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Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy
Issue #017 “I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy

Portraits of Nigerian-American comedian Ziwe

© Greg Endries/Showtime

“I Love Questioning Everything”: The Unorthodox Talk Show Host Exploring Race Through Comedy

Ziwe, the Nigerian-American comedian, was catapulted to fame by her riotously funny and cringe-inducing YouTube and Instagram Live shows. In both, Ziwe grilled people from Rose McGowan to chef Alison Roman on issues of race. The eponymous comedy series that followed builds on the concept to feature interviews, game show quizzes and music videos where the host once again asks guests and audience members purposely uncomfortable questions: “How many Black friends do you have?” “When you say ‘Black people’, do you capitalise the ‘B’?”, “Did your ancestors own slaves?” It’s a provocative but deliberately “clueless” persona Ziwe calls “a Bratz doll with a diploma”. (The real Ziwe studied radio, television, film and African-American studies at Northwestern University in Illinois.)

As Ziwe enters the second season, its creator says that the intention isn’t to make anyone look dumb; it’s to make us think about why the questions are so hard to answer. “Behind the question is another question,” explains Ziwe. “‘What is the right way to answer that question? Why do I feel stumped?’ I’m just trying to question what we deem as good, what we deem as bad, what we deem as facts, what we deem as fiction.”

Much of the humour lies in the gulf between what game guests may want for the interview and how their time with Ziwe actually turns out. Moments such as Charlamagne Tha God saying, “Black men don’t cheat,” then promptly clarifying that he committed infidelity during the last election cycle create a crackling awkwardness on screen. On set, however, Ziwe says “the interviews are really warm and hospitable and funny, and people are laughing. I don’t have to hog-tie them and throw them in front of cameras. They’re willing adults.”

The 30-year-old Ziwe remembers a childhood idolisation of Britney Spears and talks about how the reversal in public opinion around Spears shaped some of Ziwe’s later views on celebrity culture. “Within the span of two, three years, the girl we loved, America’s sweetheart [became] ‘We hate her. She’s the devil,’” Ziwe says. “As an adult, I look back on that time and think, ‘Wow.’ You just consume it and treat it as truth because it is in print or because it is on TV.” That dissonance created a desire in Ziwe. “I love questioning everything,” she says, noting her love of being surprised by what she doesn’t know or didn’t expect. “How good was it [during] Gloria Steinem[’s interview], when we say, ‘Hey, Gloria, is the song WAP – Wet Ass Pussy – female empowerment?’ [We] watch her in real-time listen to the song and be like, ‘Not really.’”

So is the goal of Ziwe to change people’s minds? She recalls critics who called the show too “performative”, saying it “didn’t go far enough”. “Well, I wasn’t planning on solving racism in six episodes, but maybe I should try harder,” Ziwe says sarcastically. “I have no expectations for what my comedy will do. The only expectation I have is laughter.”
Watch Ziwe on Showtime

Anna Peele is based in New York and writes for publications including New York Magazine, Vanity Fair and The Washington Post Magazine

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