Late-Night Laughs: “Offensive, Bombastic & Satirical” Ziwe Punches Up To Break Through As New Voices Rise In World Of Variety
Late-Night Laughs is Deadline’s weekly look at the business of jokes after dark. We focus on the biggest topics in the world of late-night, the people who make these shows tick and the moments that go viral. Drop me a line at [email protected] with tips or suggestions.
This week, we hear from Ziwe Fumudoh about her new Showtime series, her hot take on the state of satire and how she’s the latest figure to join the late-night “renaissance”. We also look at how Jimmy Kimmel Live is quietly creeping up in the ratings and hear from Trevor Noah, who is set to pull double duty with a new weekly show on Paramount+ alongside his daily show.
ZIWE: PUSHING LATE-NIGHT BOUNDARIES
Ziwe Fumudoh is well versed in the world of late-night, having interned on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to writing on The Rundown with Robin Thede and Desus & Mero.
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She built on her YouTube series Baited last summer with a series of Instagram Live videos featuring the likes of Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan question (sample question: “how many Black friends do you have?”) and is now fronting her own TV show, Ziwe – starting on Showtime on May 8.
She calls her brand of comedy “offensive, bombastic and satirical”. “I like to push the boundaries,” she says. “That’s what entertains me.”
Ziwe is certainly pushing boundaries – joining a late-night world that is becoming increasingly diverse with different points of view. The main network shows may still be hosted by white men, but around the fringes, particularly on cable and streaming, there’s a freshness of voice with the likes of Desus & Mero and The Amber Ruffin Show as well as an upcoming HBO show starring Sam Jay.
“I’m excited for the landscape shift because it means that I have a television show,” she tells Deadline at Showtime’s virtual TCA press tour. “It’s a privilege to be on the same air as Desus and Mero, and Sam Jay, and Amber Ruffin. These are all people who I admire and have collaborated with. It’s going to be really, really, really brilliant. I actually think we’re in a renaissance, but don’t write that because I’m saving it for my book.”
The six-part series, which scored a straight-to-series order in October, will feature interviews, musical numbers, sketches, fake commercials, field pieces and guest stars including Jane Krakowski, Christin Milioti, Jeremy O’Hara and Laura Benanti.
A trailer shown during the session highlighted the sketches, which echo her race baiting online videos, and jokes about a Rosa Parks-fronted gameshow “with wheels”.
“I don’t seek controversy,” she says. “I just would like to say really poignant things with my art. Perhaps, that’s controversial, but, ultimately, I’m trying to punch up at the powerful. Part of that is being accountable for my words and knowing when maybe I missed the mark on certain jokes because I’m not perfect. I’m fallible, and part of that is being willing to take a risk. Because you can’t have a show that pushes boundaries without getting to the edge. Sometimes, I’ll go over, and, sometimes, I’ll ride the line. And I think the goal is to not go over too much.”
Ziwe is showrunning her eponymous show herself with Jamund Washington (HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness) set as head writer and executive producer. Hunter Speese, who worked with Ziwe on Desus & Mero, also exec produces the A24-produced show with a writers’ room that consists of Cole Escola (At Home with Amy Sedaris), Jordan Mendoza (Cry Battle) and Michelle Davis.
“It’s a really small team, but while we are small, we are mighty in intellect,” she says. “I’ve been performing in New York since 2015 and all of my writers are equally part writers as well as performers, who I’ve worked with in that capacity pre‑COVID.”
Ziwe says the current state of satire is a “mixed bag”. “A lot of satire is terrible, and it misses the point, which is to target people in power and to undercut them in every turn. Sometimes, that’s not clear, and that’s when satire goes wrong,” she adds. “Conversely, sometimes, satire is really great. I interned at The Onion and would write jokes for The Onion for years and to see how popular The Onion is that’s really hopeful, because I think a lot of the writing they do is really, really important and good and fun. Ultimately, the thing about satirical writers is, they are never treated as rock stars. It wasn’t like Jonathan Swift was the hot guy on the block.”
She adds that satire is also often used to mask more nefarious meanings. “Sometimes, when people say things are racist and [then] get accused of racism, they’ll [say] ‘Oh, that was satire’. I believe that people don’t know what the word satire means. Hot take. Just throwing that out there.”
Famously direct, Ziwe says she’s keen to analyze the divide between what people say and what they mean, particularly around race, the current social situation and events such as Black History Month.
“It feels like lip service, when you get a representative who is known for being racist, tweeting, ‘I love MLK #truelove.’ It’s like cognitive dissonance. I just ingest all of that, and then, I make the show, and acknowledge that some people are doing the work because they generally want to be better people and feel that they have benefitted from white supremacy or racism and want to go back in time and reverse those benefits, and then, other people do it because it’s cool right now. Both perspectives exist and I love analyzing that.”
On top of all of this, she wants to make people laugh and jokes, “I want to be an enigma”.
JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE: QUIETLY CREEPING UP IN THE RATINGS
Much has been made over the years of the ratings battle between The Late Show and The Tonight Show and rightly so, there’s been an interesting tug of war going back to the Leno and Letterman days.
However, while many have speculated whether The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon can close the gap with The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel Live! has been quietly going about its business and performing rather well.
In fact, the ABC series grew its audience for the fourth consecutive week and last week posted its most-watched week of the season and its strongest performance in the 18-49 demo in more than four months.
It was helped by Colbert and Fallon being on hiatus, but in the previous three weeks, they were up against a strong roster of guests on CBS and NBC.
During the week of February 15, JKL grew its audience by 13% in total viewers – up from 1.63M to 1.84M, using Nielsen’s Live+Same Day ratings. During the week of February 8, where Colbert had the likes of Kristen Wiig and Queen Latifah on and Fallon had the likes of Dwayne Johnson and Keenan Thompson on, Kimmel, helped by Kevin James and Mila Kunis, grew its total audience by 9% and was up 7% in the demo.
It seems summers off – which Kimmel secured as part of his 2019 extension – has paid off for the comedian.
Kimmel is contracted through to 2022, which would take him through 20 seasons. Speaking to Deadline in 2019, he admitted that he was “seriously considering” leaving the late-night show before the network made him feel “appreciated”. I imagine that on the strength of recent weeks, the Disney machine will be looking for new ways to make him feel valued to keep him going past 20.
TREVOR NOAH GOES WEEKLY AS WELL AS DAILY
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, Trevor Noah has expanded The Daily Show from a half-hour to 45 minutes, started planning an hour-long show, agreed to host the Grammys and set up an animated feature at Paramount – all from his own home.
So, it makes sense for the comedian to add another project to his day – a weekly show for Paramount+.
The Weekly Show with Trevor Noah (w/t) will see him host and produce a six episode run looking at stories across the media landscape.
Appearing at ViacomCBS’ Paramount+ launch event, Noah joked about launching, and then closing his own Trevor+ streaming service. Given his workload, it’s not that much of a leap in our new digital environment.
“Each week, I’ll talk with the people behind those stories, the people you know, the people you don’t know and the people you didn’t even know you didn’t know, you know?,” he said before realizing that if he’s doing both The Daily Show and The Weekly Show he better leave the three hour presentation and get back to work.
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