Inspiration. Ambition.
Passion. Process. Technique.

By: Geri Cole

Promotional poster for THE AMBER RUFFIN SHOW.

Geri talks to Amber Ruffin—writer and on-air talent for LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS and the creator and host of the forthcoming NBC Peacock talk series THE AMBER RUFFIN SHOW—about the process of writing two shows concurrently, how she crafts jokes out of movie clichés, how wearing MC Hammer pants can teach you to be fearless in a writers room, and much more.

Amber Ruffin is a writer and comedian who has written for LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS since its inception. As a writer for LATE NIGHT, she was the first Black woman to write for a late-night network talk show in the U.S., and has also appeared in several of the show’s popular segments, such as “Amber Says What?” and “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell”. In 2018, she hosted the 70th annual Writers Guild Awards New York ceremony, and in 2019, she wrote for the first season of the HBO sketch comedy show A BLACK LADY SKETCH SHOW.

Her new series, THE AMBER RUFFIN SHOW, is a levity- and comedy-focused late-night talk show created by and starring Amber, with her fellow LATE NIGHT writer and SECOND CITY alum Jenny Hagel serving as head writer. The show will premiere on Friday, September 25th, and will air on NBC’s streaming service Peacock.

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Thanks for listening. Write on.


Geri Cole: You’re listening to On Writing, a podcast from the Writers Guild of America East. I’m your host, Geri Cole. In each episode, you’ll hear writers working in film, television, and news, break down everything from the writing process to pitching favorite jokes to key scenes and so much more. Today I’m talking with Amber Ruffin, a writer and on-air talent for NBC is Late Night with Seth Meyers and the creator and host of the Amber Ruffin Show coming to Peacock this fall. I talked with Amber over Zoom about writing two shows concurrently, how she crafts jokes out of movie cliches, and how wearing MC Hammer pants can teach you to be fearless in a writers room.

We have actually met briefly once before. I was very drunk and I was like, “I love you.”

Amber Ruffin: Well, if you were, then I was.

Geri Cole: It’s quite [fussil 00:00:53], but it’s good to meet you again.

Amber Ruffin: Hi.

Geri Cole: Thank you so much for agreeing to do this. So I guess I just want to start with talking about how you’re doing, how you’re holding up. These are strange days.

Amber Ruffin: Geri, I’m alive. We’re making it as I have a house.

Geri Cole: That’s-

Amber Ruffin: That’s a lie. I have a very small apartment. Yeah. I mean, the bar is so low. I’m like, you can’t be drinking every day. At first when this started, I was drinking every day. One, because everything is bad, but also because it was boring. Now, thank God that this show is literally going to save my life because I have something to do. And like a focus for all this crap.

Geri Cole: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I was getting wine delivered and I can see when I placed my last order and it was like three bottles of four days ago. And it was like, “Okay. Slow down. I need to slow that down a little bit.”

Amber Ruffin: Oh my gosh. It’s got to get slowed down. Somebody’s got to do something.

Geri Cole: I mean, I’m just-

Amber Ruffin: I’m going to start eating weed gummies.

Geri Cole: Oh.

Amber Ruffin: Now I’ve never done that before. It’s an idea, but it’s something. I have to give it a shot and see what happens.

Geri Cole: Yeah. Let’s give it a good shot. So I’m so excited to talk to you about your new show, but I also want to talk about the work that you’re doing on Late Night with Seth Meyers, which is awesome and I think how most people know you.

Amber Ruffin: Yay.

Geri Cole: But I hear that you’re going to keep writing at Late Night with Seth Meyers and doing this new show.

Amber Ruffin: I want to keep writing at Late Night Seth, and I’m going to do this show and I’m doing all kinds of other stuff.

Geri Cole: How? How?

Amber Ruffin: I done wrote a book.

Geri Cole: Whoa.

Amber Ruffin: What you have, I would also like to do it.

Geri Cole: Wow.

