LOS ANGELES, May 9 (UPI) — Comedy writer Ziwe adapted her provocative Instagram Live show into a variety series for Showtime, which is simply called Ziwe. The 30-year-old writer went viral in 2020 for asking provocative questions about race in interviews with celebrities such as Rose McGowan and food writer Alison Roman.
“I don’t seek controversy,” Ziwe said in a recent Television Critics Association Zoom. “I just would like to say really poignant things with my art. Perhaps, that’s controversial but, ultimately, I’m trying to punch up at the powerful.”
In her Instagram Live show, Ziwe asked McGowan about a tweet in which McGowan compared misogyny to using the N-word. The host asked Roman what she did as editor of Bon Appetit to include more Black people. Roman replied that she did not.
“I try to lead with kindness,” Ziwe said of her interviews. “I will definitely hold them accountable because it’s fun, and that’s my brand of comedy.”
Ziwe said the Showtime series will retain what made her social media content go viral. However, the show affords her higher production values.
“A full-fledged production is going to be different than the Instagram Live show I shot on my bed,” Ziwe said. “But, I think you’re still going to feel the essences of what was so informative and entertaining about the Instagram live.”
The first guests on Ziwe were author Fran Lebowitz and feminist activist Gloria Steinem. In a socially distanced in-studio interview, Ziwe asks Lebowitz, “What bothers you more, slow walkers or racism?” and “What percent of White women do you hate?”
Ziwe said she grew up watching talk shows, adding that she is inspired, in her interviews, to respond to the way other talk shows selectively tackle race.
“I specifically love the way media characterize Black figures during Black History Month versus the other 11 months of the year,” Ziwe said. “Any way that I can critique or joke about media constructions is really fun to me.”
In addition to interviews, Ziwe also includes sketches and musical performances by Ziwe herself. In the first episode, Ziwe sings a jazz song about a White woman who calls the police on Black people.
“It will be really fun for you guys to see me move from jazz to club electronic to pop music,” Ziwe said.
A fake commercial for American Girl dolls stars Cristin Millioti and Jane Krakowski. For another segment, Ziwe gathers White women named Karen for a roundtable discussion on the phenomenon of racist Karens.
The Karen roundtable is reminiscent of Ziwe’s 2017 YouTube series Baited with Ziwe. On that show, Ziwe invited White friends onto a talk show and surprised them with racially sensitive questions. The same year, Ziwe also began professional writing work for The Rundown with Robin Thede.
“I like to push the boundaries,” Ziwe said. “That’s what entertains me.”
Showtime announced the development of Ziwe’s variety show in October 2020. Ziwe already was a writer for Our Cartoon President and Desus & Meru since 2019, but Ziwe said her Instagram shows raised her profile considerably.
“I found that with social media I was able to break through glass ceilings,” Ziwe said. “I don’t know if I would be able to have had a show if it weren’t for social media.”
Both of Ziwe’s parents came to Boston from Nigeria, separately. They met in Boston and raised Ziwe in Lawrence, Mass.
Ziwe does not discuss her parents to protect their privacy. However, she said she learned at age 27 that her name means, “When you were born, your father was away.”
Ziwe said her first performing experience was in a high school production of The Taming Of the Shrew. She played a fairy and also sang with a high school a cappella club.
Now that she has become the host of a Showtime series, Ziwe said she would hold herself as accountable as she holds others. Ziwe said she will accept responsibility for anything insensitive she may say.
“You can’t have a show that pushes boundaries without getting to the edge,” Ziwe said. “So, sometimes I’ll go over and sometimes I’ll ride the line. The goal is to not go over too much.”
Ziwe premieres Sunday at 11 p.m. EDT on Showtime.