Inspiration. Ambition.
Passion. Process. Technique.

By: Greg Iwinski

Promotional poster for Season 2 of ZIWE

Host Greg Iwinski talks to Ziwe, creator, host, and writer of the comedy-variety sketch series ZIWE, about coming up in the Chicago comedy scene, the importance of Stephen Colbert’s White House Correspondents dinner speech, and how she puts together the show, the writers’ room, and its voice.

Ziwe’a current project is the comedy-variety sketch series ZIWE, now in its second season on Showtime. The show is a no-holds-barred mix of musical numbers, interviews and sketches that challenge America’s discomfort with race, politics, and cultural issues. 

She previously wrote for shows such as THE RUNDOWN WITH ROBIN THEDE and DESUS AND MERO, and publications such as THE ONION, REDUCTRESS, and THE NEW YORKER. She created the YouTube comedy show BAITED WITH ZIWE, as well as its reincarnation on Instagram Live.

Greg Iwinski is an Emmy-winning comedy writer and no-award-winning performer whose writing includes LAST WEEK TONIGHT and THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT. He recently finished writing the first season of GAME THEORY WITH BOMANI JONES on HBO, and can be found on Twitter @garyjackson.

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OnWriting is an official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, East. The series was created and produced by Jason Gordon. Associate Producer & Designer is Molly Beer. Mix, tech production, and original music by Stock Boy Creative.

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Thanks for listening. Write on.


Speaker 1: Hello, you’re listening to OnWriting a podcast from the Writers Guild of America, East. In each episode, you’ll hear from the writers of your favorite films and television series. They’ll take you behind the scenes, go deep into the writing and production process and explain how they got their project from the page to the screen.

Greg Iwinski: Hi, I’m your host, Greg Iwinski and I am thrilled to welcome to the podcast Ziwe, the creator, host, and writer of the incredible comedy-variety sketch series also called Ziwe. Now in its second season on Showtime. In our interview, I talk to Ziwe about a ton of stuff, how she came up in the comedy scene in Chicago, what it was like writing for Robin Thede and Desus and Mero. How important to her Stephen Colbert’s White House Correspondents dinner speech is. And we talk about how she puts together her show, its writer’s room, and its voice. Here’s our interview. Welcome to the show. So glad to have you here caught up and finished season two this week. One, as someone who loves late night and is black, I love watching your success and we need more black people in late-night, and we need more black people breaking the rules of late-night, which is something your show does so wonderfully in that it is a late-night show, but it is so uniquely your late-night show.

Ziwe: Oh, thank you.

Greg Iwinski: I want to talk about the show and really get into the nuts and bolts of it but I want to maybe start a little bit farther back. You went to Northwestern. You were in Chicago and were in that comedy scene. What years? When was that? I’m not trying to get you to backwards show your age, but just-

Ziwe: I know. No, it’s okay. I identify as 19.

Greg Iwinski: Okay.

Ziwe: I was in Chicago from 2010 to around 2015.

Greg Iwinski: Okay.

Ziwe: Yeah.

Greg Iwinski: So we were there at the same time. I was there ’11 through ’14 I was there.

Ziwe: Oh, word. Did you work? Were you in the improv scene or the standup scene or the Onion scene?

Greg Iwinski: I was in the improv scene. Yeah. So I was the guy who was like, oh, they’re not going to put me on a stage. I guess I should make my own news hour late-night show. So that was what I spent most of my time doing was we did a news show at midnight on Saturday nights in the Dumont Theater for like five people.

Ziwe: Oh my gosh. Is that how you know Tim Burns?

Greg Iwinski: Yeah.

Ziwe: Oh, nice. Okay, cool. Yeah. So I had the same experience. I was in college, but I also was not getting put on stage and I ended up interning at iO, Improv Olympics, formerly because I couldn’t afford classes. So I would just like take out the trash and get free classes. Then I was also running my own BS humor mag at school because I wasn’t put on any of the Northwestern institutional ones, but Chicago what I appreciate about that city is it’s a straight-up hustle. Firstly, there’s very little comedy work if you’re not part of the Second City Touring Co. I interned at the Onion and I was freelancing for them but otherwise, you have to grind and figure it out yourself.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. What nights did you intern? Do you remember?

Ziwe: I interned on Tuesdays and Thursdays I want to say.

Greg Iwinski: Okay. I was Fridays. So it was improvised Shakespeare.

