Video Version of this Article
Video: ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers’/NBC
Late-night shows have continued to film from home as television networks continue to navigate the implications of the coronavirus pandemic. On Late Night with Seth Meyers, the host himself has been filming from his attic, where he continues to interview guests over video call and let his writers mastermind their own segments. This segment, “Amber Ruffin’s Experience with the Police”, is where each day the show opened with writer and comedian Amber Ruffin sharing a different story about her various encounters with cops throughout her life. Ruffin has been a writer on Late Night since 2014, whereupon joining the show she became the first black woman to write for a late-night network talk show.
“As a white man, I can’t speak of the deep-rooted and justified fear African-Americans have when encountered by police,” Meyers says at the beginning of the first video, before handing it off to Ruffin.
In the first video, Ruffin begins by discussing a time when she was racially profiled as a teenager and was yelled at aggressively by a white cop to pull over for speeding, even though every car around her was going much faster. She says that her only thought as she pulled the car to a stop was, “This is how I die, this man is going to kill me.”
On the second day’s video, she highlights an instance when she was happily skipping down an alley in Chicago when a cop got out of his car and pulled a gun on her. “His anger level towards me is insane,” she recalls. “I am a young, adorable, delight literally skipping down the street, and I’ve infuriated him.” Skipping down a street is by no means illegal, but she goes on to explain that the incident was only mitigated by the fact that the cop noticed her white friend and then quickly switched his tone to “professional instead of antagonistic.”
On the third instalment, she tells of the time where she and a friend were harassed by a cop and she was forced to show proof of living in her own home before the officer was satisfied. “And we lived to get harassed another day,” she concludes with a sigh — a heartbreakingly resigned statement coming from such a typically cheerful woman.
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In the fourth video, the story is about the time when she and a white friend were stopped while driving in a parking lot. Her friend was spoken to in a polite manner, unlike anything she had heard from a cop before, while she herself was accused of being a prostitute. “The respect this cop automatically had for my friend…” (who was dressed in a suit), “I’ll never forget it.”
Ruffin additionally appeared in another segment called “Amber’s Minute of Fury.” While the segment is a recurring one, this particular video centers around her feelings about police violence against peaceful protestors. A more humorous albeit still passionate tone is displayed in this video as she ticks off several points she is “furious” about. “‘Stop killing black people’ is so easy!” she exclaims. “It’s like when they give you a point on the SAT’s for just writing your name!” She additionally criticizes the cops and government officials that have been kneeling in solidarity, saying, “I can see how on the surface police kneeling alongside the protestors is a nice gesture, but um, how do I say this – get up off the ground and help us!” Her sentiments largely reflect those of many people involved in the protests who are angry with the cops’ PR stunt-like displays of support, despite the calls for real change within the system.
Her stories are personal and incredibly powerful, and shed light on exactly what it’s like to be a black person constantly living in fear due to the way that they are targeted based on nothing but their skin color. What makes her stories even more compelling is the way that she speaks with honesty and conviction yet still manages to find small bits of humor among an otherwise awful collection of experiences. Her bubbly personality only serves to brutally exhibit the contrast between her and the severity of the blatant racism that she has faced.
“I have a thousand stories like this,” she says at the end of one video. “The cops have pulled a gun on me, the cops have followed me to my own home. And every black person I know has a story like that. Many have more than a few. Black people leave the house every day knowing that at any time we could get murdered by the police. It’s a lot.”
In several of the videos, Ruffin discusses the way that these experiences are relegated to being just another day in the life, and how there is an unspoken rule that black people are supposed to take them in stride. She emphasizes the necessity of sharing these stories with white people and having them sit with the discomfort that they may bring, in order for people to truly understand and be affected by what she and so many others are subject to on a daily basis.
A prominent platform
Late Night is no stranger to giving its writers platforms to talk about things they are passionate about. Ruffin appears regularly in the segment “Amber Says What” where she hilariously breaks down and rants about topical issues, concluding each point with an exaggerated, “And I was like, whaaaat?!” She additionally sits alongside Seth Meyers and another writer, Jenny Hagel, in a segment called “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell”, where they tell the punchlines of jokes that Meyers himself could not in good faith tell, as neither a black woman nor a Puerto Rican lesbian. Another writer, Karen Chee, has additionally frequented to discuss Asian Pacific American Heritage month or other topics related to her Asian heritage. The show as a whole does a great job of representing its diverse writers’ room, evident in the way that the writers are given a platform to discuss a vast range of topics if they wish to do so.
Another topical sketch was released, in which Seth calls Amber to “check-in” on her. Each time he calls her he is transferred to the “Weary Black People Answering Service,” voiced by Ruffin, where he is then instructed to specify what kind of call he is attempting, such as learning how to be a better ally or checking in on her in order to feel better about himself and his white privilege — effectively parodying what many black people are facing and complaining about during this time.
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All in all, the show is doing a great job of not only raising awareness about the problematic issues regarding the actions of the police but also exemplifying how to be sensitive, understanding, and helpful towards the black people you may know and are close to in your life.
“We used to open this show with fun jokes,” Ruffin quips at the end of one video, “But for the last three days we’ve opened this show with stories about me getting mistreated by the cops. And if you’re tired of hearing these stories, do something!” At the end of another: “I wanted to end this with something hopeful, to provide some comfort, but maybe it’s time to get uncomfortable.”
The Amber Ruffin Show
Ruffin’s success on Late Night with Seth Meyers as a writer and performer landed her a show of her own set to air next year on NBC’s upcoming streaming platform, Peacock. The show will be a continuation of her personable character and her hilarious bits pertaining to pop culture and topical events frequently seen on Late Night Peacock’s official logline describes the show as “a late-night show with just the good parts — the comedy.” Seth Meyers and Mike Shoemaker will executive produce the show, and Jenny Hagel is additionally credited as a writer.
You can watch the compilation of all four videos here.
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An excerpt from the love letter: Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, “Hollywood Insider fully supports the much-needed Black Lives Matter movement. We are actively, physically and digitally a part of this global movement. We will continue reporting on this major issue of police brutality and legal murders of Black people to hold the system accountable. We will continue reporting on this major issue with kindness and respect to all Black people, as each and every one of them are seen and heard. Just a reminder, that the Black Lives Matter movement is about more than just police brutality and extends into banking, housing, education, medical, infrastructure, etc. We have the space and time for all your stories. We believe in peaceful/non-violent protests and I would like to request the rest of media to focus on 95% of the protests that are peaceful and working effectively with positive changes happening daily. Media has a responsibility to better the world and Hollywood Insider will continue to do so.”
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