Comedian Ziwe Fumudoh Transforms the ‘Talk Show’ in Showtime Premiere


Screencap of trailer for “Ziwe” on Showtime featuring Ziwe Fumudoh. (Courtesy Showtime)

By Hannah Keating, Arts Editor


Ziwe Fumudoh is no stranger to uncomfortable conversations. It’s the crux of the comedian’s 2017 YouTube series “Baited with Ziwe,” where she unwittingly drove friends and guests into committing racial faux pas in the name of entertainment.

The series transitioned from YouTube to Instagram Live following the 2020 shutdown, expanding on the colorful and bright aesthetic that juxtaposed Fumudoh’s own charged questions. Riding on its coattails, Fumudoh is writer, producer and star of her eponymous six-episode Showtime series “Ziwe,” which features pop culture and musical sketches paired with late-night-like interviews.

Iconic and Provocative

For the launch of the series, Showtime hosted a joint premiere party and for-your-consideration event, “An Evening with Ziwe and Friends.” Fumudoh herself was first introduced to guests by Beanie Feldstein (“Booksmart”) and interviewed throughout the night by musician Janelle Monáe.

The two, who repeatedly acknowledged how “iconic” the other person was in light-hearted conversation, discussed Fumudoh’s journey from informal comedic styling to the fully-fledged series, complete with colorful design and dramatic cinematography. The event’s attendees were privy to behind-the-scenes discussions featuring the dialogue from the small writer’s room, the inspiration for sketches performed by comedy legends, and how Fumudoh’s show perfectly represents who she is in the comedy world.

The trailer for “Ziwe” alone is intoxicating for a comedy fan like myself. With a crazy famous guest line-up featuring Bowen Yang (“Saturday Night Live”), Patti Harrison (“Shrill”), Jane Krakowski (“30 Rock”), Cristin Milioti (“Palm Springs”), Fran Lebowitz (“Pretend It’s a City”), Julio Torres (“Los Espookys”) and even musician Phoebe Bridgers, I found myself already falling for the energy of the entire team involved.

Intentionally Problematic

Something I latched onto throughout the screening and discussion with Monae is the intentionality of “Ziwe,” not only in script, style or cinematography but down to the sheer design curated and pioneered by the show.

Firstly, Fumudoh is an incredibly unique comedian. As a Black American and the child of Nigerian immigrants, she doesn’t shy away from problematic questions in her interviews — it is purposeful, not only for the sake of entertainment but for conversations like this to occur in the spotlight.

Notably, in the trailer for her show, Fumudoh grills Lebowitz on race relations, white women in the media and more. It’s painfully awkward until you clue into the intentional nature of this dialogue. She allows her audience to experience intersectional conversations in places they’ve been avoided and pushes the guests on her show to recognize the lenses they bring to the show. While one episode of “Ziwe” features this hyper-intellectual conversation with Lebowitz, the next hosts Real Housewives of New York City star Eboni K. Williams. In response to Monae, Fumudoh said, “I try to facilitate dialogue … All we can do is embrace embarrassment and grow.”

Fumudoh also described the purposeful choice of a hyper-feminine, bubblegum, fuzzy, poppy design in opposition to the traditionally masculine late-night appearance, throwing off this idea that women are taken more seriously if the feminine aspects of themselves are masked. The cognitive dissonance of “intentionally awkward” comedy paired with a fun and feminine look is entirely purposeful and entirely Ziwe.

In watching the show, you can tell that it is important to Fumudoh that “Ziwe” harnesses the power of awkward conversation in comedy. Between her hilarious sketches and truly iconic characteristics, it’s what makes this variety show truly variable. She holds us in pain-staking and hilarious wait for the payoff of conversations that she says are long overdue.

“Ziwe” is streaming now on Showtime.


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