Ziwe: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Greg Iwinski: Most of those people were on TV, but I would just stand upstairs twice, and then I would do that thing where they would… This is very inside baseball, but if you got went to school there, you could drink water for free and the coolers you would fill them up in the mop bucket. You would take it, put a bunch of ice in it and just put it in the mop bucket and fill up the water.

Ziwe: Honestly, it was highly inappropriate what interns were doing. I was a full-fledge janitor, but hey, God bless. We love opportunities.

Greg Iwinski: Yes. It was a wonderful time where once I got lunch for an unnamed producer’s two dogs.

Ziwe: Oh wow, wait, no way. What was the lunch?

Greg Iwinski: She was like, “Can you go get me this lunch?” And I said, “Yes.” And then when I got it, she took it and handed it to her dogs.

Ziwe: Oh my God, that’s wild. Hey-

Greg Iwinski: It was a great time.

Ziwe: Those dogs were eating better than me. I probably ate one meal a day at this point, because it was like, I had to afford train tickets to River North. It was tough. This is again, Chicago. This is deep-cut Chicago. Lou Malnatis where my girls at?

Greg Iwinski: But I think you’re so right. I’m a Pequods guy.

Ziwe: Okay. Okay. Flex. Flex.

Greg Iwinski: But I think part of that though, that you see when now you’re at a point where you have your own show and you’re doing all these things when you look back at the people that you and I, that you knew back then, it’s the people who were working that hard at that point that end up still being around now because it was that like you’re working all day doing a J job, doing school, whatever. And then that’s the person still doing two shows or like you said, running their own humor magazine.

Ziwe: Oh totally. I mean also it’s I think the expression, it takes 10 years to be an overnight success is so true because if I had gotten the opportunities that I currently have at that age, I would’ve absolutely flopped. I would’ve failed in a very public meltdown, but the years of grinding really prepared me creatively to have a really strong voice as well as work ethic-wise.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. So did you always love late night? Were you a late-night person? What is your relationship with the genre over your growth of your voice?

Ziwe: No, honest so I’m raised by Nigerian immigrants. So we spent a lot of time watching Nick at Nite. So I really wasn’t into late-night growing up as a kid but when I was coming of age, The Daily Show and Colbert Report were absolutely in their comedy bag. I remember watching specifically the Colbert Report and specifically his White House Correspondents dinner speech and thinking, oh my goodness, I can’t believe he’s allowed to say that and get away with that. It was so funny and so smart and so that’s how I got my affinity for late-night was because it felt really, really quite dangerous satire specifically. So then when I was in college, I started as off as a math major, but then I ended up realizing that a lot of people were a little sexist in because I was the only woman, only black person.

So I really pivoted hard, did poetry, and then I realized poets don’t make any money. So then I found this internship at Comedy Central where we did this rotational program. One of the weeks we were at The Daily Show, one of the weeks we were at the Colbert Report. And that was mind, eye-opening because I never had a concept that you could just work in entertainment. I just thought that those people lived in the TV and so being able to see behind the scenes suddenly I appreciated the idea that, oh, not anybody could do this, but it was within my reach. When I was a kid, I was 21 and I was a really chatty intern and I got a joke on the Colbert Report. So that’s how it started then after that I intern at the Onion and was in Chicago throwing away trash at iO. But I went from gig to gig, to gig, and found myself. But late night was just something that I became passionate about because I thought that Stephen Colbert specifically was really, really dangerous.

Greg Iwinski: I think your show now has the benefit of pushing that to a new level of even, it might be dangerous even for the people that are your guests.

Ziwe: Honestly, I feel like it’s dangerous for me. Everyone always asks me like, how do you keep a straight face or how do you welcome your guests into your lair? And it’s like, this is a consensual relationship. We are both kind of terrified and we’re improvising a lot. So we’re making it up in the moment. But I have as much as I have no idea what my guests are about to say as much as they have no idea what I’m about to say. So it feels dangerous because it really is. But that’s the fun, right? I feel like part of late-night can feel a little stilted. It’s like a press tour vibe and so you can promote your respective projects while also still feeling fresh and new-

Greg Iwinski: I have a quick question about that interview style because you’re right. I mean, so many hosts have had to get around that people there’s somebody coming on to talk about their movie, you have three questions and they have a funny story that they are telling on every show. Like Craig Ferguson would rip up the cards and Letterman just was crazy and everybody does their own thing and you’ve totally circumvented that. But there is always that risk in comedy where you are pushing where the person either breaks or gets too mad. Do you have in your back pocket, some sort of getaway plan or bail out if it goes totally sideways?

