An acclaimed new talent asks pressing questions while offering late night laughs

ZiweCrave1If you haven’t heard of Ziwe, the not-yet-30-year-old comedian who has written for Desus and Mero, The Onion and Stephen Colbert, it’s only a matter of time before she pops up on your radar. After honing her skills making others sound funny—and gathering a following on Instagram for her colourful conversations about race and society—Ziwe now gets to show off her own comedic chops in a half-hour comedy sketch show that is sure to make ripples.

The Brooklyn-based comedian promises traditional elements like interviews with political figures, actors and comedians, field pieces and a musical guest. “I am famously the musical guest in every episode,” quips Ziwe. “This is truly revolutionary content because I am famously a revolutionary alt-comedian.”

While it may feel to others that Ziwe is only just emerging, she feels like her career has been a long time in the making. “As an infant, I had dreams of comedy, but they were rudimentary. Those dreams stunk, you know?” she jokes. “But as I’ve gotten older and more experienced as a professional entertainer, I’ve refined my voice and refined the character that I’ve built around this show. This has been in the making for probably a decade or two.”

ZiweCrave1The first-generation American is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, who emigrated to the United States separately before meeting in Boston. “They grew up in Nigeria. They fled a civil war, the Biafran War, and emigrated to the United States around the ’80s,” she explains. “My parents famously have no time for nonsense. They don’t know what I do for a living. I think they believe I’m a nurse, but don’t tell them.”

Despite growing up in Andover, Massachusetts, Ziwe identifies as Nigerian. “Growing up as Nigerian-American has allowed me to really see different aspects of American living,” she says. “You’re supposed to really connect with these characters on television, but they never really reflected my home life. And that’s been really interesting, is cultivating what it means to be American. I’ve been able to move through different spaces and come up with a comprehensive understanding of what I believe to be my experience and how I can relay that in my art is always privilege.”

ZiweCrave1In 2017, Ziwe created a YouTube show called Baited With Ziwe, where she baited her non-Black friends into making racial faux pas. In the pandemic, she took the show to Instagram Live, where notable guests like Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan raised the profile of these interviews. While many think it is easy to be a social media star these days, rising above the fray is an achievement. “The secret to breaking out on social media is having a specific voice you cultivate all to your own,” says Ziwe. “I don’t know if I would be able to have had a show if it weren’t for social media. It’s helped me in ways I cannot begin to calculate, for sure. But there’s really no point in being an ‘influencer’ without having anything to say.”

While her Showtime debut features a bigger budget, higher production value and better wardrobe than Ziwe’s Instagram series, there will be at least one important overlap between the two. “You’re still going to feel the essences of what was so informative and entertaining about the Instagram live, which was the honest conversations,” she says. “And we’re going to have live interviews that we’re shooting in May. So, you’re going to get that, hopefully, in full force.”

ZiweCrave1In the first season alone, viewers can expect guest stars like Cristin Milioti, Jane Krakowski and Laura Benanti. “Expect a bunch of really talented performers who are ready to play,” says Ziwe. “We lead with improvisation here just because those are my roots as a comedian. It really will feel loose and fun and fresh because we’re making it up as we go along.” But being allowed to play doesn’t means losing her edge when it comes to the comedy. “Offensive, bombastic, satirical—that’s my brand of comedy,” says Ziwe. “I like to push the boundaries. That’s what entertains me... I can only entertain myself in this process.”

In a cultural moment where some lament the inability to make controversial jokes, out of fear that they will be “cancelled,” Ziwe does not share their fear. “I don’t believe cancel culture is real,” she says. “As far as my show, I don’t seek controversy; I just would like to say really poignant things with my art. Ultimately, I’m trying to punch up at the powerful. Part of that is being willing to take a risk, because you can’t have a show that pushes boundaries without getting to the edge. Sometimes, I’ll go over, and, sometimes, I’ll ride the line. I think the goal is to not go over too much.”

Ziwe airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Crave1