Amber Ruffin: Do you have any projects you need me to be on? I’m here. No, but we are still doing Seth and the show, but this was really the first week of writing Ruffin Show.

Geri Cole: Is that true?

Amber Ruffin: You know how time is now.

Geri Cole: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amber Ruffin: It won’t hold still.

Geri Cole: Mm-mm (negative).

Amber Ruffin: So I’m writing on the show now, but on Amber Ruffin Show now, but we’re on hiatus from Late Night. So I’m like, this is easy. Cut to next week when I’ll be like, “Oh, what am I agreed to do?”

Geri Cole: Yeah. It’s going to be a lot. I’m very curious to see how it’s going to work out. And your new show is going to have, you said it’s only going to be just the good parts from Late Night. What does that mean? Do you want to talk about the format at all or…

Amber Ruffin: Yes. This is what the format is today.

Geri Cole: Okay.

Amber Ruffin: We’re going to do probably a monologue and then a goofy bit and then a sketch and then probably a song and then other goofy bits in there. But it’s not going to be like, I’m not going to be like talking to Lin-Manuel Miranda on the show. In private. All we do is [crosstalk 00:04:23].

Geri Cole: Chatting it up.

Amber Ruffin: Lying on celebrities is so fun. Me and Lin, our album drops later. So we’ll work on that.

Geri Cole: Next week. That’s another project that you currently-

Amber Ruffin: I mean, why would my lie give me more work to do? I’m bad at everything. I swear to God.

Geri Cole: So it’s good. It sounds like it’s not exactly nailed down just yet.

Amber Ruffin: No.

Geri Cole: Or is it going to be fluid? Is it going to be a thing that can change?

Amber Ruffin: We’ll likely start with a monologue and a bit every time, but look. Who knows, man? Because we have to do what the news tells us to do. You know what I mean?

Geri Cole: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amber Ruffin: Because if things get crazy, then we might not be able to be starting with no monologue and stuff. Who knows? But we are very lucky in that we don’t have to hold for Anderson Cooper. We don’t have to prep the audience to enjoy our jokes after we’ve gone to a serious place because there is no audience. We don’t have to prepare them for some special guest because there is no special guest. I mean, unless we have a special guest. Ooh lord, girl. Who knows? But you know what I mean? We can do exactly what we want. We can do what feels right instead of having to adhere to a anything.

Geri Cole: Actually, I’m curious as to what your schedule at Seth Meyers is like. I imagine it’s very intense because it’s a daily, like having to just churn everything out. Do you want to talk a little bit about your process and your schedule and like how your normal day looks?

Amber Ruffin: Yes. Writing at Late Night with Seth Meyers is the best job in the world. When you are me, because there’s one guy who writes… Sal writes all of the closer looks with Seth and Jenny helps them. Then half of us write the monologue and half of us write sketches. Now I write sketches, which means when you feel a sketch coming on, you go to your desk and you sit and you write it down and you turn it in. And then you go from office to office and bother your little friends. I swear and I have said this since I got this job, I could have another full time job and be fine.

I used to say that all the time. And then now I do.

Geri Cole: And now you do. Now you do. Now you do.

Amber Ruffin: This is what I get. I really don’t think it’s going to be crazy. If I have something on that week, I’m usually not on more than once a week. I go in and we read it on Monday. Then on Tuesday I will try to get wardrobe and graphics together if I need to. And then we might read it again the day I do it, or we might not and I might just do it. And that is the end of the list of things I have to do. That’s it.

Geri Cole: Wow. Wow.

Amber Ruffin: It’s the best. It’s definitely the best job in late night for sure times a million.

Geri Cole: Wow.

Amber Ruffin: Ooh, second best. First best is Amber Ruffin Show.

Geri Cole: Wait, wait, wait, wait. I mean it’s first is Amber Ruffin Show.

Amber Ruffin: I lied. It’s not. The first is Late Night Seth. Ruffin Show will get easier later, I’m sure.