Ziwe: No, I don’t have a getaway plan, but the fundamentals of interviews are, can you hold a conversation? Have you ever spoken to a human before? And so luckily I’ve been speaking since I was one, one and a half. So I know in a conversation when it’s like, okay, this is the third rail, let’s change the subject. So you’re just like, I think that as a host, you have to have an emotional intelligence to vibe check, okay, let’s talk about this. Oh, this is not fruitful. Let’s pivot to this and so really it’s just for me, the fundamentals of my interview show are me talking to another person and it just happens to be televised, but it really starts with two human beings vibing.

Greg Iwinski: Well, and I do think, so your goal is not to go push them over that limit. I think there are shows that have been like that where it’s like, I am trying to get this person to that point. But part of the reason it’s not happening on your show is that there isn’t… That if you’re at that third rail, you are pulling it back so that you’re having a human conversation.

Ziwe: Yeah. No, I’m a Pisces. So I don’t want anyone to be mad at me ever. So I really am not trying to piss anyone off and what’s wild is that the premise of the show, the comedy of the show is that all of the questions are unfair. So thus everything is fair. If everything’s unfair, then it’s fair because it’s like, you kind of treat people equally. It’s sort of egalitarian in that respect. So no, I’m not trying to get punched in the face.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean-

Ziwe: That’s not my goal.

Greg Iwinski: Yes, exactly. I think there was because it was so new and different. I think most people that we’ve seen do that before, it felt like that was the goal. I think there is a difference in your show and that there is still at the end of the day, a human being and a human being.

Ziwe: Honestly and I think that there are things that Sacha Baron Cohen can get away with, that I could not get away with. When you watch the Borat movies and then you see people about to beat his ass. That would happen much sooner. I am a woman. I am black. People will snap much quicker. So I think it’s just about how everyone’s character moves through the spaces. So I have to be a little more delicate just by virtue of how I exist in the world. But to each their own. I find that the… I mean, Colbert during his White House Correspondents dinner speech joked about shooting someone in the face. That’s wild. I would be put on a watch list, but I’m really, really jealous of that approach.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. I think that’s the best satire is actually doing that poking at people that you don’t think can get poked at. The Ziwe character, like you said, takes 10 years, you find your voice, you figure it out. When did you, as you started making more content and finding your voice, realize that interviews were going to be a large center point of how that voice came across.

Ziwe: That’s a good question. I am really talkative person and so, as a result, I just have conversations and also the inspiration for this show was just from me being a woman that exists in the world, constantly finding myself in conversations where people would bring up how many black friends they have and I’d be like, “Why are you talking about this? We’re at a Wendy’s. Who asked you?” or when you find yourself you’re at a work dinner and you’re cornered by someone talking about the childhood trauma of their nanny. And it’s like, “Yo, this is weird.” So as a result having those conversations that I don’t really actually think are unique to me, I think that lots of people have these weird combos that are, whoa, I wish there was a camera on me. That’s kind of the genesis for the interview space for me. So it came about organically, honestly, just finding myself, having to have really quick comebacks over a lifetime of really awkward conversations.

Greg Iwinski: Well and I think many people of color, I think especially black people have had those experiences. And that’s what I love that you highlight because it is that thing. I have kids that are biracial and the number of white people who say, “Oh, biracial babies are so cute.” And I’m like, that’s a weird thing for you to say. Just to say out loud. That’s a weird thing to say. And I have heard it endless times from people.

Ziwe: A million times. A million times. And you’re kid-

Greg Iwinski: A compliment.

Ziwe: And you’re like, “Well, my kids are cute. So what’s the issue?

Greg Iwinski: It’s very odd.

Ziwe: It’s wild but over time if you had asked me 15 years ago, I’d be really upset, but over time, I’ve come to realize that people say words and they have no understanding of the historical context or that what they’re saying is mean or offensive. They don’t mean anything by it other than your kids are adorable. I love kids that look like that who happen to be these… It’s like, whoa. So a part of the appreciation of the silence of my interviews is allowing people to hear themselves and not be so prescriptive about you can’t say these words and you’re a bad person, but just being like, “Yo, you realize that this is wild. This conversation is wild. And there’s no judgment coming from me, but let’s sit in this wildness.”

Greg Iwinski: Because I know you wrote for Robin Thede’s show for The rundown. I put a packet in there and didn’t get hired so I take that very personally.

Ziwe: It’s okay.

Greg Iwinski: Okay.

Ziwe: Hey, I put a packet into Late Show with Colbert I didn’t get hired either. So you know what-

Greg Iwinski: So we’re even there we go.

