Amber Ruffin is on the line, in all her bubbly, zany, delightful comedic glory, and mere seconds into the phone interview, the laughs begin.
Whether firing off quips and one-liners or relaying stories about her wonderful, slightly overzealous fans, her wit and winsome personality are on full display.
“I’m thrilled beyond measure 100 percent of the time,” she told Know Your Value. Ruffin is a writer and performer on NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” and the star of “The Amber Ruffin Show,” which premiered last year on NBCUniversal’s streaming service, Peacock. Her show has since gained momentum (and a WGA Award nomination) as the NBC broadcast network announced it would test run two episodes starting Feb. 26.
“I’m at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in my own frigging office. It’s so exciting. Most of the day I can cover it up,” she said, her voice jubilant. “But sometimes, I just lose it!”
Ruffin has plenty of reasons to be over the moon. She made television history in 2014 as the first African American woman staff writer on a late-night network talk show. Since that time, the groundbreaking comedian has brought her unique brand of bold, unapologetic comedy to audiences.
Take for instance, Ruffin’s tongue-in-cheek news segments (one “White History Month” skit tackled race with spot-on satire), or over-the-top political sketches (one riff about Congress features her in a gospel-music church choir scene), to name a few. But after George Floyd’s death last summer and the protests which ensued, she flipped the script and got serious, revealing her own traumatic police encounters with late night viewers.
Indeed, in the storied tradition of a long line of American comics, Ruffin manages to meld humor with sharp, intelligent commentary about current events and history.
“I’ve been writing comedy for a billion years,” she said. “I usually like to look at the news and write off of the news. That [material] works well for late night.”
“Our writing staff is 90 percent Black,” she added, referring to her eponymous show. “It feels different. You can really say every last thing you want to say, everything you think. You don’t have to dumb it down or add or try to explain what you mean … people just get it.”
Raised in Omaha, Nebraska, as the youngest of five siblings, Ruffin’s journey as a television writer, executive producer, host and actress began in local community theater.
After high school, she eventually landed in Chicago, nabbing an internship at The iO Theater. “I had free improv classes,” Ruffin said of her training. That led her overseas to Boom Chicago in Amsterdam (where she also met her future husband in the Netherlands).
The Second City – whose iconic alumni include John Belushi, Tina Fey, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mike Myers and Steve Carrell – came calling, too. Ruffin was a member of the touring company and MainStage ensemble in two revues, “Between Barack and a Hard Place” and “No Country for Old White Men.”
“I guess Seth was my big break,” said Ruffin, who’s in her early 40s. “But once you go from someone whose hobby is performing, to someone whose money is performing – a full time job – it’s a big shift.”
At Comedy Central, Ruffin was a writer and performer on the sitcom “Detroiters” and a regular narrator on the cable network’s “Drunk History” series.
She has showcased her writing talents at the 2014 Emmy Awards, as well as the 2018 and 2019 Golden Globes. Ruffin was also part of the writers’ room and a performer on the HBO series “A Black Lady Sketch Show.”
But her road to success didn’t come without a few bumps: after securing a big “Saturday Night Live” audition, her performance ended in disappointment. Later however, it led to Seth Meyers hiring her.
The trajectory of her career has clearly made Ruffin appreciative of her achievements, and she’s modest when asked about becoming a household name. “Nothing has really changed.”
Yet life has shifted, of course, from the size of her paychecks to a host of adventures and opportunities.
Ruffin is also co-writing an adaptation of the Broadway musical, “Some Like It Hot!” which became a legendary film with Marilyn Monroe. This version of the story will feature a Black lead.
And on the literary front, Ruffin is now a New York Times bestselling author. In January, she and her big sister, Lacey Lamar, released a book, “You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories of Racism.”
The book details everything from strangers putting their hands in Lamar’s hair, to her being mistaken for a prostitute and even Harriet Tubman. In these hilariously ridiculous yet all-too-real anecdotes, the two take on modern-day racism with the perfect balance of levity and gravity.
“Her horrible life makes me proud,” Ruffin said of her sister, whom she has described as “the perfect mix of polite, beautiful, petite, and Black that apparently makes people think `I can say whatever I want to this woman.’”
Meanwhile, the accolades keep coming for Ruffin. Days ago, TIME revealed its 2021 TIME100 Next list, recognizing 100 emerging leaders who are shaping the future of entertainment, health, politics, business and other arenas. Among the celebrity-penned vignettes that pay tribute to the rising stars, Ruffin is feted by none other than her friend, Seth Meyers.
“Amber Ruffin combines a boundless optimism for the best humanity has to offer with a wary eye for when it lets us down,” he wrote. “She pulls no punches, but with each knockout she extends a friendly hand to lift you off the mat. She won’t tell you things are OK to make you feel better. She’ll tell you how to be better so things are OK. Amber Ruffin has been ready for this moment for a long time, but there’s never been a moment we have needed her more.”
Ruffin recently Tweeted her glee about the Time honor.
“I’m more just having the most fun that a person can have,” Ruffin said of her success.