Geri Cole: Yes. How did you work that out? How did you work out that you only have to show up and write funny sketches and then fade into the background?

Amber Ruffin: It’s how it is. These people are crazy. Okay. So this is what these crazy people do. It’s like Montessori for comedy writers. And we just go in. I mean, you have to be at work at 9:30, but says who? No one there. Do you have to clock in at all? I’m there at 9:20 every day because I’m a nerd, but you do what you want. Do you have your work to me when I need your work? Well, frigging, go eat a steak. No one cares.

Geri Cole: A midday, little breakfast steak. Get you a breakfast steak. Wow.

Amber Ruffin: I mean, I’m not going to say I haven’t left work to go get a steak, but if I did, who’s going to stop me?

Geri Cole: No one would know.

Amber Ruffin: No one.

Geri Cole: So is that how segments like Amber Says What and Jokes Seth Can’t Tell got created? It was just you sort of feeling it in the moment and then…

Amber Ruffin: Amber Says What got created when I watched the Winter Olympics and was like, “What?” That’s how it started because the Winter Olympics that year were insane. And I wrote this stuff. I wrote this little bit about it, but basically all I was doing was saying what? And then it just got out of hand and I thought, how many of these can I do? And then I just wrote a million whats and we laughed and laughed. And then I redid it, which I was shocked about. But Jokes Seth Can’t Tell, Jenny invented because she wrote a bunch of lesbian jokes and they were like, “These are funny, but we can’t use them.” So then we combined her lesbian jokes and my black jokes and did this bit that I thought for sure we would just be reading at the table read for fun, but it made it onto the show.

Geri Cole: Turns out.

Amber Ruffin: Turns out.

Geri Cole: Popular segment.

Amber Ruffin: Yeah.

Geri Cole: And so Jenny Hagel, who is going to be the head writer for your new show, yes?

Amber Ruffin: Yay. Yes.

Geri Cole: But you met her before Seth Meyers, right? You guys met at Second City?

Amber Ruffin: Yes, Jenny and I did Second City Denver 500 years ago and Second City Denver barely existed. We went out there for one show and we were like, “Ooh, we’ll just be the pioneers at Second City Denver.” It died. So we went out there for a year?

Geri Cole: Oh, wow.

Amber Ruffin: Jenny was probably out there for less time than I was. And I had the time of my life, which I guess is what I say about everything. But I did though at Second City Denver. It really was the most fun. And Jenny came out there and she wrote, wrote, wrote like a little machine. And I was like, “Ooh, this child is good.” And I remembered it. And then when it came time to replace Michelle Wolf, I said, “Oh, I know someone who could replace her,” because Michelle Wolf does a lot of work. Yeah. She has a problem. She has a problem with the amount of work she’s willing to do. It’s a lot.

Geri Cole: Wow. So it was love at first sight.

Amber Ruffin: Yeah. With me and Jenny?

Geri Cole: Yeah.

Amber Ruffin: I love her. I love her so bad and I do love her, but we always go eat breakfast together upstairs at work. And one time I brought my husband upstairs because he was just in the neighborhood and it was time to eat lunch. And then later on, Jenny went to lunch without me and the lady who’s the cashier is so used to seeing us together. She goes, “Your friend came in here with a man.” She thought Jenny was my girlfriend and she told on me.

Geri Cole: What? I mean, I guess good looking out, honestly. Cashier lady, good looking out trying to make sure Jenny’s not getting steps-

Amber Ruffin: How dare you not let me cheat on Jenny.

Geri Cole: Wow. Wow.

Amber Ruffin: You’ve got to let me dip out. But we say that all the time. Your friend came in here with a man.

Geri Cole: That’s why I love that, yeah. She just assumed you guys were clearly together.

Amber Ruffin: But the way we are gossiping over breakfast every day, I don’t blame her because it’s us huddled up being like, “And then he got the dog in the divorce.”

Geri Cole: Oh man. So also, you were one of the writers on the first season of A Black Lady Sketch Show.