Ziwe: We’re even, yeah. We’re even. Except I think you have a couple Emmys, but that’s okay. I’m at peace.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah but that show what I’ve been able to work with white hosts and black hosts and different shows, but coming in as a black woman, getting to write for a black woman, what was that experience like, and what did you take from that into when it was your show and you were bringing in writers and building that room?

Ziwe: That’s a good question. I mean, that was my first staff writing job ever. So it’s such a culture shock of being like, “Oh wow, I’m getting paid to sit and write and laugh Woohoohoo.” It’s so different than the BS marketing jobs I had prior to that. So honestly it really one, it comes down to refining your voice. The way you write for Robin Thede is different than the way you write for Desus and Mero. That was really sort of interesting to me. And then conversely, it’s also about tastes.

What are you interested in? Because with Robin, we would cover the news and the news is not great. So my show exists in an imaginary world and where we bleep out the president’s names and we don’t talk about the global pandemic, that’s killing people. So it’s just about what the canvas is blank and you can create whatever world you want and the whole world is different than Desus’ world, which is different than cartoon president or Dickinson and my world as well. So it’s about, how do you paint that canvas? And that’s really what I learned from working in different late-night shows.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. Because I mean, Robin Thede who now is on killing all black ladies hits show like that, and then yeah if you’ve ever listened to, or watch Desus and Mero those are hard shifts even structurally.

Ziwe: Yeah. Yeah.

Greg Iwinski: Did you learn different things even from that Rundown was one of the most formatted shows in that The Rundown was in the name of the show, we’re going to do it like this, and Desus and Mero is talking that then gets cut down to less talking. I’m not saying that negatively, it’s just that’s what it is. And so what was that writing adjustment like?

Ziwe: I think… Oh, okay. I mean, that’s such a great question. So again, my genesis in late night was Daily Show, like Jessica Williams in her bag, like Colbert Report in his bag, then Robin Thede, which is in that same, tradition of the laywoman. They all kind of exist in the Jon Stewart cinematic universe. And then Desus and Mero are institution-less. They are a strong departure they did not come up through those ranks. So on Robin respectively, you learned structure, and then on Desus and Mero, you learn that there that no structure. Then so it’s like, you have to learn the rules to be able to break it and so that’s my show. It is both in homage to Dick Cavett and the traditions of the late-night shows of your as well as a super modern deconstruction. So you can see those influences in my history.

Greg Iwinski: Well, and I think it’s something brilliant that you’re doing because I think people don’t realize maybe because they’re not obsessed with late-night, but late-night did not start in the nineties or the templates that we’ve seen in our lifetimes are not the only thing late night has done. It can change and transform and could be a totally different thing and still be late-night. But also that we are at a point in the arc of late-night formats where deconstruction is necessary. And one of the things that I absolutely love that you deconstruct, and if you could talk about this if it’s an intentional mindset or point of view, but a lot of shows are like, “Hey, did you know that white supremacists and racists are bad?” And you’re like, “I know that because I’m black and I’m alive. So I don’t need you to tell me that I’m aware because they’re out here telling me my biracial kids are cute.”

Ziwe: And are they adorable? Sure.

Greg Iwinski: They are but to what you said letting people think about what they’re saying in these empty spaces, then there is a version of white, straight corporate America that is very much like we are the good guys. I feel like so much of your show and especially in season two is looking and going you guys should really ask yourself again if you are, because if you ask the people who aren’t like if you ask your one black friend maybe you’re not.

Ziwe: Four to five.

Greg Iwinski: Yes.

Ziwe: Yeah.

Greg Iwinski: Just the idea that, and I think about that the first time I saw you do that question, like how many black friends you have? I would be like, I don’t know. It’s so many, I can’t start filtering by that way.

Ziwe: I asked that to one of my writers on the CRT episode and he said too many to count and then he yawned. Yeah. You know what’s wild? I mean, Eric Andre is another huge influence of mine, and talk about deconstruction. You watched the Eric Andre Show and the Zach Galifianakis Between Two Ferns and those are two shows, which again, they upend the tradition of talk shows where you’re like, “Wait, whose perspective matters? Why do we do it this way? You can do it anyway.” So if you’re talking about my show being sort of pushing against the corporate traditions of what a host looks like and what a host talks about and what it means to be a late-night host and the morality we assign to that, it really comes from all these shows that I watched when I was younger and understanding like when Zach Galifianakis interviewed Obama, he was so rude. It’s wild. Absolutely wild.

