Rorschach test

Ziwe Fumudoh on Alison, Caroline, Candace, and Karen

Coat by Miu Miu.

“All I can do is write the questions and brace for the answers, because I have no clue where it’s going,” says Ziwe Fumudoh about her Instagram Live comedy show, on which she has mastered the art of putting her guests on the spot. Emerging at the intersection of the pandemic and the reckoning on racial injustice, the episodes regularly attract bloodthirsty viewers who cringe-watch (and comment) as the Brooklyn-based writer and comedian cross-examines her stammering guests, particularly the non-Black ones, who have included the chef Alison Roman (“Would you consider yourself the Christopher Columbus of food influencing?”), the actor Alyssa Milano (“Would you consider Italians the negros of the white community?”), and the internet figure Caroline Calloway (“What was the last racist thing that you did today?”). Over the course of her series, Fumudoh, who is set to star in her own variety program for Showtime and is writing an essay collection called The Book of Ziwe, has mastered the art of the instant reaction, which is why we asked for her immediate response to a bunch of topics chosen at semi-random.



“I don’t watch a lot of beauty tutorials because I’m impatient, but I like knowing about makeup. I’ll skip to around 14:32, when she adds the lashes, and then to 32:01, when she adds the blush.”



“I don’t think about her.”



“A blessing and a curse. You’re lucky if you’re someone who has a job that allows you to stay home and be safe while working, but it also means that you live at work.”



“She would be an iconic interview. Kris is the matriarch of that family, but the entire enterprise was built on Kim’s Shoulders. That family owes a lot to her.”



“This is not a new phenomenon. It’s made its way to the mainstream, but Black people have been calling white women by their government names for years. Back when we were kids, it used to be Becky. So things change and things stay the same.”



“I had no idea who she was before she went viral for the Chrissy Teigen stuff, but she helped put my show on the map. Ultimately, I’m thankful to any guest who wants to get interviewed by me as 20,000 people comment on how they’re not good at naming Asian people besides Bowen Yang.”



“It’s like junk food. It makes you feel good immediately, and then you pull back and you’re like, ‘What are the politics of all these young women?’ But while you’re eating it, it tastes pretty great.”



“I’m hopeful that my generation can come together with the next generation and work toward realistic change, because, ultimately, the earth is going to clap back. You can’t drain her of her resources and not think that she’s going to come and backhand slap you. She will come for that ass.”



“What makes me optimistic is when I see K-pop stans mobilizing online, or watching Generation Z really activate and have zero tolerance for corporate bullshit. That makes me happy.”



“Everyone is problematic except for babies, and even they’re a little problematic.  They shit, they don’t say ‘please’ or ‘thank you,’ and they just take, take, take.”



“Why is one of the richest women in history picking on a marginalized group and saying they don’t exist? Go away.”



“I used to write fan-fiction about Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask kissing. Then I’d make my parents read it, but I’d erase the kissing part so they didn’t think I was going to hell.”



“Getting canceled because you tweeted ‘I hate Krispy Kreme’ is different than getting canceled because you sexually assaulted your employees. These things are wildly different, yet they’ve been lumped under one cultural phenomenon. That’s intentional, to lessen the intensity and impact on people in power who are being called out for being sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, and ableist jerks.”



“Life is a stage. I don’t understand how you can be mad at people on Twitter for being performative, because Twitter is inherently performative. Instagram is inherently performative. The external self is performative. Take my show, for example. You have a character like Alyssa Milano. What was really notable about her performance was that she was very verbose. She took these long conversational walks that always led you back to South Africa. That very experience of watching her be verbose and long-winded and talk about her childhood memories about kissing people to spread AIDS awareness, that’s really honest. There’s honesty in dishonesty.”



“I’m playing a heightened version of myself on my show. The real Ziwe isn’t like, ‘How many Black people do you know?’ That’s a performance because it’s a produced scenario. I’m creating an environment in which I get to confront people about how many Black people they know.”



“My show is deeply influenced by Andy Cohen’s Real Housewives reunions because he’ll be like ‘Dorit, Winona from Wisconsin says your fake breasts look hideous. What do you think?’ And you’ll watch the guest be shocked and stunned and insulted. I like that I can have those inquiries, but about substantive stuff like race. It’s influenced by The Colbert Report because that’s a character I saw be absolutely bombastic, and I didn’t know you could break those boundaries. It’s also influenced by Dick Cavett, who would ask James Baldwin, ‘Do you think Black people are too angry?’ And then James Baldwin would give this really brilliant answer about intersectionality and rage and 400 years of oppression, and Cavett would say, ‘Let’s go to commercial.’ They were talking in two different languages, which I love.”



“My favorite word. Usually it’s used as praise, but everyone has different icons. An icon to me is, like, Martin Luther King Jr. But to some, it’s Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jefferson. When I use the word, it’s to try to turn that phrase on its head. Some people are iconically very, very bad.”



“Truly iconic.”



“I’m flattered to be in the same conversation as Madonna, Prince, and Beyoncé. When I was young, I got made fun of for having an ethnic name, so I’m glad my ethnicity can now be used for branding purposes.”


Jacket by GCDS. Sweater by DSquared 2. Shorts by Area.


Hair: Charlie Le Mindu

Makeup: Michaela Bosch at Bryant Artists

Studio Direction:  Zack Zannini

Photography Assistants: Denzel Golatt and Matthew Yoscary

Fashion Assistant: Tawnee Clifton

Location: Contra Studios

Special Thanks:  Marcus Chang at Batu Projects