Pop Culturing: Comedian Ziwe Fumudoh's Instagram Live Show is Must-See TV

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Wednesday July 22, 2020

Ziwe interview Rose McGowan on Instagram.
Ziwe interview Rose McGowan on Instagram.  (Source:Screenshot via Instagram / @ziwef)

Thursday evenings at 8 p.m. EST have become appointment viewing for people across social media. No, there's not a new HBO drama or NBC sitcom airing in that coveted timeslot. It's when comedian and writer Ziwe Fumudoh's Instagram show starts. Each week, she interviews a guest and asks them questions like, "How many Black friends do you have?" or "Can you tell me who Angela Davis is?" (And much more.) Viewers watch as Fumudoh, always wearing something breathtakingly interesting, darts back-and-forth with her guests while they them squirm and fumble over hard-to-answer questions and trolly queries.

The new Internet talk show, where viewers can comment live during the real-time interview, is an adaptation of Fumudoh's YouTube series "Ziwe: A Race-Baiting Series." On Instagram, things are more interactive; more exciting and especially funnier. Fumudoh, a writer on the Showtime late night talk show "Desus & Mero," is able to court guests who have landed in the headlines for problematic tweets or controversial opinions. It made sense, then, that her first guest would be Caroline Calloway, a young influencer who has found herself in controversy a number of times over the last few years. In her interview, Fumudoh, 28, points out that Calloway said she "discovered" racism in 2018.

"What were you doing for the first 25 years of your life?" she asks the Internet celebrity, cracking up with laughter; her face up close to her camera — a signature move for Fumudoh.

"Honestly I was fucking around for the first 25 years of my life. I was literally such a dumb white girl," she responded.

Later on, she asks Calloway to identify a number of civil rights leaders — a buzz round of sorts that Fumudoh asks her guests.

Other people Fumudoh has spoken to include actor and activist Rose McGowan, Internet-famous chef Alison Roman, queer playwright Jeremy O. Harris, and most recently, actor Alyssa Milano. But despite highlighting (mostly white) guests' lack of understanding important issues like race, the point of Fumudoh's show isn't to cancel them or get them fired. She is interested in making folks, who actively choose to appear on her program and participate in her intense Q&As, uncomfortable and confront their past actions, ignorance and deep-seated biases.

"There's an element of performance coming from me, as a host, and coming from my guests, as people who are answering for their racial biases," she told Variety in a recent interview. "I'm not there to judge their performances. I'm just there to critique why they feel the need to perform the fact that they have 4.5 Black friends."

Fumudoh is a skilled host, never faltering, always listening and not one to hold back. She's poised, incredibly intelligent and often points out viewers' comments to her guests, allowing her audience to be part of the conversation. Best of all is her reactions; when someone says something particularly cringe-worthy, Fumudoh is seen reeling with laughter, putting her face directly in front of her camera. She's in on the joke and her talks never turn nasty or aggressive; despite her heavy questions, the show is often breezy.

"I think it would be really funny if I became the Ellen DeGeneres of race relations, and if you ever did anything problematic, you have to talk to me," she said in the Variety interview. "You'd have to go to 'Ziwe the Principal's Office' to reconcile whatever problematic thing you tweeted or said in your interview."

Her new show — both its format and subject — is one of the best creations to come out of a peak COVID world. Cancel culture is at the tip of everyone's tongues, thanks to "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling and her assertion that her transphobic views shouldn't be challenged, Fumudoh's show feels vital. It gives context to why some people with a large platform say the things they do and what goes into their thought process when firing off a tweet that finds them going viral for all the wrong reasons.

Fumudoh ends her interview by asking her guests why they decided to come on her show.

"I'm genuinely curious. I'm curious why you would want to volunteer yourself to talk about such a sensitive topic as race in front of 20,000 people who are commenting about how you're answering your five favorite Asians too slow," she told Variety, this time referencing Roman.

There's no telling who will volunteer themselves to be interviewed by Fumudoh next. But whoever it is, we'll be watching.

Click here to follow Fumudoh on Instagram.

Pop Culturing

This story is part of our special report titled Pop Culturing. Want to read more? Here's the full list.