Greg Iwinski: What does it feel like to be the last black president? To ask him that was amazing.

Ziwe: Absolutely absurd. Then suddenly you because there is in interviews, there’s naturally a power dynamic. As the host, you have a lot of power, unless you’re talking to someone of high status who you struggled for 14 years to interview, and then you have to be super deferential. The interview that you’ve always dreamed of may not be as inherently valuable to your audience because you are in a low-status position. And with Between Two Ferns you watch this man antagonize celebrities and politicians alike. So it’s the same practice in my show, which is just that as opposed to adhering to media narratives of this person’s good. You’re also good because you talk about the good things that these good people talk about.

It really takes a step back and questions why do we believe the things we do? Who is telling us to believe the things that we believe and are we right inherently? Or I have no answers. I don’t know who’s right. I don’t know who’s wrong. I don’t know if I’m right or wrong. My character, I would say is actually I kind of call my character a love child between Michael Scott and Franchesca Ramsey’s Decoded. I don’t see her as inherently a good person, but I like that she poses questions, which is, I think a tradition that is lost. No child left behind, ask questions, man. Who’s right? How do you know that they’re right? Because they told you? Who knows.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. I think it’s always in speaking truth to power, I think you found a new power to speak truth to that isn’t happening on and not in a way that is moralizing, but is a way that, like you said, is opening it up and asking questions and I think the best example of that is like you said, being able to be like, why did you say that? And then watching someone think about uh-oh. Why did I say that?

Ziwe: Yeah. I remember and I grew up the first person I ever voted for was I voted in the 2012 election. And it was wild because it was like, okay, post-racial America. We did it USA. Then very abruptly 2016 happened and you’re like, whoa. The reality I thought was a reality is not the reality that exists and so it’s constantly this you’re getting whiplash and so questions, asking questions and impossible questions though. That’s really fun for me.

Greg Iwinski: I think one of the great examples of that in this season of Ziwe is interviewing DeuxMoi which is I’m old. I was born in a maze. But I kind of know about DeuxMoi just because I’ve popped through it on Instagram, but then to really ask this person about their power and then to ask them even their race it was just an incredible… That was an incredible moment of I think you are so good at understanding internet culture as well of bringing that into this TV space and then saying, “Okay, but what if someone asks you something or else?” And seeing how immediately uncomfortable that was.

Ziwe: Yeah. My favorite part was asking her about George Orwell and appreciating that she didn’t read George Orwell. What a wild interview. That was my favorite. I just thought that interview is so emblematic of our time because it’s like we don’t reveal her identity or their identity. I don’t know their identity in the interview and that’s kind of the point, right? Is that the people who wield these super large corporations that surveil us or could surveil us, could be anyone or regular people.

Greg Iwinski: And in the middle of making that point that you then blur out your face and voice is just a fun absolutely unnecessary, silly. The joke dedication is so fun in moments like that, where you’re making a big point, but you’re like, I’m also going to be very stupid and that’s-

Ziwe: Thank you. I wanted to blur out my face more, but the network was like, no, we have to see you. It’s just two blobs talking. That’s bad. That’s not entertainment.

Greg Iwinski: Speaking of the internet, so the Instagram show gets huge. I know it was a YouTube show and then you’re interviewing people on Instagram Live. A lot of white women kind of show their receipts and it blows up. But what was it like transitioning that into television or not necessarily how did you land the deal, but as you’re going, okay, now I’ve got to make a TV show? What were you thinking about in that process?

Ziwe: Okay. Okay. This is a complicated question. So this is going back to Chicago which is that when you’re coming up and you’re not the child of fancy people, no offense to people who are. No judgment. No judgment. Wish I was. You have to really hustle and so that teaches you, that you have to create for yourself, build your own communities, and that started to me the interview showed that IG Live. It’s another iteration of the web series that flops that I did Baited which had 10 viewers that I started in 2016. And so I’m constantly shifting iterations. So then if you go from IG Live to television, it’s not this grand obstacle I need to address. It’s just another shift in iteration. I’ve done this show as a web series with a company.

I’ve done it as a web series I self-financed. I’ve done it as a live show. I’ve done it as an Instagram Live during a pandemic and now is the TV iteration. So it was just the next step, but I’d always been thinking of how do you scale this process? So then you start to harken back to, okay, what worked in all the iterations that you did. Okay. What worked? I know people love the question, how many black friends do you have? Why do they love that? Who knows? But okay, suddenly this is going to become a center point. I know that a part of the editing of the show was really electric and what I was doing in 2016 before TikTok even existed is now something that is hyper popular on TikTok. Okay. How do we bring that back? So it really was about taking the things that I was doing in the absolute gutter for negative dollars and making it into a format for a show that I could be sustainable over 30 minutes and then over multiple episodes and hopefully multiple seasons.