Amber Ruffin: Yay.

Geri Cole: Which led by the beautiful and lovely Robin Thede and Lauren Ashley Smith.

Amber Ruffin: Yay.

Geri Cole: How was that experience?

Amber Ruffin: Lonely.

Geri Cole: Oh. Oh, wait. Because you were the only person who didn’t-

Amber Ruffin: Because I wrote remotely.

Geri Cole: Yeah. That’s right.

Amber Ruffin: So I didn’t get to be there. I didn’t get to enjoy the blackness. I just got all the emails and got to read all the sketches. But I will say that was a very cool experience because some of those writers, I think two of them I had never met. So I just got to read their sketches and get to know them that way. And that was crazy because that’s something you never get to do. And then we all rewrote one another’s sketches. It was really, really funny. It’s so nice to have because sketches, I imagine, is what I love the most. So to just have a butt ton of them all of the time was very cool.

Geri Cole: Yeah. Do you feel like your comedy style is sketches? I feel like you’ve done a lot of improv. No stand-up? Some stand-up?

Amber Ruffin: Nope.

Geri Cole: No stand-up. But so like sketches is where…

Amber Ruffin: I bet sketches is where it’s at. Might also be like rants and stuff. I guess it all is late night comedy. Who knows? Frigging tomorrow watch maybe like I only write musicals. When I was doing improv, I was like, “Ooh, this is it. I have found it.” But I was wrong.

Geri Cole: Hmm. Yeah. I feel like actually you’ve had the quintessential comedy career where it was like from this to this and then Boom Chicago and Second City and into Late Night. Did you always know this was what you wanted to do or did you just sort of like keep finding the next step and the next step and the next step?

Amber Ruffin: No, every thing I did was a surprise. I guess I just wasn’t that confident because I thought I moved to Chicago and was like, “Well, we’ll see.” And then I got a job at Boom Chicago. I’m like, “Oh, well we’ll see how long I can keep this going.” And I got a job at Second City Denver and was like, “Oh, well, we’ll see.” Then I got main stage Second City and was like, “Well, we’ll see.”

Geri Cole: Wow. Wow.

Amber Ruffin: But it just kept going into this next unexpected thing. I would never was like, “Ooh, I’m going to write on a late night talk show.” Never. Never in my life. It never occurred to me that those things were written.

Geri Cole: Did you grow up watching late night?

Amber Ruffin: Yes. I was a huge Conan O’Brien guy. Frigging still am. I love Conan O’Brien. I can’t help it. Yeah, I guess all of them though, really. Because I was such a good child and I’m the youngest of five that I could stay up late and watch TV. So that was good.

Geri Cole: Yeah.

Amber Ruffin: I was well behaved and if I came to mom and dad and said, “Look, I understand that my bedtime is nine, but I think we should start thinking about what 11:00 PM bedtime looks like for me.”

Geri Cole: I really appreciate if you guys can be flexible about this.

Amber Ruffin: I think we should be thinking about whether or not I need to be watching Letterman every night when I probably should.

Geri Cole: Oh man. So if late night where your boyfriend, what sport would he play?

Amber Ruffin: Oh. Chess.

Geri Cole: Wow.

Amber Ruffin: Nerdy ass, late night. Late night?

Geri Cole: Is that right? Are we calling that a sport?

Amber Ruffin: [crosstalk 00:16:56]. But you would have to to keep his spirits up because he would feel… Be like, “Woo, baby. You’re doing it. Woo. Rook takes bishop. You did it, hon. All right.”

Geri Cole: Oh, wow.

Amber Ruffin: He’d be just whatever the nerdiest after-school activity is because late night is some nerdy stuff, man.

Geri Cole: Do you feel like it’s nerdy?

Amber Ruffin: Well, you know what? With Seth at the helm, it all seems nerdy. I love to rag on Seth. But he is very nerdy. We were arguing about this in the writer’s room a little while ago. A little while ago, obviously, at least a half a year ago.

