Amber Ruffin Talks Late-Night Series, Writing for the Tonys and Quizzing El DeBarge (Exclusive)
As host of The Amber Ruffin Show, Peacock’s groundbreaking late-night series, Amber Ruffin has breathed new life into the genre with her smart and silly take on news combined with her fresh perspective on events of the world not often heard anywhere else onscreen. Whether it’s through song -- and there are plenty of originals she belts out each week -- or recurring segments like, “How Did We Get Here?,” Ruffin’s made her streaming series appointment TV as she tackles everything from racial institutions in America to sitting down with the best and brightest of Broadway.
Now that the series has closed out another successful season with a finale that featured the host and her sister, Lacey Lamar, fangirling over El DeBarge while she also tried to keep it cool while interviewing Cynthia Erivo, Ruffin opens up to ET about what she’s achieved with the series, writing jokes for the 2022 Tony Awards and being recognized by the Emmys.
ET: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, especially after wrapping up season 2. How does it feel to know that you’ve made it through another season?
Amber Ruffin: It feels cool. I can’t believe we did it. It just felt like you achieved something and two seasons ain't nothing.
How do you feel about what you’ve been able to do with the series so far and how that’s resonated with audiences?
I am always concerned with: Are we telling the truth? And, are we having the maximum amount of fun? Those are really my two priorities. Like, are me and [announcer] Tarik Davis having a blast? Are the writers having fun? You know, 'cause I think a lot of people do comedy and still manage to be miserable. And honestly, I don’t know how they do it. Like, I can see if you were maybe a surgeon and you come home at the end of the day to go, “Oh man, I messed up. Oh gosh.” And your head’s in your hands and you’re all sulky. How you do that after telling a bunch of jokes is beyond me. So, I feel like we got into this business to party down. So we do.
You mentioned the idea of telling the truth as one of the things you felt like you achieved in addition to having fun and I was just curious, what does that mean to you when you are putting on the show?
We always try to focus on the things that no one else is saying, 'cause I think that’s the biggest opportunity we have. I mean, if you’re gonna say the same thing everyone else is saying, what’s the point? But when you hear someone say the thing you’ve been thinking, you know, for the past week, it feels so good and it’s validating and it makes you feel less insane. And, you know, that’s what I want to give people. I want them to feel slightly less insane.
Did that idea for telling the truth inspire the segment, “How Did We Get Here?” For me, that’s one of my favorite parts of the show. And I always love seeing where you go with it, what topic you explore and what you kind of bring to the table each week.
Our “How Did We Get Here?” segments have a crazy origin story. Like, we all follow Michael Harriot on Twitter. And you know, he is a writer who writes a lot about little known Black history facts and his threads are always so enlightening. I thought it would be so cool if we could do something like that on the show. And then, it was probably [executive producer] Jenny Hagel who was like, “Well, let’s call him and see if he’d do it.” So, then when we did. And he was like, “Yeah.” And then every freaking week he was like, “Do you want to do this, this or this?” And they’re all, like, some horrible yet so satisfying fact about Black history. It’s just been so cool to be able to give that to people, to give us the history no one would tell us but we deserve to know about.
The season 2 finale was quite special. Watching it, it looked like you were just having so much fun. And I was just curious where the inspiration behind having El DeBarge on the show came from?
Me and my sister, who loves El DeBarge -- Lacey loves El DeBarge so much. Like, when we were kids -- and this is true -- we would say our prayers at night and Lacey would include El DeBarge in her prayers. And I would go, “Dad, she’s not allowed to do that. You can’t just do that.” And Dad would be like, “You can pray for anybody you want.” But yeah, Lacey is obsessed with him and we dedicated our book [You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism] to El DeBarge.
So, like, we’re so obsessed with him that the love for him has become its own thing. And then when he showed up, man, I have never had my knees give out on me like that. I f**king flopped against the wall, I was so close to passing out. I didn’t know that you could do that. My knees, both of them just stopped working out of love.
Was he aware of your deep fandom and the book dedication before coming on?
Yes, because I didn’t want him to get there and get scared. So, I made sure to tell him, you know, the extent to which this goes, and I think other people have seen the book was dedicated to him and let him know that. So, I don’t think he was too scared.
I loved the quiz show you two did with him. What did he think of that? Especially considering he couldn’t get an answer in on any of the questions about himself.
How dare he even try? I think he knew that it was gonna be tough but he is also, like, such a chill guy and winning a game show about himself couldn’t matter less to him. But to me and Lacey, it was so important and you could see us smacking those buzzers as hard as we f**king could. It was great. It was the best.
It was so fun seeing pure fandom come out. I also really enjoyed your interview with Cynthia Erivo. You don’t often have guests on, so what was it like having her on the show?
Well, I had never met her before Sunday. I had never met her before the Tonys. And I met her at the Tonys and was cool. Stacy, you’d have been so proud. I was chill as f**k. And we took a picture and I spoke to her normally and then the next day, I was texting with Lena White, who was like, “You should have her on your show.” And it never occurred to me that I could. And so, I asked her and she said yes. And I was thrilled.
It’s so funny because I couldn’t even be like, “You are famous for this,” 'cause she’s not. There are, like, 40,000 things with each more impressive than the last. I couldn’t even include it all. I was like, “OK, you’re just everything.”
Given that you’ve done more interviews the last few episodes, with Cynthia, Vanessa Williams and Jaquel Spivey, are we going to see more of that in season 3? Do you want to have more guests on in the future?
First off, fingers crossed for a season 3. And yes, if we get a season 3, we’ll definitely be doing more interviews because it’s so fun. I honestly didn’t think it would be that fun. And that’s why we didn’t do it at first. I thought it would be weird. I thought they’d always have to be people I don’t know or don’t care for. And then I realized I like everybody. This is pretty stupid for me to be like, “Well, what if I don’t like them?” 'Cause I have yet to meet the person. So, I think we will continue to, yes, because I want more friends.
It’s also fun that your three guests were Broadway stars and how much of a theater fan you are. [In addition to writing for this year’s Tony Awards, she’s also adapting Some Like It Hot for Broadway.] What was it like to contribute to the Tonys? What was it like having one of your jokes make it on air? Did that feel different at all?
I tell you what’s different is having a Broadway singer sing a song you wrote. Like, this is nuts. I wrote a song about going out into the audience and when [Ariana DeBose] sang it, I could have freaking died. I couldn’t believe it. It sounded so good.
I can only imagine. Going back to The Amber Ruffin Show, you said you hope it returns for season 3. If it does, what do you hope to do with it moving forward?
If it returns, we will have a lot of fun. I don’t know. If it returns, I hope we stay doing the same stuff. I think we’ll continue interviewing people we love. Who knows? I mean, I’m pretty open.
Finally, I also have to ask about the Emmys. In season 1, your team got nominated for writing. But I’m curious, you know, what would it mean to see The Amber Ruffin Show itself get nominated in the Variety Sketch category or be recognized once again?
I would be so thrilled. I mean, when we got nominated the first time, you know, we’re all looking for Late Night With Seth [Meyers] because Jenny and I write on Seth. And so, that’s what we were looking for. And we were like, “Oh well, we didn't get nominated.” Then we went about our day and a couple minutes later, Jenny called me and said, “Will you check the website for variety writers?” We were on there and I thought, “Oh no, they made a mistake.” That’s how little I expected it. But we were shocked to pieces. So, yeah, if we got nominated a second year in a row, I swear to God, I’ll f**king lose it.
The Amber Ruffin Show is now streaming on Peacock.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity
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