But it’s really about and also all this really stems from having a very strong voice. I remember when I was coming up as a kid in Chicago and I would write for the Onion and I’d be like, “Okay, how do you do the Onion voice? The Onion talks like this.” And I’d have such a hard time imitating that voice. And it would be floppyona, oh, I don’t sound like a Midwestern news reporter that’s not a black woman. Surprise. And so when you first start comedy, you’re trying to find… You see what’s hot. You’re like, oh, how can I be like this? But it’s like, I’m not going to be a very good Jeff Foxworthy.

I’m not going to be a very good Jerry Seinfeld. I can only be good at my voice and so having a really strong POV, having a really strong voice allows you to skip multiple iterations, because it’s like, okay, how would I do this for myself? And if you’re a traditional writer you know a joke that you’d write for Fallon is not a joke you’d write for Colbert is not a joke you’d write for Ellen DeGeneres. It’s not a joke you’d write for Oprah Winfrey, right? These people have different voices. So cultivating that voice of my own helped me helped me launch a television show.

Greg Iwinski: When you talk about voice, it makes me think, I think even now the number of black people in late-night is not huge. So it’s great to have a show that is so just authentically and openly black, but it’s also you because it’s part of who you are. I think that in speaking about voice, there’s a thing that happens a lot in late night I think where if you are a black person and you’ve made it this far, you probably have a very strong voice and you’ve probably worked. You’ve worked relatively hard because your dad wasn’t in the Bush administration and got you into an ivy league school. And so-

Ziwe: But I wish.

Greg Iwinski: Sorry to the other half of comedy writers, but-

Ziwe: I wish I’m jealous. I’m jealous.

Greg Iwinski: I would take privilege if you handed it.

Ziwe: Are you kidding?

Greg Iwinski: But because you have this strong voice now, it’s like, okay, well here’s your strong voice that got you the job. Now you need to, not that… Now that voice, isn’t what we’re looking for. Now you have to match your voice to something else and then you start having to overlap. Well, where does my voice overlap this room full of white guys who went to big 10 schools? And you go like, “Ooh, I have less overlap.” And so there becomes this thing where it’s one of the reasons I think it’s so important to have black shows is that a person can come out and be their full self. Because over the years in the sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties in late-night, when everyone is changing their voice to match the host, it’s a bunch of white men changing their voice to match a white man. You’re really only changing your voice, like 10%. For me to do that I have to change a lot more than 10% to get to where we are and so it’s good to have hosts that let you be more of yourself.

Ziwe: Totally. Like Amber Ruffin and Sam Jay, these people have late shows and our shows could not be more different in what we cover each respectively. So I think that’s important because it’s like back in the nineties, it’d be like, okay, this is the black show covering the black issues. And it’s like, what does that mean? What does that mean? Because it’s like, oh, Northeast black is different than Florida black, which is different than Seattle black, which is different than Mexico black. Right? So I can’t say that I’m speaking on behalf of a community. I would be tarred and feathered. I can only speak to my experiences and guess what, honey, I happen to experience a lot of the same stuff as y’all, because it’s like, I exist through this space as I am, as my identity.

So as you’re adjusting you’re finding that voice. It’s really quite difficult because you want to get a job. You want to work and especially when you’re starting your own television show me talking about privilege as someone who has a television show. You have a lot of people in your ear telling you, this is what works and they don’t even know what they’re talking about either. Also, yeah, you have to be really, really steadfast in who you are and live and die by who you are, because it’s like, if the ship goes down, it’s your name on it. So you have to be able to say, “Yes, no, I agree with this. I’m not going to put something that I hate on my television show.” Because really at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. Creatively, professionally. Yeah.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. Well, you’re right and I think that’s the benefit of getting past the idea of there being just one black show or just one black woman show is that then you get to be like, oh, now I see who the person is. So you don’t, Sam doesn’t, Amber doesn’t have the burden of representing everybody, which it’s the reason we need more diversity. So even that one black writer in one of those rooms doesn’t have to be all black people because then it’s like, well-

Ziwe: Well that job sucks. I mean, how many people have had that job? You’re a marginalized person, you’re in a room and they’re like, “Hey, what do you think?” And you don’t want to be the party pooper that’s like, “Man, this is offensive as hell.” But you also don’t want to be the person that’s like who… It’s just a hard position to be because you have to become the police. You have to represent your community also be funny and also be a good vibe. And so hats off to anyone who’s ever felt that being the only voice in a room like that, because it is a hostile-

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. You’re there to find them for them to go like, is this too much? And then also you’re like, well, if I don’t like something, they are going to say all black people don’t like it when it’s like, no, I just not that into it.