Geri Cole: Yeah, for six months, yeah.

Amber Ruffin: Yeah. We were arguing about if anyone in the writer’s room would be considered a cool person.

Geri Cole: Wow.

Amber Ruffin: And we had to say, “Absolutely not.” There is not a one of us would qualify as a cool guy. Maybe one of us, Karnell. One of us is kind of a cool person, but I mean-

Geri Cole: Wow.

Amber Ruffin: And I’m not it.

Geri Cole: I was like, “Not it.”

Amber Ruffin: Not it. I want to go watch Sailor Moon. What are we doing? Do I qualify as cool? Because something’s wrong.

Geri Cole: Oh man. That’s really sweet, actually. I feel like it’s like, “Well, that’s what we’re…Guys, we found each other.”

Amber Ruffin: You’re not going to find that here.

Geri Cole: Yeah.

Amber Ruffin: Yeah. Those SNL guys, tons of them are cool.

Geri Cole: Are they?

Amber Ruffin: We don’t have that here. Sam Jay is cool as hell.

Geri Cole: Okay. I feel like-

Amber Ruffin: End of list. Sam Jay and Chris Redd. End of list.

Geri Cole: Wow. Well, I hope they appreciate you’re qualifying them in this cool, cool-

Amber Ruffin: And sorry, Ego. She knows she’s a nerd.

Geri Cole: So I feel like your comedy is equally very smart, very nerdy and very silly. It’s like a perfect combo of smart and silly. How do you approach writing jokes? Do you have a formula or a bar they have to pass?

Amber Ruffin: No, I write my bits based on what I feel like doing. So a lot of the times I’ll catch a moment in a movie or something and I also want to do that. So it’s like in a old timey movie where a guy has a Tommy gun and he’s dressed like a gangster and he’s yelling at his friends. I’ll just see that moment and I’ll be like, “Ooh, I want to do that.” So then I’ll be like, “Where does this meet with what’s going on in the world today?” You know what I mean?

The example I like to use, and I think we are going to do this in Ruffin Show, is I like to go, “Ooh, you know what’s fun is putting on a trench coat and having a magnifying glass and being like, ‘A mystery is afoot.'” So then I was like, “I want to do that for sure.” So then what’s the mystery? Oh, I know. Whether or not whatever the celebrity or person of interest said is racist. So I’ll be like, “Whoa. It’s a mystery. He wore blackface. Was that racist? Well, I’ve got to get to the bottom of this.” I always have like what silly thing can I do and how does that overlap with the news?

Geri Cole: Oh, interesting.

Amber Ruffin: And that’s really how I come up with anything I like to do.

Geri Cole: Okay. Do you feel like there’s any places that are off limits like when you are pulling from the news?

Amber Ruffin: I don’t know. Sure. No? Sure. No. I don’t know. I usually wouldn’t. I think if it was something I shouldn’t be talking about, I wouldn’t want to, I think. I mean, I hope. Frick, let’s hope. Smash cut to me being like I can’t even finish that joke. Yeah. But I like to think that I would be like, “Oh, well I’m not qualified to talk about whatever that is.”

Geri Cole: So you wouldn’t?

Amber Ruffin: Yeah. That’s what I think. But hey, who knows? Do people put your name on a show and then you go crazy? That happens. I hope that doesn’t happen to me.

Geri Cole: It’s a possibility, I suppose.

Amber Ruffin: And then I’ll be like, here’s what’s going on in China and how you should feel about it. People will be like, “Ooh, no. She has overstepped. She does not know what she is talking about.”

Geri Cole: Someone get her.

Amber Ruffin: Get her. Then you’re going to have to come get me. Good luck.

Geri Cole: So after when things sort of started getting very heated this summer with the protests and everything, you did do that segment where you were talking about all your awful interactions with the cops, all of your own personal experiences. How did that go down at Seth Myers? Were people on board or was it like, “I’m doing it.”

