ZIWE FUMUDOH PRACTICES the art of discomfort. The comedian is most effective as an interviewer and best known for her Instagram Live series, in which she hosted intense one-on-one interviews with other comedians and internet personalities. While guests like Alison Roman and Caroline Calloway often held themselves at a slight remove from their cameras, Fumudoh leaned close enough to hers to fill the entire frame, making her presence superficially pleasant but inescapable. Rather than ask guests about their areas of expertise, Fumudoh asked them about things they might not have examined about themselves, things that made them uncomfortable—usually involving race. She loved to reveal her guests, setting traps for them, then shooting a knowing look at the camera as they blithely waltzed right in. She claims not to see it that way, though. “I don’t really think I need to trap anyone into saying anything racist,” she said in a conversation with Vulture’s E. Alex Jung last year. “They volunteer that information—for better or worse!”
Fumudoh’s new Showtime series, Ziwe, is an adaptation of her Instagram show that adopts that same premise while putting more emphasis on something that was visible but less explicit in the original format. Fumudoh’s interviews have always been about putting her guests at unease; the Showtime iteration makes it clear they are equally about holding up these people as her foils. Ziwe is an interview show, a sketch-comedy series, a musical, a cultural commentary. The show builds Fumudoh’s selfhood as space, something that guests may enter and feature in but that is ultimately intended to solidify and further define Fumudoh, her style, her worldview, her interests, her brand. Fumudoh has a high threshold for awkwardness, an ability to destabilize her guests and allow that feeling to transfer to her audience. Ziwe is just as much about what comes immediately after an interview subject’s flub—the part when Fumudoh turns to the camera, twitching an eyebrow in amusement and victory. The gesture says, “Look at them!” It also says, “Look at me!”
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