Ziwe: It’s hard. I mean, so also writing is subjective and there are writers who are really great, who don’t get a lot of work and there are writers who are mid who work a lot and it’s just you have to fit in how you get in. So I have a lot of respect for anyone who can make it work or anyone who’s trying to make it work because it’s not an easy task but the payoff is that you get residuals. Amen. Shout out to WGA.

Greg Iwinski: WGA. Res-its, res-its for life.

Ziwe: Shout out.

Greg Iwinski: I have some questions about the nuts and bolts of making Ziwe. When you were putting together your writer’s room, what were you looking for?

Ziwe: That’s a good question. It’s a satirical show. People who are not evil and mean and want to watch the world burn because it’s a really fine line. Yeah. No jokers. It’s a really fine line honestly because satire, a lot of satire is really bad and really offensive. A lot of Satre can be a little racist even if you’re thinking about Jonathan Swift, he’s talking about eating babies, like yo you’re out of your mind. So it was just about people who it’s like, who’s funny, who is a strong POV, and who is able to ride the line of offensive and surprising and shocking, but also keep it on the right side of the fence. But I ended up working my first season it was Cole Escola, Jordan Mendoza, Michelle Davis. It’s a really small room myself, and Jim, and Washington.

Then season two it’s Sam Taggart, [inaudible 00:33:50] Michelle Davis and some Ronald Metellus who’s from the Onion and Jo Firestone. So it’s a lot of people I either interacted with on Twitter or was directly performing with just coming up in New York. I didn’t do that on purpose. It just kind of ended up that way because they were familiar with my voice. Because you read packets and the packets would be some of the packets, no offense to anyone who’s submitted. There were a lot of really great packets, but we only hired three writers. It would be like Ziwe stabs this person in the face. And it’s like, ultimately you can’t stab celebrities. The show will get canceled. And so yeah, it just has to be who understands the voice of the character in a way that can be scalable.

Greg Iwinski: You were talking about people being mean with satire. You don’t have to join me on this ledge I’m about to go on, but-

Ziwe: Okay. Go on the ledge. In the shallows

Greg Iwinski: Do you think in this space of everyone be doing political social comedy that black people maybe because of hundreds of years of systemic oppression are better at being angry and funny at the same time? Because that is a personal belief I have is that there is a lot of comedy that comes out that it’s too mad and I’m like, maybe this is because it’s the first time you’ve tasted injustice but it’s in my bones. So I’m like, yeah, I can laugh while I’m getting whipped in a field. I’ve learned to do that.

Ziwe: Oh, god. No. I feel that I like, I have gallows humor. People always ask, “Where did the show come from?” And I always say, “Trauma. Deep trauma.” And it’s like, how could you possibly come up with this? A lifetime of being miserable. So I definitely I can personally speak to the fact that there are some jokes that I make and it’s like, oh whoa. That’s not funny. Oh, well that’s me. That’s my life. So to your point, probably. Probably.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. Just going out there on that one. Oh.

Ziwe: I don’t know. I mean, yeah. I don’t know. But the trauma lives in the body.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. And I think so it’s being able to when you talk about gallows humor, it’s like, yeah, we’ve been in the gallows since they built them here-

Ziwe: I mean tea report. I talk about my grandmother starved death and I always, like, I remember when I was in second grade, it was grandparents day. And they were like, “Everyone draw what you would do with your grandparents.” And I was like, “My grandparents are dead.” They’re like, “Draw what you do with them if they were still alive.” So I drew two angels pushing me on the swing, which today I still think that’s the funniest thing ever. But I repeat that story frequently and people are like, don’t share that. But it’s just everyone has their experiences and some things are funny because if you can’t cry, you laugh.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. And if you can’t laugh through it, you won’t survive it and so you learn to laugh.

Ziwe: I could not get out of bed if I was not able to laugh at racism. I could not get because you have this coming of age where you’re like, oh my God, wait, what? I grew up in New England. And you’re taught the Underground Railroad, the union, we are so great. And then it’s like, bro, I lived in Boston for a minute. It’s mid. God bless I love Boston. Go Pats, go Celtic, go Red Socks. I reverse the curse. Great Bambino. But you really start to… The older you get, the more you’re aware of the world around you and it helps me process.