Amber Ruffin: I had said, “Oh, you know what I want to do? I want to write something about these protests,” but that was early on in the protest. If you remember how it felt, at first it was like, “Oh yeah, we’re doing it where this is bullshit. We’re not taking it.” Then the next day we were like, “This is very sad and I don’t like feeling like this.” And then it completely got too horrible to withstand very quickly. So I wrote a bit and then look back and was like, “This is in poor taste now.” Then I wrote a rant and was like, “This is now in poor taste.”

So then I was like, “You know what? I really would like to say something. Why don’t I just tell this story about the cops?” And because I always have cop jokes and jokes that you can’t tell, everybody knows how I feel, but now it was nice to be like, “This is why. I’m not just ragging on cops for fun.” It’s very true. It’s exactly how I feel.

So then I told that story and I was like, “If you need more, we can do this all week.”

Geri Cole: All day, my life.

Amber Ruffin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Geri Cole: This is what it looks like.

Amber Ruffin: Yes, sir.

Geri Cole: (singing). So there is a quote by Ms. Toni Cade Bambara. I hope I’m saying that name right. That’s the, “An artist’s responsibility is to make the revolution irresistible.” Have you heard this quote?

Amber Ruffin: No. What a beautiful quote.

Geri Cole: I know. I really appreciate it as well. I mean, I feel like that’s what you’re doing. Do you feel any responsibility to try and affect positive change, and you please know you don’t have to feel responsible for shit. But do you feel it?

Amber Ruffin: No.

Geri Cole: Yourself?

Amber Ruffin: I don’t, really. Maybe. I more feel a responsibility to say the real things that I’m feeling. I mean, gosh, this is a good question. I feel exactly everywhere about it. I feel like, yes, I feel responsibility. No, absolutely not. And I guess I feel both those things because I don’t feel responsibility because what I have to do is stay black and die. You know how old black people say that at church? It used to make me so mad.

Geri Cole: It’s all I’ve got to do.

Amber Ruffin: When I was young it’s like, “But you have to.” They’d be like, “All I have to do-

Geri Cole: Is stay black and die.

Amber Ruffin: … is stay black and die.” So I feel kind of like that. But then I also feel like I had to quit Facebook a little while ago because people I knew were saying the dumbest shit. And I was like, “Oh no, you’re a full idiot, but you used to be my little friend. So if all of the lies of the world have gotten to you, what hope is there for any of us?” You know what I mean? Like the other day when they said, “Well only 6% of people who died of COVID didn’t have something wrong with them to begin with.”

Geri Cole: Wow.

Amber Ruffin: And when I saw that, I thought, “So many people are going to believe this.” I hate it. I just hate it. I hate that all these lies are floating around and that they’re landing with people. I think it’s nuts. So, I feel like what I should be doing is saying how I feel, but that just so happens to be how I feel. I feel like that’s a crazy fricking thing to say and I want to take a dump on it. So I try to do that as much as I can.

Geri Cole: Yeah. If anything these last several years, but also especially six months have taught me is I never considered myself exceptional. I always felt like I’m pretty average. I’m like of average intelligence. I’m an average lady. And it’s like, “Oh, apparently I’m a genius.”

Amber Ruffin: You’re the president of Mensa. I mean, my God. I didn’t know.

Geri Cole: It’s pretty terrifying.

Amber Ruffin: It’s terrifying. I have a lot of friends from other countries and they’re like, “So are you guys like very, very dumb?”

Geri Cole: Act like…

Amber Ruffin: I guess so. A little bit, yes. But also people are receiving bad information. Like if I had read that about that 6% of people with COVID dying, I would have believed it. If all of the information I got was skewed that way, I would have happily believed that, you know?

Geri Cole: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amber Ruffin: So it’s just I don’t think it’s that we’re so stupid, but we are. It’s that the information is wrong.

Geri Cole: Yeah.

Amber Ruffin: And adults are being like, “This is a fact.”

Geri Cole: And that’s allowed.

