DH turned to me the other night and asked me this question.
After thinking about it for a little while, I had an answer.
If you don’t know who Amber Ruffin is, you should. She’s one of the writers/actors on Late Night with Seth Myers. She’s done a bunch of fantastic Drunk History episodes. And, most recently, she has her own weekly talk-show on Fridays on Peacock which you can watch in clip form on Youtube Friday nights and Saturday mornings. Look her up! She’s a brilliant brilliant comedian.
And yes, the main reason she’s so good is because she’s brilliant and funny and she talks about important issues of race and gender that aren’t covered enough by late night comedy with a perspective seriously missing from all but Seth Meyers, the new Larry Wilmore show, and her own show. She only punches up and her humor is never cheap. But thinking deeper, I think a big part of her comedy deals in contrasts.
She says terrible terrible things with a beautiful smile and a cheerful tone. She changes from cheery to serious to angry on a dime (but still allows her anger to be cute). She code-switches between perfect midwest broadcast accent to Black auntie talking to her friends. She uses these surprise! contrasts for humor and to emphasize important points.
And I think the biggest contrast is meta– being cute and bright and smiley as a Black woman comedian allows her to deliver these hard truths about race and gender. She has to work harder to get where she is than other people, and she smiles while doing it to make it palatable for us. There is a history of this for women in general and black women in particular, of working twice as hard to get half as far and to not be perceived as angry while doing it. She’s amazing.
This recent clip has several examples, first the obvious contrast of what the monologue would have been with Biden winning vs. with Trump winning, but then much more poignantly in the scene with the confetti. Definitely watch through to the end of the confetti bit (I think it’s third in the video… but you need to know that Nebraska just got rid of legalized slavery from their constitution, so watch the second bit too). It’s both funny and very stark… maybe even a little unsettling. (I actually think it’s better than the serious emotional monologue Stephen Colbert gave on the same topic that was in last week’s link love, but of course they’re both good.):
This is one of her recurring bits on Late Night with Seth Meyers where she becomes an old-school infomercial about What Trump has Done for [group X] with fun dance music and pages and pages of atrocities scrolling across the screen, escalating in their terribleness.
Do you watch Amber Ruffin? Who is your favorite late night comedian? Who do you watch now that Jon Stewart is gone?