Ziwe’s Instagram Live Show Recap: ‘The Birmingham Jail Thing’

Ziwe’s Instagram Live Show

Liza Treyger/Patti Harrison
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating 3 stars

Ziwe’s Instagram Live Show

Liza Treyger/Patti Harrison
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating 3 stars
Photo: @ziwef on Instagram

On the most recent installment of Ziwe’s Instagram Live Show, Ziwe invited two tried and true comedians — Liza Treyger and Patti Harrison — into the lion’s den. Both known for their impressive comedic chops, Liza and Patti let the jokes come naturally, opting to (mostly) sincerely answer the questions Ziwe lobbed at them, sometimes landing into some “messy” answers. From Liza’s declaration about “Whitney/Bobby love” to Patti’s jokes about J.K. Rowling, the episode gave us a peek behind the curtain at two comedians eschewing their characters and tight fives in favor of honest, uncomfortable, hilarious conversation.

Liza Treyger

How many Black friends does she have? A bunch
How many times did Ziwe lean in? Four
Does she read? No

Jessica: Ziwe starting out with strong scarf game, wearing her signature makeup look, white eyeliner! Giving me “I go to the B-Ball court” with this LEWK.

Chris: Yeah, the outfit fully served Michael Jordan in The Last Dance, basketball but make it fashion. Obviously, Ziwe was rocking a Scotty Pippin jersey because she too wants to enjoy her summer.

Jessica: She made me want to go to a basketball game and risk ’Rona. Powerful. Even more powerful, apparently Ziwe is a 19-year-old journalist. The future is GEN Z.

Chris: Icons whose age we don’t know: Julia Fox from Uncut Gems, Mariah Carey, and now Ziwe. Let the record show, Ziwe is baby.

Jessica: As Ziwe said, “goo goo gah gah.” Comedian Liza Treyger started out as the most relaxed white person I have ever seen on the show. I want to know what’s her strain? ’Cause whatever it is, that shit is good. I’m thinking maybe there should be a “smoke and chat” element to every show? I am just “speaking from the heart.” Can you imagine if Caroline Calloway smoked before? Maybe should would’ve remembered that “James person!”

Chris: Caroline Calloway absolutely should have rolled a fat joint instead of getting low-key white girl wasted, but hindsight is famously 2020. But I agree, I think Liza did a great job of establishing the tone for the evening which, to me, was a spinoff of VH1’s Behind The Music series: Ziwe Presents Comedians: Behind The Bits. Both Liza and Patti Harrison are hilarious comedians with jokes on jokes, but the evening wasn’t about that. It really showcased them openly and uncomfortably answering Ziwe’s questions. It didn’t mean there weren’t any funny moments or bits (more on that later), but neither Liza or Patti’s interviews felt performative like some other guests (cough Calloway cough). Anyway, back to Liza. Happy to hear that Liza is beloved by the Black community!

Jessica: YES! I agree this episode reminded us that this is a comedy show and we should make fun of ourselves. Liza is a classic Midwest Queen. They always have “a bunch” of black friends. She said she’s been asked “to step out of an all-Black photo more than once.” Humble brag.

But then, PLOT TWIST! Liza is a white woman who has called the cops on a Black person. She admitted it and has “educated” herself since. I say “educated” loosely, to be revealed later.

Chris: Okay this is where I have to come clean. I have also called the cops on a Black person in my past. And that Black person? Was my own father … [Gasp.] Before anyone freaks out, he didn’t do anything bad: I was 13 and wanted to take tap-dancing lessons while he wanted me to play baseball and I simply wasn’t having it. In retrospect, I was definitely too old to call the police on my father because I was upset, but also too young to understand the actual danger I was putting him in. Sadly, I was a brat and saw white people on TV call the police whenever they wanted (I was watching a lot of SVU at that time) and wanted to wear tap shoes instead of cleats. Sorry Dad, that wasn’t cool!

Jessica: Chris, we’ll speak on that later, but right now — I AM REALLY GONNA NEED Y’ALL TO READ. It’s less work than going to these protests and making cute signs like y’all like to do. The LEVEL of ass-whooping I would have received for admitting to not reading. My momma woulda grabbed me by my unwashed neck, beat my butt for saying that, then beat my butt for having a dirty neck, then beat my butt while I read an essay aloud about the importance of education for young Blacks. This white behavior is right up there with yelling at parents. When I witness it, I think, “What sort of magic sorcery is this?”

