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 WGAeast.org. 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.