Ziwe Fumudoh Has Based Career on Making White Interview Subjects Uncomfortable*

She is not afraid to put racism on the agenda. A new generation of talk show hosts opt for a political and polarizing style rather than cater to the entire United States.

She claims she is not trying to be controversial. But she says her goal is “to use my platform to speak about thought-provoking and sometimes unpleasant things.”

“I am not trying to be controversial, but the goal is to use my platform to speak about thought-provoking and sometimes unpleasant things,” Ziwe Fumudoh told a press conference on Zoom.**

Her talk show “Ziwe” premiered on Showtime in May. Now it is also broadcast in Norway. Like her great idol, Oprah Winfrey, Ziwe prefers that the public is on a first name basis with her. But that’s where the similarity ends.

While Oprah was inclusive, and broadly speaking, discussed harmless or edifying themes, Ziwe is polarizing and tough.

She is not interested in crying with her guests or meeting them with empathetic curiosity. Instead she is an expert in creating an awkward atmosphere with her rapid-fire interviews.

Appeared on the Scene via YouTube and Instagram

Ziwe broke through in 2020 when she moved her three-year-old YouTube show “Baited with Ziwe” over to Instagram Live. The concept was to pose occasionally unpleasant questions about race and prejudice to a large group of white interview subjects.

“Do you consider yourself a spokesperson for white feminism?”**

“Did your family own slaves?”

In the period following the killing of George Floyd, when the racism debate seriously impacted the American public, Ziwe’s show was suddenly enormously relevant and popular. The fresh talk show host intentionally went for guests who were controversial on social media; known people who had already put their foot in their mouth with regard to racism, and who turned up in hope of clearing their name.

It seldom went well, as celebrity chef and New York Times columnist Alison Roman got to experience. She had been criticized for calling out media personalities — and minority women — Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo as sell-outs. In the Ziwe interview, Roman struggled to name five famous Asians, and she clumsily answered questions about how many Black friends she had.

The interview went viral and contributed to Ziwe’s rise from social media to the mainstream.

“I actually think we’re in a renaissance,” Ziwe says.

The Details

• Ziwe is an American comedian, talk show host, and actress.

• Born February 1992.

• Daughter of Nigerian immigrants who fled the civil war in their homeland.

• Studied African American history, journalism and poetry at Northwestern University.

• Started her career as an apprentice on Comedy Central, where she worked on shows such as “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show.”

• She also has a background as a writer for the satire website The Onion, and was a screenwriter for the talk show “Deus & Mero.”

• Got her own talk show on Showtime after her great success on social media with her satirical “Baited with Ziwe” that dealt with racism.

• The series “Ziwe” airs on Norwegian Paramount+ now.

A New Generation of TV Hosts

Ziwe is far from the first Black talk show host on American TV. Oprah is obviously the best example. But throughout the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, stars such as Arsenio Hall, Wendy Williams, Steve Harvey, Tyra Banks and Montel Williams also made their mark on the talk show genre.

Oprah, too, spoke about racism, but not to the extent that it bothered more conservative viewers. In those days, there was the view that talk show hosts should be neutral. It therefore caused a stir when Montel Williams lost his composure in an interview with a group of self-proclaimed white supremacists in 1992.

“I would have liked to have been able to tell the white supremacists off without becoming emotional,” he told The Washington Post at the time.

The new generation of Black talk show hosts do not hold with such considerations. They are very much both politically and personally engaged. Comedian Amber Ruffin recently started crying when she spoke about the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse on her talk show. “The Daily Show” anchor Trevor Noah made an emotionally charged appeal in 2017 after two policemen evaded punishment for shooting Philando Castile, an African American man.

Criticized for Her Interview Style

For Ziwe, it is obvious that she should bring delicate minority questions in the U.S. into primary focus.

“In American society, there is an interesting contrast between genuine progress and hypocrisy from closet racists who really want to appear progressive. I love to analyze this tendency,” she explains.**

In the six episodes she has taped so far, she addresses many themes with roots in racial difference. The first program is a showdown with white women who voted for Donald Trump.

Not all think that this confrontation between different ethnic groups is particularly constructive. In The New Yorker this summer, Ziwe received a scolding from a Black critic who wrote that she “is trapped in an interminable dance with whiteness.”

There is no right answer when Ziwe demands that a white guest rattle off five African Americans, writes Doreen St. Félix. The television critic thinks this is because Ziwe does not ask actual questions. Rather, she creates an interview situation where the point is not to listen to the guest, but to humble and make a fool of them.

Influencing Her Own Idols

Despite such criticism, Ziwe is becoming a media darling. She recently popped up in the hit series “Succession,” where she played a fictional version of herself. Next year she will come out with her first book.

That talk show hosts today can be politically engaged has also rubbed off on her old idols. Oprah has, for example, become far more outspoken. Last year she produced a new talk show series for Apple TV+ where she discussed racism in the U.S.

“I am incredibly grateful for this development because it has given me the opportunity to make my own program. This is an exciting era for talk show hosts,” Ziwe concludes.**

“Ziwe” premiered on Norwegian Paramount+ on Dec. 1.

*Editor’s Note: The original Norwegian version of this article is accessible with a paid subscription.

**Editor’s Note: Although this quoted remark is correctly translated, it could not be independently verified verbatim.

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