Chris: Wow, I think part of the reason I called the cops on my dad is because I literally would have never yelled at him and wanted someone else to do it for me? I don’t know, growing up in the suburbs and loving musical theater makes you a monster. But yes, Jessica, I think it’s up to us to start a book club specifically for comedians who hate to read. It will be like Noname’s book club, but for people who should know better.

Jessica: Yes! DM us on Twitter. Venmo first. Interesting to me that Liza chose to sing the lyrics “whips and chains” from “S&M” when Ziwe asked her to sing a Rihanna song. Girl, read the room! Oh right, you can’t because you “don’t read.”

Chris: God, I love that song. Honestly, I don’t really care what they’re reading, I just want one (1) comedian to say they like to read. Our book club will meet you halfway! We can start out with something light like Tina Fey’s Bossypants or Goodnight Moon. I’m flexible.

Jessica: NOOOO not Bossypants! You know what? I’d even accept an audiobook at this point.

Something else that really jumped out at me was Liza’s answer on Black love. Black love DOES mean “Lots of things.” Very brave lack of stance from Liza, prompting a subtle lean in from Ziwe. After Liza answered the Black love question, Ziwe baited her with the question “So, Black love means messy?” Look, I am here for the imperfect answers. We gotta admit we’re wrong, get uncomfortable and grow.

Chris: That was a messy answer, but that’s why I tune in every week. I believe you can be honest and messy and not entirely politically correct without being racist or offensive, and Liza’s answer was an example of that. The spectrum from Barack/Michelle Love (swoon) to Whitney/Bobby Love (woof) sounds reductive, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know exactly what Liza was talking about. I watched every episode of Being Bobby Brown at an inappropriately young age, and like it or not, Whitney/Bobby Love is a version of Black love and love in general that exists and we can’t deny that.

Jessica: Do you think tanning is blackface? Or as Syd Washington so eloquently put it in the comments “Tanning is the New Orange face?” Also, I loved the “name five Black-owned businesses” section. Of course, Liza said “I’m not going to be able to do that,” so I wanna plug myself and my Black-owned business here. Book a plant consultation now!

Chris: And if your kid needs a tutor, drop me a line. I think Liza’s breeziness coupled with Ziwe’s genuine respect for her really positively influenced how I took in the entire interview. When Liza talked about being addicted to tanning, I was like okay, who among us has not wished to be sunkissed at one point in our lives?

Jessica: Yeah, Liza has ’70s high-school stoner energy and we love to see it. Now onto the “how have you decolonized your mind” question. First and foremost, you can not decolonize your mind without reading. Also watching this show… doesn’t count? Right? That’s what my gut is telling me, ’cause you know it’s a comedy show? So maybe this can be your treat, after reading. That’s not to say that seeing diverse entertainment isn’t helpful. It is. But reading is fundamental.

Chris: I think decolonization comes in many shapes and forms, with reading being the primary path toward decolonization and enlightenment. One cannot decolonize without doing the reading, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other avenues available. I think documentaries (as Liza said), movies, podcasts, and, yes, even comedy shows can be agents of decolonization if you are approaching the texts with that intention. I always think of Larry Owens (who is one of the five Black men Liza knows!) and Karen Chee’s monthly comedy show (omg remember those) at Union Hall literally called “Decolonize Your Mind,” which always had all-POC lineups. Every time I went or performed (flex) on that show, I learned something new about some facet of POC culture, or, at the very least, unlearned something tied to white supremacy. I think Ziwe’s Instagram Live Show is a great place to begin that journey, especially now that live comedy shows are so hard to come by. It’s not the final destination on the journey toward decolonization, but I think it can be a stop along the way.

Jessica: I was also on “Decolonize your Mind.” FLEX. Okay, on to the Black history icon rapid-fire question round! I think Ziwe needs to mix these up! Let’s make these people really have to do their research and READ. Not Google “Top ten black people that contributed to history.” I wanna hear about Rebecca Lee Crumpler and Sir Arthur Lewis!

