When the clock strikes 9 pm EST tonight, late night talk show’s diversity will increase 100 percent thanks to Amber Ruffin.
Since 2014, she’s been providing extremely funny and equally smart skits on NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers, where she was the first Black woman to write for a late-night network talk show. On September 25, Ruffin steps into another first as she becomes the first Black woman to launch a talk show, The Amber Ruffin Show, on the new streaming service, Peacock. (The show will be paired in Peacock’s late-night block alongside Larry Wilmore’s talker WILMORE.)
Ruffin, who’s lent her Emmy and Writer’s Guild of America award nominee writing skills to A Black Lady Sketch Show, says her audience will hear some good jokes but she won’t shy away from the seriousness of the times.
“I’m going to get mad and I’m going to yell about some garbage. And then I’m going to put on a wizard hat and conjure a spell. It’s basically those two things,” says the Omaha, Nebraska native.
But Ruffin assures there’s more in store for her nine-episode run, with new episodes streaming every Friday. As she was putting the finishing touches on her premiere episode, ESSENCE rang her up to get the scoop on the series. Here’s what she dished.
Has launching The Amber Ruffin Show been a dream? Has this been something you’ve always wanted?
AMBER RUFFIN: No. I mean, I never really thought that I would ever have a late night show, or even work on a late night show really. It just was so… And it’s still a little far-fetched. It’s pretty hard to believe, and rare. I don’t know. But every day is funnier than the last day. It’s so much fun. It’s unbelievable. It is. I know I say that about everything. Oh, I didn’t have to let you know that. For all you know, I never say that. But I do say that about everything.
What is one thing that’s fun for you?
RUFFIN: The very thing I’m complaining about, how fast it moves is so much fun. Like last week, we did the test show, and you know, I’ve got my hands in a couple of things and, of course, I wrote a couple of things. But then all you can do is hand them off to someone else to finish. And then when you get there and you see everything with the graphics and the clothes they chose and the lights, it’s your first time seeing it is when you’re in it. And that’s so much fun. It’s so fun.
You worked with Robin Thede on her series A Black Lady Sketch Show. Did she give you any tips on how to balance, how to work smarter or things to avoid when launching a new show?
RUFFIN: I mean, she certainly has over the years. Because she’ll answer any question you ask her, and I have to know every last corner of her business. She’ll tell you, too. “Well, this is the smart way to do things. This isn’t the smart way to do things. A lot of people think that you do it like this, but you don’t.” She’s certainly been there and she’s more than happy to tell you so you don’t make the same mistakes she made.
Your skits on Late Night with Seth Meyers are hilarious. Will we see the same humor or style of sketches on The Amber Ruffin Show? Or are you taking a completely different approach?
RUFFIN: Our late night show has no guests. It’s all goofy, doofy bits, and that’s it. And I’d love to dress it up and be like, “We’re going to this and that and we’re going to change everything.” We’re not, we’re going to be doing the same doofy bits. I’m going to get mad and I’m going to yell about some garbage. And then I’m going to put on a wizard hat and conjure a spell. It’s basically those two things.
Are you still going to be doing very topical topics?
RUFFIN: Oh, yes.
We love that you’ve always worn your natural hair. It’s been very beautiful.
RUFFIN: Thank you.
Was that conscious choice? Were you like, “Nope, you guys are not going to touch my hair, it’s going to look like this”?
RUFFIN: [Laughs] I guess I’m an extremely sloppy person, and… I am quite raggedy. It’s a regular comedy thing. I’m like a regular comedy guy, where I’m certainly not spending hours on my hair and makeup and stuff. I don’t care. But if it’s time to wear a big, fancy dress I’ll do it. But I do like having my hair nappy on purpose, because people just have no idea what that is. Once I was on someone’s show, on some sketch show. I walked into the hair lady’s thing, and she said, “Okay, great.” She did my makeup [and then asked me] what wig are you going to wear?” And I had a TWA, I had a teeny-weenie afro, and I said, “I’m not wearing a wig. This is my hair.” She said, “Oh…” And she started crying. So ever since then, I was like, “Oh, I’ll never, ever straighten my hair ever in a million years, and f–k the thought of it.”
I really applaud you for it. I especially love when you do the little French rolls and the little buns back because it also makes you look 12.
RUFFIN: That’s my secret. I can’t do hair, but if you are a nine-year-old girl, you will never meet a better hair stylist than me. I can braid someone up like that.
Let’s talk a little bit about your writers’ room. Last June, I watched Inside the Writers Zoom that Robin Thede moderated with the writers for A Black Lady Sketch Show. It was really interesting to have the insight of when you come into that room… I think it was Ashley Nicole Black that explained it… that there are things that don’t need explaining. So how are you managing your writers’ room? What is it like?
RUFFIN: It’s new to all of us. I was a part of A Black Lady Sketch Show writers’ room, but I wasn’t physically there. So I wasn’t at a lot of meetings and stuff. I didn’t really have that experience of that. It’s like we’ve been writing comedy with weights on because you have to take everything you say and you have to filter it, then make it so white people can understand it. But the second you take that step away, you’re working at lightning speed and everything is… You don’t have to go back and explain this or leave it out. You can just say everything exactly the way you mean it, and it’s so nuts. I’m 41. I should’ve been able to do this at some point. But I’ve never had this, and it’s hilarious. And I think we’re all rolling around in it right now. Because it feels so good. It’s just so cool.
How is your family going to celebrate this moment? Will they have a virtual party for you? How are you going to celebrate?
RUFFIN: They should have a virtual party for me. But they like everything. My family is very giggly. It’s so funny, because I’m just describing myself, but they’re very giggly and they like everything. So they’re like, “Yay, this is great!” But if you had brought them a little cactus, they’d be like, “Oh yay, this is great!” They love everything. They love it all.