You'd expect a late-night writer and TV host to find the funny in the mundane, and Amber Ruffin doesn't disappoint.
"Have you ever had one of those days where everything you eat is yucky?" she asks. "I can't decide if it's the food or my standards."
Ruffin's wit and smart skits brought her to NBC's Late Night with Seth Meyers, where she made history in 2014, becoming the first Black woman to write for a late-night network show. Now the comedian has her own series, The Amber Ruffin Show, which premiered to strong reviews and earned a coveted 100 percent approval rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes.
As season one came to a close, the Nebraska native spoke with us about some of her historic gigs, how she's finding joy in quarantine, and what lies ahead.
Did you always aspire to be a comedian?
I always knew that I wanted to be employed and be able to eat food [laughs]. I didn't necessarily have many requirements. I did end up performing a lot in high school and then after, I did a little bit of theater in Omaha, Nebraska. I would say to myself, "what a great hobby I'll have, once I finish school and get a job that I hate. I can come here and do this theater thing."
I never thought that one day someone would actually pay me to do what I love. Even after I started working as a full-time actor-writer-improvisor, I always thought that one day I won't do this anymore because I will age out. Then I will have to give up and move back to Omaha. How terrible.
Growing up, who or what encouraged you towards your career?
I thought I had a couple of things working against me: I was Black, my look was slightly androgynous and wasn't super commercial. But then I saw Jumpin' Jack Flash and I remember saying to myself "wait a second, oh my gosh, that's me!" I'm coming with the same energy as baby Whoopi Goldberg. It was encouraging to see her.
Before joining Late Night with Seth Meyers, you auditioned for Saturday Night Live and didn't get the gig. How did you overcome that rejection?
A lot of people auditioned for them that year. They narrowed it down to four and I was one of those four. They chose the other three girls and did not choose me. It was crushing. To make things worse, I just knew that I was going to get it. In my whole life I never had one drippy drop of confidence but then when I didn't need it, I had more than enough [laughs].
I was rehearsing with my friend for our show, when I got the phone call that I didn't get it. I was really really sad; I pushed through rehearsal and then went home and cried a little bit.
Shortly after, I went to my other friend's house for a meeting. We were professional but afterwards she asked, "Did you get it?" and I replied, "I did not." Then she was like "Okay, well, let's go get drunk!" That friend was Christina Anthony, she plays Denise on Mixed-ish. She's my favorite person.
How does it feel to hold the distinction of being the first Black woman to write for a late-night major network show?
It is pretty cool and extremely special, because when I look to the future, I'm like, there's about to be Black women all over this sh*t now, and that's what I want, it's exciting!
Are you ever timid about telling a joke that you've written in these sensitive times?
I am never timid about telling a joke because I don't like hurting anyone's feelings. Since my intentions are clear, I never think I am in danger of doing that. I don't think it's cute or nice to be mean. Well, unless it's Trump, that's when I'm mean.
What was the most interesting thing that happened while launching The Amber Ruffin Show during the pandemic?
Launching during the pandemic and this time of racial reckoning in Hollywood, made everything half comedy show writers' room and half group therapy session. Almost everyone in the writers' room is Black, so, it was comedy writing but we were also working through our sh*t.
With Hollywood confronting systemic racism, and the need for diversity and representation, do you think the right conversations are being had in the industry?
The only conversation that needs to happen is between people and the racists they know. Everyone loves to be like, "Let's discuss how we might feel should someone ever say something racist," and it's like no-no-no, this is all present tense, do something now. Even having a conversation is productive. I don't like it when people pooh-pooh on the little things, every bit counts.
How have you been finding joy during quarantine?
Food and alcohol, I don't want to lie to you [laughs].
With season one coming to a close, how have you celebrated, and what's next?
I know this might sound strange, but I still haven't felt like celebrating just yet. I am grateful that we have a good show, with good reviews. It's all great but, there is no real certainty these days. People's favorite shows die all the time. Even though it's the end of the first season, I'm still reluctant to celebrate or make any predictions. So, we'll see.
Season one of The Amber Ruffin Show is now streaming on Peacock.