Chris: Yeah, it’s time to shake this up, I feel. I think we’re ready for — to steal a phrase from Ziwe — deeper cuts from Black history. That being said, the white guests still struggle with this section every time, even though it’s been some combination of the same seven names all summer long, so maybe we’re not ready for the next level. I would say let’s get Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, and Jo Ann Robinson into the conversation, but we’re still whiffing answers like Shirley Chisholm, the first Black congresswoman. Let’s put some respect on her bespectacled name, people!

Jessica: Liza is that friend in the study group that remembers 4 percent of the info but somehow gets an A on the test. I mean, “The Birmingham jail thing.” LOL. Eventually, Ziwe said “CUT THE MIC.” White folxs. That’s what we call “hanging up in your face.”

Chris: That truly killed me. Who could forget Martin Luther King Jr.’s seminal text “The Birmingham Jail Thing”? Also, when Ziwe cut the cameras dead ass on Liza mid-realization that Stokely Carmichael and Kwame Ture were the same person? Pure comedy. Ziwe always reminds foreign journalists covering her show that Ziwe’s Instagram Live show is, in fact, a comedy show. We definitely got that with Liza.

Patti Harrison

How many Black friends does she have? “Um, I do have them… I would say four to five. I’m kidding. It’s four. No, I have Black friends and I don’t want to name them, but I do have them.”
How many times did Ziwe lean in? Five
Does she read? No

Chris: I’ve gotta say, I was nervous for Patti before the episode. Patti is a friend of mine (hi Patti!), and I think she’s one of the funniest people in the known (and unknown) universe, but I wasn’t sure how that was going to translate to Ziwe’s Instagram Live Show and what she was going to bring to the table. Patti’s style of comedy is so absurd and bizarre (in the best way) that I truly had no idea what to expect. That being said, I was really happy to see that she simply brought her lovely, weird self to the table.

Jessica: I wish I was friends with Patti. She is friends with a lot of people that I am friends with, so we are kinda friends. Whoa, when did I turn into a white woman during rush week? But still, I wanna chill with Patti.

Chris: We’re all members of the same sorority that is alt comedy. First question: is it that bad to eat late at night? I love me a midnight hotdog…

Jessica: I fully Animorph into a Chef’s Table episode at midnight every day. You are not alone.

Chris: I appreciate the support. Okay, Patti’s answer to “How many Black friends do you have?” was very reminiscent of George Civeris’s from two weeks ago. I belly laughed when Patti said “I would say four to five… I’m kidding. It’s four.” A perfect joke! But in actuality Patti’s got Black friends, but she’s not gonna name ’em. This is where I think my Blackness complicates things. What is the hesitation re: talking about your Black friends? Is it the fear of saying someone without permission and then the so-called Black friends is like… actually, we’re not that close? Yeah, I guess that would be humiliating. But, if someone asked me to name my white friends I would do so without blinking an eye: Billy Bob Thorton, Dr. Oz, Elsa from Frozen. That’s it. Anyway, I appreciate that Patti chose not to center herself by throwing a Juneteenth party and spent the day in bed.

Jessica: I would name my white friends without question. In bed all day on Juneteenth is how I celebrate. Napping is the revolution. Sometimes I’ll read in bed, too. Which I highly suggest you do Patti! I REALLY CAN’T with y’all not reading. Also, A Raisin in the Sun? Did you really read that, Patti? Don’t lie, you went to a Black history month staged reading and we know everyone reading the script was white.

Chris: Another non-reader, another perfect candidate for our book club. I will say the debate about whether or not plays are books in the comments was riveting! A very divisive question. The answer is pretty clear to me: plays are plays and books are books. Duh. Also, an all-white reading of Raisin in the Sun sounds ridiculous, but until very recently people were actually out in these streets doing all white productions of Hairspray, so we’re closer to the announcement that Ben Platt will star as Walter Lee Younger in Ryan Murphy’s A Raisin in the Sun than we think we are.

Jessica: I have seen a white Anita… Okay, but Patti’s improvised song about racism is very Melissa Gorga.

Chris: Wow, that’s crazy because I was going to say it reminded me of Erika Jayne. “Which is good, which is good, that’s good” was a catchy hook. Also, my mom has a theory that Melissa Gorga isn’t actually Italian but actually Black and is reverse Rachel Dolezal-ing, but I’ll talk to you about that offline because I don’t want to get sued.

Jessica: Sounds legit. Now, we’ve gotta tackle the Biden of it all. Angela Davis put it best: “It will be about choosing a candidate who can be most effectively pressured into allowing more space for the evolving anti-racist movement.” And that’s on period.