Greg Iwinski: I have one last process question because we only have a little bit of time left, but you have six episodes to see in this season. What was the process like of deciding what they were going to be about? Then also breaking down you’ve got songs, you’ve got sketches, what is that process of going, okay, we’re going to talk about pride? Here’s how we’re going to break it down.

Ziwe: Honestly, sometimes it depends on the episode because sometimes the ideas, the field pieces, or the songs come before the idea ever happens. The plastic surgeon piece that we did season one that came before the show even existed or like, am I gay? The song we do in pride came before the theme, but it just like, where are the jokes coming naturally and easily. Then that’s how we put it into a joke bucket that is a theme or we’ll have jokes that are outliers and we’ll say, “Okay, we need to do a theme on education because we have all these dangling participles that we need to find a place for.” So it’s really, really quite organic.

Greg Iwinski: That’s cool because I think it’s you can sometimes get two in your head about what’s important. What do we have to talk about? What do they expect us to talk about?

Ziwe: Nothing’s important. Everything is bad.

Greg Iwinski: Well, I like that you mentioned upfront the whole thing about that someone tried to use your show, a white person tried to use your show to teach white people about race, which-

Ziwe: That’s real. I was like-

Greg Iwinski: I’m sitting next to Central Park, I’m eating a sandwich and a giant billboard truck goes by me that says, “Don’t let our schools go woke.” Then a man stops it in the street and takes pictures of it and then two men get in a fight and I went home and I was like, “What is this?” And my wife was like, “Oh that’s because of Ziwe.” And I was like, “What?” And it’s like-

Ziwe: Wait really?

Greg Iwinski: Yes. I didn’t realize that there was this whole angry spinoff, white people were so furious-

Ziwe: Ay caramba.

Greg Iwinski: It was incredible and I was like, that is poking at people. It didn’t even have to be on set and you just are making these people go crazy.

Ziwe: Honestly, it was not even intentional and it was because Megyn Kelly did this whole thing about me being the devil and it was way months after my season finale of season one. But yeah, it’s deeply triggering though. It’s wild, especially when you create art that’s satirical or radical, whatever. Duh, it’s going to elicit a strong reaction, but that’s not even my intention. It’s just, again, me coping, me processing but then I’m surprised how could you react so strongly to my reactionary work naturally? But it’s really quite odd. It’s quite odd. But I guess that’s the nature of good comedy is it kind of gets a rise out of people.

Greg Iwinski: Well, and that’s I enjoyed that because if you watch the episode that sets it all off, I’m like, yeah, this isn’t for school. Like just that whole part of it that sets off the Megyn Kelly chain. It’s just like, it’s the thing that you highlight in your interviews, which is I would love to have you sit down and go, why did you do that?

Ziwe: I know. Whenever we’re writing, I always say if you’re learning, please cut it. I’m like no learning, no education. I don’t want to know new facts. I just want to laugh and sit and disassociate and then even in that, the Fran episode was the one she got upset about. It was on Fox News and it says like woke daddy show hates women. And it’s like, whoa, this is your takeaway from this episode? Okay.

Greg Iwinski: That was wild.

Ziwe: Okay. God bless. Hey God bless. I honestly I appreciate the subscriptions. Hey.

Greg Iwinski: Yeah. And hopefully, I mean, hopefully, next time we see that billboard truck, it has a nice FYC campaign for Ziwe.

Ziwe: Honestly. I wish. I wish. The idea that people are pulling out of Spence the school because of me, my impact.

Greg Iwinski: It’s very amazing.

Ziwe: As a… Yeah, exactly.

Greg Iwinski: You need to put that on your campaign where it’s like vote best variety sketch series. Did any other show make white parents pull their kids out of school? No.

Ziwe: Honestly, it’s absolutely wild, but you know what? As a fellow preparatory school graduate, my heart goes out to those young kids. I’m with her.

Greg Iwinski: Ziwe thank you so much for coming by and talking to us.

Ziwe: This was a pleasure.

Greg Iwinski: It was a great time talking and I look forward to season three.

Speaker 1: OnWriting is a production of the Writers Guild of America, East. This series was created and is produced by Jason Gordon. Our associate producer and designer is Molly Beer. Tech production, and original music by Taylor Bradshaw and Stockboy Creative. You can learn more about the Writers Guild of America, East online at You can follow the Guild on all social media platforms at WGA East. If you like this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. Thank you for listening and write on.

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