There’s only one show on television where legendary humorist Fran Lebowitz would appear with a chyron that lists “White Woman” as one of her descriptors, and that show is Ziwe.
Premiering this Sunday on Showtime, the comedy show will feature the charismatic Ziwe Fumudoh alongside guest stars including Phoebe Bridgers, Jane Krakowski, Julio Torres, and—based on the trailer—what seems to be a group of self-identified Karens.
Although her most recent gig was writing for Desus & Mero, the mononymous superstar is no stranger to the host seat. She was at the helm of a delightful and ridiculous YouTube show called Baited from 2017 until early 2020. But it wasn’t until the summer of pandemic and protests that she rocketed to a new level of fame on an unlikely platform.
Beginning in June, Ziwe’s Instagram Live show made the comedian a household name, at least in the households of very online twentysomethings. (It’s also the clear antecedent to the splashy TV show and the forthcoming Book of Ziwe, the comedian’s take on the type of anti-racist books which flew off the shelves of blue state-bookstores last year.)
On Instagram, Ziwe assumes the role of a cheeky, charming provocateur, interrogating her guests on racial justice and Black history, goading them to share how much they know about Marcus Garvey and Angela Davis. She raises her eyebrows, widens her eyes, and gets claustrophobically close to the camera to ask “How many Black friends do you have?” The ensuing conversations can be both equally fun and fraught to watch, especially when her guests have been recently cancelled. To get to know Ziwe and her trademark cringe humor ahead of Ziwe’s premiere, here are four of the most essential (and uncomfortable) episodes of her Instagram live show.
It’s nearly impossible to explain who the hell Calloway is in a single sentence. so I’ll refer you to a thorough explainer from the paper of record if you’re lucky enough to not already know about this Internet writer-turned-incompetent scammer. Between Calloway asking if she can have a cookie for being an ally to Black people, declaring that she feels like “the only white person ever who read If Beale Street Could Talk before it became a movie,” and rating her white guilt as a 10 out of 10, this cringey doozy naturally went mega-viral.
After the disastrous fallout of an interview with the New Consumer in which celebrity chef Alison Roman flippantly accused Marie Kondo and Chrissy Teigen of being sellouts (and may or may not have used a racist accent to impersonate Kondo), Roman left the good graces of most of the general public, as well as the New York Times, which decided to place her column on hiatus. A month later, Roman appeared on Ziwe’s Instagram Live show where she conceded that she did not learn how to cook collard greens from a Black person, struggled to name five Asian people off the top of her head, and offered a long, rambling answer to the question, “Did your family own slaves?”
Jeremy O. Harris may be the brilliant, provocative mind behind Slave Play, the most Tony-nominated play of all time, but that doesn’t mean he made it through a Ziwe livestream without some awkward moments. When prompted by Ziwe to answer for a controversial scene in his play that some audiences viewed as gratuitous sexual violence, Harris mentioned that the writers Saidiya Hartman and Soraya McDonald see it differently. Ziwe’s response? “Okay, so I’ll just refer to those Black women and have them do the labor of defending you.”
The #MeToo activist and actor recently made headlines after she accused Democrats of being in a “deep cult” while making an appearance on Fox News. Considering how controversial (in good and bad ways) McGowan is, she’s the perfect renegade guest for an unpredictable Instagram Live show. From her mispronunciation of Ziwe’s name right at the top of the interview to the explanation McGowan gave for offensive tweet of hers that drew a false equivalency between the word “women” and the n-word, McGowan’s responses made for a rather cringey viewing experience.