Chris: Absolutely. As Ziwe tweeted, “Angela Davis is voting for Biden. What do you know that she doesn’t know?” Patti has been really vocal about voting for Biden on Twitter, which, even though we all wish circumstances could be different, is necessary and great to see.

Jessica: Agreed. Also, I love that Patti loves the way we have contributed to art! Yasss, me too! Plug your favorite Black artists here: Kara Walker. Augusta Savage. Faith Ringgold specifically her quilts

Chris: Eva Woolridge. Kiyomi Taylor. Art for Black Lives.

Jessica: Things were going so well, and then the VoldeTERF reared her ugly head again.

Chris: Yeah, this was the most fascinating moment of the night for me. I thought it was really awesome that Ziwe asked Patti, a trans woman, her opinion on whether Ziwe should bring noted TERF J.K. Rowling onto her show, especially after the conversation with Kimberly Rose Drew two weeks ago. Even if you didn’t know Patti was a trans woman or a professional comedian, the way Patti’s tone and general demeanor changed when answering Ziwe’s question should have been more than enough to clue you in on the fact that she was doing a bit. Her saying “No one’s given J.K. Rowling a platform to talk” was obviously a joke because, like I said two weeks ago, J.K Rowling has 14.3 million followers on Twitter and never shuts up.

It seems silly to even explain that here, but there were multiple people in the Instagram Live comments and then on Twitter that seemed… upset that Patti wanted to give J.K. a platform, both misunderstanding what it means to platform someone (J.K. already has a massive platform) and also completely missing the joke. It’s a similar misinterpretation that I feel Kimberly made a few weeks ago, re: not taking the context of the show (comedy), the majority of the guests (comedians, who make jokes for a living), and the scope of the show (a popular Instagram Live show and not a bestselling novel) into consideration. Anyone who reads should know context is important.

Jessica: This was the most polarizing moment for me. I was really surprised to see that people didn’t understand that Patti was joking. I mean, she said “no one has given J.K. a platform.” Hello, J.K. obviously does have a platform. It’s important to differentiate the Kimberly Rose Drew response from the Patti Harrison response. Drew actually questions Ziwe about having J.K. on the show and explains the harm it could cause, especially if people took it seriously and not as a joke. When Ziwe asked Patti (a trans womxn) about having J.K. as a guest, Patti matched the absurdity of the question with an equally absurd answer. Can you say it’s just a joke if the joke is about someone that is harmful? I don’t know.

Chris: Maybe I’m being insensitive, but it seems willfully obtuse to try and misconstrue Patti’s joke about J.K. Rowling. To me, it’s a great example of the breakdown of discourse that Craig Jenkins wrote about in his awesome essay and the problem with social media, which is brilliantly portrayed in episode nine of Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You. Everyone is talking, nobody is listening, and people hear whatever it is they want to hear and take whatever it is they want to take from the content devoid of context. Sorry for the soapbox, but the whole thing was mind-boggling to me. I have to assume that it was confusing for some people because Patti’s interview was so bit-free until that point, but it still is kind of crazy that people didn’t understand what was going on there/tried to take it out of context. Anyway, Patti set a new record for longest time it’s taken a guest to name five Black people.

Jessica: “Maybe like Oprah.” Why is it so hard to name Black people? At this point you could name us!!!!

Chris: Again, I think that was another bit. When Ziwe said, “that’s the longest it’s ever taken anyone,” I howled with laughter. I also love that we got another Emma Roberts/Emma Watson shout out. Hope those two interchangeable white actresses become a running theme on the show.

Jessica: Something else that is almost as funny as the show: the amount of Black people coming to get they white friends in the comments! CC, Syd Washington, Larry Owens, and Quinta Brunson. We are always doing free labor! I hope they all Venmo-request Patti.

Chris: Pay them all. I’ve gotta say, this peek behind the curtain at comedians just being themselves was really fascinating for me as someone who likes their comedians to be radically honest. Had Liza or Patti come in a character or done their tight five, I would have felt cheated of something. I actually want to know their answers to these questions, and I’m glad they both genuinely answered the questions. And it still made me laugh. Lorza forever.

Ziwe’s Instagram Live Show Recap: The Birmingham Jail Thing