight hours to get their hair braided? And then I saw Dionne, a character in “Clueless” who had box braids, and I was like, “OK wow, this wasn’t just my parents forcing their culture on me.” It really helped me come into myself. The nice thing about box braids is once you’ve sat down for eight hours to do them, you’re free. It’s like “I never have to brush my hair for eight weeks,” you just get to whip your hair back and forth like Willow Smith. I started wearing box braids again the past two years and every summer, I’m like, “It’s box braid season.” I get 34 inches and I’m walking around like I’m Nicki Minaj knocking things over with my braids like a whip.
9. Fuzzy Rugs
I love to sit on the floor. Maybe it’s this infantile thing with fuzzy hats and fuzzy rugs, but I am moved by textures. On my set for my new show, I have a chair upholstered with a fuzzy rug that I do all my interviews out of. And at home, I have a white fuzzy rug. I haven’t been to a beach in years so I have to replace the idea of sand with a rug. It’s just how it feels on your toes.
10. “Oceans” By Jay-Z Ft. Frank Ocean
I’m a huge fan of Jay-Z as a rapper and Frank Ocean’s musicality, so the song is a really good marriage of two things I love. The melody is really, really calming, but then it has lines like “Only Christopher we acknowledge is Wallace/I don’t even like Washingtons in my pocket.” It’s just really audacious and bold and counterculture.
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