Jessie Woo and her co-hosts Taryn Finley and Chris Miss discuss code-switching and the many other obstacles Black women deal with when leveling up in their careers. The cast welcomes comedian and late-night TV writer Amber Ruffin to MADAMENOIRE series Listen to Black Women to discuss the topic and hear about how it manifests in her profession. Ruffin is a writer for Late Night with Seth Meyers and now has her own late-night talk show on Peacock called The Amber Ruffin Show.
“Selling out or staying true” is a major theme for this conversation, and the women discuss everything from being the only person who worries about edge control in a room of white coworkers to owning their authentic voice.
The women speak about the concept of code-switching, which Finley describes as “An overall self-expression that you might limit to fit in with the predominant group. Oftentimes, that’s white people.”
Chris Miss asked Ruffin if she’s ever code-switched and how she stays true to herself in her profession.
Ruffin says that, as a comedian and actor, there is some amount of code-switching that’s just part of the profession — she has to play many roles. She also has to write sketches her fellow performers will understand, so she runs some of her initial ideas through a white filter. For example, she might want to write about an elderly lady listening to Babyface but realizes she needs to make that Paul McCartney if white people are going to get it.
Ruffin doesn’t code switch when she’s interviewing. She says she was lucky to learn early on that being her true self was actually the best way to go. That’s how she is able to be fully honest, and only when she’s honest does the material she writes ring true with her audience. At times she did struggle with determining when to be herself and when to code-switch, but ultimately she learned “Creativity can’t be careful and creativity can’t be curated.” Fans love her the most when she shares her authentic voice.
Jessie Woo touched on Ruffin being the only Black woman in the writer’s room and being surrounded by people who don’t know about edge control. That opened up a greater conversation about tackling racism through comedy:
“Doing comedy is great for people that have to experience a lot of racism because when you’re doing comedy, you can 1000 percent say, ‘Say something like that again and meet me outside.’ You can check someone to death,” says Ruffin.
Ruffin looks forward to writing for the show; it is the process that excites her the most. She loves taking world events happening in the news and turning them into sketches. At the end of every week, she loves knowing that she gets to do it all again on Monday. “I really am a nerd for late night.” the comedian shares.
She speaks of her work process stating, “It’s like a puzzle,” particularly unearthing what people aren’t talking about and the layer of “What are people not saying out loud?” Ruffin states. She has the most fun exposing that.