Amber Ruffin: Yeah. And that’s allowed. In other places you would never allow for that to happen. And liars aren’t stupid. Liars are the smart ones. Liars get you to believe the lie. So…

Geri Cole: I feel like success, you’re having a lot of success in this moment. I feel like it’s a fair thing to say.

Amber Ruffin: Yay. I never thought about it like that.

Geri Cole: Well, here’s the thing is that I feel like you don’t feel it when you’re in it. It never feels like what you think it’s going to feel like. Do you have something that a way success looks for you?

Amber Ruffin: Shit. It feels like work.

Geri Cole: Yeah.

Amber Ruffin: I’m working like a dog, but I love to have too many things to do. It’s my favorite. I love it. I do love having too many things to do. And it does feel a little bit like success. But look, I’m not going to be successful until everyone I’m related to is well taken care of. I mean, I think I have that black thing probably a lot of black people have and maybe some white people, but I’m like, “Look-

Geri Cole: Until I can buy them a house.

Amber Ruffin: Okay. We still have a lot of work to do.

Geri Cole: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Do you have any hard won lessons that you… Something that you appreciate now that you wish you had appreciated earlier where you’re like, “Well, that was a hard lesson that I’m glad I know now, but took a while.”

Amber Ruffin: Yes I do. I learned two things that I should have always known. And I learned them both at Late Night is you have to write what you like. I would never have thought that anyone would let me dress up like MC Hammer and sing about… God, I don’t even remember what that bit was about, but I was rapping like MC Hammer with a whole MC Hammer wig and stuff and the glasses and the parachute pants that was just right, talking about God knows what. And I just would have never thought that anyone would let me do that because it’s exactly what I want to be doing. You know what I mean? And because you love something, people tend to throw that in the garbage. Well, I can’t have exactly what I want, so let’s try to pre-settle and people do that a lot.

And I am the worst offender and I would be like, “Well, I couldn’t possibly get the thing that I love.” Like even now having the show, I was like, “I couldn’t possibly have a show called the Amber Ruffin Show. That’s insane. So let me just try to blend in.” It’s crazy. So I learned that lesson is to write exactly what you think is funny and fun. And then I also learned when I got this job from Michelle Wolf, how she would just say whatever the fuck she felt like saying and she would just do whatever she felt like doing. And when she didn’t like something, she would say, “I don’t like that. This is a better way to do that.”

And I just remember being like, “I can act like that and everyone’s fine?” Okay. And then I started acting like that. And guess what? No one cared. People want to hear your opinion. That’s why they hired you. Nothing gets better until we all speak up. Your ideas are great. That’s why you’re here is because I want your delicious ideas. You know?

Geri Cole: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amber Ruffin: So until I let that sink in, I was really just trying to keep quiet and not make any waves, blah, blah, blah. But you don’t get better until you are heard. If you’re just working in a vacuum turning in things that won’t cause a disturbance, then you’re not getting any notes about, “Ooh, this is a good idea. Go more in this direction,” or, “Ooh, this is very bad. Never do this.” Both those things help you.

Geri Cole: Yeah.

Amber Ruffin: Hearing no helps you more than hearing yes. So…

Geri Cole: Those are two very good lessons. Thank you very much for that. I feel like those are both things that I keep trying to, or I wanting to believe, I suppose. If not having so much practice with, but we’ll keep practicing.

Amber Ruffin: Yeah.

Geri Cole: So also, do you have, and you can say no, but do you have a favorite joke that you’ve ever written? Like the top? You were like, “This joke, [inaudible 00:32:38]. Perfect.”

Amber Ruffin: I did. I forgot the setup of it. I just saw it. They just made a commercial for my Peacock show and the joke they chose was something like, “Don’t tell me to go back to my country. If you don’t like that, I’m in America, get your pasty ass on the Mayflower and go home.” And I was like, “I can’t believe you guys are going to put that in the commercial.” They’re like, “Hey, we want people to know what you’re about to do here to us.” I was like, “Oh, okay. Great.”

