Amber Ruffin exudes Big Capricorn Energy. Ambitious, tenacious, and undeniably talented comedian, whose birthday is January 9th, the ambitious man goes her own way in an area that struggles to legitimize black women.
As the host of Peacock’s The Amber Ruffin Show, which was nominated for a Writers Guild Award for Comedy / Variety Sketch Series, she is the only black woman with a late night show currently on the air. Her infectious charm and sharp social comment make her a television set so that NBC tests her show in front of a broadcast audience. The network will air two episodes (tonight, Feb.26 and Friday, March 5, 1:30 p.m.) in place of reruns of A Little Late With Lilly Singh – a move Ruffin hopes will give black viewers Makes you feel like you’re being seen and “Realizing that late night comedy is an option for you,” she told The Root.
Moving through a room dominated by white men requires a certain level of confidence that Ruffin has in his spade. In 2014 she flew to New York to audition for Saturday Night Live with Leslie Jones, Tiffany Haddish and Nicole Byer. It was a dream gig that the comedian was sure she would get – until she didn’t. “I still can’t explain what made me believe I was guaranteed something like this,” Ruffin recalls with a chuckle.
However, their disappointment lasted only a few days. Seth Meyers soon called her with an offer to write for Late Night – a role she currently still holds – making her the first black woman to join the writers’ room on a late night networking show. Ruffin’s searing political and social satire, like her “Amber Says What” segments, have become her signature, but it took Ruffin years to get the level of comfort to say exactly what she thought. Ruffin attributes this to a drastic cultural shift in the wake of the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, which began in 2013 after George Zimmerman’s acquittal after pursuing and shooting Trayvon Martin, and after nationwide protests for the recent George Floyd murders and Breonna Taylor gained new mainstream attention.
“I think the world has changed a bit. I feel like I’m riding the wave of a completely different American consciousness, ”she explains. “It has really changed what to say and what not because we are no longer trying to protect white fragility. That’s not part of anything that’s crazy because that used to be a big part of what you do. Not to say, “Well, all we’ve learned is a lie” to make white people feel less guilty. “
In a powerful late-night segment that aired last June, Ruffin shared her personal run-ins with police for a week. The rare experience of being given the space to speak so freely made her realize how restrained she had been over the years. “If you’re the only black person on a comedy show or part of a cast, just act like that to protect yourself so that no one is saying crazy things to you. When those lines break, it’s kind of shocking [to see] How much you played by that weird rule that ultimately never mattered, ”she says.
The steps that Ruffin has taken so far come on the backs of those who came before. Whoopi Goldberg made history in 1992 as the first black woman to direct a late night show that lasted only one season. A decade and a half later, Wanda Sykes landed her own late night show on Fox, but that too was canceled after the first season. Robin Thede ran BET’s The Rundown in 2017, which was also not renewed, but led her to create the A Black Lady Sketch Show in 2019 in response to the shortage of black women in comedy. Season 2 is currently in the works without Ruffin, who is busy double-writing and hosting her show for Late Night.
As a writer for A Black Lady Sketch Show, Ruffin was surrounded by women who looked like her for the first time in their careers. The series featured a writer’s room made up entirely of black women, including Ruffin, Thede, lead writer Lauren Ashley Smith (The Rundown), Ashley Nicole Black (full frontal with Samantha Bee), Rae Sanni (The Good Place), and Akilah Green ( Chelsea), Holly Walker (The Nightly Show) and Brittani Nichols (Take My Wife). Despite working out of New York, Ruffin enjoyed the singular comfort that came with working on a staff where she was not a minority.
“It was strange to leave my job to a black woman who is going to discuss it with another black woman and they are responsible for whether it works or not,” she says of the experience. “Just that thought is crazy to me, and the fact that it’s crazy feels even crazier, but it was really cool. I remember feeling very encouraged by this show and this room. “
Ruffin’s work can be seen in the six-episode season one of A Black Lady Sketch Show, which featured memorable sketches such as “Bad B – ch Support Group” and “The Basic Ball”. The experience left a lasting impression on the late-night presenter, who made sure that the author’s room would also be mostly black. The Amber Ruffin Show, which premiered on September 25, offers a 90 percent room for black writers made up of lead author and late-night cohort Jenny Hagel, Demi Adejuyigbe, Shantira Jackson, Dewayne Perkins, and the Root journalist Michael Harriot composed. Much like a Black Lady Sketch Show, Ruffin’s staff work with the freedom to say things exactly as they would normally articulate rather than flipping the switch to get their point across.
“When you’re a black writer on a white show, it’s like wearing weights around your ankles,” she notes. “What comes to mind first has to be filtered through the white gaze and understanding so that you can’t talk about Babyface and st. You have to be like “Clay Aiken”. You have to go with your third thought and it happens a lot and sometimes you have to correct how you would say something and brighten your language. But we don’t have to do that on our show and it’s so cool. “
Ruffin has been in the game long enough to see the drastic change in comedy that has been shaped by the rise of social media services like Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok. These platforms have given comedians unprecedented access to a global audience and the ability to create opportunities that would otherwise be completely inaccessible. For example, Lisa Beasley’s impressive Margaret Thatcher impression in her parody of The Crown and Ryan Ken’s brilliant Malcom & Marie sketch have garnered millions of views, while TikTok superstar Sarah Cooper booked a Netflix special for her popular Trump lip-syncing videos.
Ruffin is excited to see this new generation of comedians rising and realizing that they have changed not only the way we approach entertainment, but also the type of comedy we consume. “What kind of comedy develops develops rapidly. I remember when it was Adam Sandler and Adam Sandler-esque jokes and movies – that I love – that were everyone’s favorite for years. But now the comedy is moving so fast that this schtick can’t hold three films, let alone 10 or whatever, ”she says.
With a hit late-night show, a New York Times bestseller (she and her big sister Lacey Lamar published in January That You’ll Never Believe What Happened To Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism), and some groundbreaking milestones below her belt. The quick witted joker from Omaha, Nebraska is already etching a memorable legacy. Through her triumphs and not-so-triumphant moments, she has learned the importance of not apologizing for yourself.
“I’ve learned to be tough,” concludes Ruffin. “When you’re writing on a late night show, you have a million jokes and a million sketches to make every week, and you’ll be lucky if one of them manages. I’ve learned not to be valuable at all when it comes to material. Once you start to see yourself not as a comedy writer but as a comedy fountain that never stops flowing, you feel really powerful. “
Also read our Black + Bold profiles on Walter Mosley (snowfall), Lee Daniels (USA versus Billie Holiday), Suzan-Lori Parks (Genius: Aretha, USA versus Billie Holiday), Queen Latifah (The Equalizer), Malcolm Spellman (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), Ava DuVernay (Queen Sugar), Yvette Lee Bowser (Single Women, Run the World) and Gina Yashere (Bob Hearts Abishola).