Geri Cole: Awesome. With these, there will be no illusions as to what that is. Fantastic. I also can’t believe that feels like Peacock is being very cool.

Amber Ruffin: I mean, once they said, “We have Larry Wilmore,” I was like, “Ooh.” They’re going to let me act a fool.

Geri Cole: That’s awesome. So what is in your cultural diet? What do you like watching if you have time? I mean, I imagine you might not have a whole lot of time.

Amber Ruffin: I look at Twitter constantly. I try not to watch too much news, but at night, I’ve got to see what happened because now once a week, something crazy will happen. Like the billions of black people police shot this week. Fucking every day it’s a new person. That’s a evergreen thing to say.

Geri Cole: Apparently. Yeah.

Amber Ruffin: But so then I’ll tune in to the news then because I need to know what the fuck is happening. Turns out same old shit.

Geri Cole: Yup.

Amber Ruffin: But I try not to watch too much news. I try to watch the nightly news that is a local. And then I love to get caught up in a Netflix show because Netflix has destroyed me and I don’t want to watch no one episode of nothing. I need to be taken on a journey immediately. So on Saturday, I like to wake up and work. And then at two, usually I’m like, “Okay, I have done everything that needs to be done. I’m going to get lost in a show.” And then I’ll just turn on. I’ll text my little friends and be like, “What show am I watching today?” And they’ll be like, “Oh, The Umbrella Academy.” I’ll go, “Oh, great.” Then I’ll turn that on and before I know it, it’s over. I go, “Oh my God.”

Geri Cole: The whole season.

Amber Ruffin: This whole season went by in a flash. And that’s my favorite thing to do.

Geri Cole: That’s fair. I feel like I also appreciate Netflix. Went also for romcoms that they’ve been coming out with. Feels like super fun.

Amber Ruffin: Never stopped.

Geri Cole: Yeah.

Amber Ruffin: Netflix never stopped doing it.

Geri Cole: They’re doing a great job. But also the just wanting to turn off and disappear into a different world for six hours maybe?

Amber Ruffin: TV is not what it was before. TV used to be a fun way to pass the time. But now TV is load-bearing and I need it to make me normal. I need to have a couple of hours where I am not a black woman in America where I am a unicorn. I’m She-Ra’s Pegasus. I frigging watch that show and enjoy myself. Anything that could get me to forget this hellscape I am watching.

Geri Cole: Yeah. Yup. It sounds very, very familiar. You did live in the Netherlands for a period of time.

Amber Ruffin: I lived in Holland for five years.

Geri Cole: Five years?

Amber Ruffin: Yeah.

Geri Cole: Do you think you’d ever return?

Amber Ruffin: I hope not. But look.

Geri Cole: No.

Amber Ruffin: If this guy goes crazy, I’ll go back there with quickness.

Geri Cole: Yeah.

Amber Ruffin: Holland was super fun and a butt ton of my friends are over there, but it was just so dark and rainy.

Geri Cole: Oh.

Amber Ruffin: And I don’t want to ride a bicycle. Those two things make it a horrible place to live. But if you like riding bikes and you don’t mind the rain, hey, Holland is the place for you.

Geri Cole: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I’m very excited to see your new show. When does it come out?

Amber Ruffin: The Amber Ruffin Show starts September 25th on Peacock. (singing)

Geri Cole: Well, that’s very exciting news. Thank you again.

Amber Ruffin: Yay.

Geri Cole: And I guess, hopefully see you again soon?

Amber Ruffin: Yay. Thanks for having me, Geri.

Geri Cole: You’re very welcome. I keep talking.

That’s it for this episode. On Writing is a production of the Writers Guild of America, East. Tech production and original music is by Stockboy Creative. You can learn more about the Writers Guild of America, East online at and you can follow the Guild on social media at WGA East. If you like this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. I’m Geri Cole. Thank you for listening and write on.

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