Ziwe’s Instagram Live Show
In the last episode before she goes on a temporary hiatus, Ziwe interviews two very different guests on Ziwe’s Instagram Live Show: Symone D. Sanders, a senior advisor to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, and YesJulz, a controversial radio and social media personality. Before she leaves us high and dry for the month of September to write a literal book, Ziwe delivered a top-notch episode that ran the gamut from politics to the spin machine to hip-hop. Sanders and YesJulz’s different approaches to chatting with Ziwe about race highlighted the flexible nature of the show as well as its growing impact, serving as a salient example of the unique place the show has taken in pop cultural.
Symone D. Sanders
How many Black friends does the DNC have? “100,000, I argue. Binders full.”
How many times did Ziwe lean in? 20
Does she read? N/A but presumably.
Chris: This week’s recap is going to be a little different because my partner in crime, Jessica Henderson, is off the grid, camping in the great outdoors, communing with nature like the plant lover that she is. So, I’m riding solo. Ziwe rocking a faux-cowskin bustier, began the show as she always does, by playing one of her signature songs (this time it was “Make It Clap For Democracy,” appropriate given the first guest) as she reminds the thousands of people who tuned in that this is, in fact, a comedy show. Maybe it’s just me, but something in the air felt different at the beginning of this show. Perhaps it was the knowledge that this was the last show before the hiatus, or maybe it was the fact that this episode was happening in the wake of a police officer’s shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, WI, or the resulting NBA strike, or the protests where two protestors were murdered by a 17-year-old gunman with an assault rifle. Also, Sanders was late. When she did arrive, Ziwe wasted no time asking her: “What is the difference between the old white man the Democrats nominated vs the old white man the Republicans nominated?”
Sanders went on to become historic guest in many ways. As a senior advisor to Joe Biden, she’s the first guest to have a career fully in politics. She’s not a comedian, or an actress, or a playwright, or a reality TV star, or an Instagram presence, but someone who has the ear of one of two men vying to be the next President of the United States. What started out as a joke tweet during the DNC ended up with one of Biden’s senior advisors actually appearing on the show. That’s a pretty big deal. The fact that Sanders would even consider going on Ziwe’s Instagram Live Show speaks to the scope and impact of the work Ziwe is doing here. I mean, the New York Times even covered the interview. While Ziwe maintains that her Instagram live is first and foremost a comedy show, she continues to blur the lines between comedy and politics and performance and media in a way that feels appropriate and necessary given the ever-complicated relationship between those entities in 2020.
While Sander’s background in politics provided a fresh perspective, it also was the Achille’s heel of the interview and showed the problem most Americans have with politics today. Simply put, Sanders didn’t really answer any of Ziwe’s questions. Not directly, anyway. Look, Sanders is clearly very intelligent and engaging, but, at the end of the day, she’s a political operator, and she approached the interview like it was a political debate - obfuscating, telling random anecdotes, and stringing together words that definitely sound nice (if I hear the phrase “soul of America” one more time I’m going to lose it) without saying anything concrete.
Ziwe, ever-prepared, stepped up her game in her questioning, asking Sanders direct questions about universal health care, climate change, reparations, and violence against Black trans women. While Sanders’s answers were all vaguely comforting — acknowledging certain problems, addressing the need to “elevate” certain voices, and continuously pointing out how a Republican administration would do a far worse job than a Democratic one on any one of these issues — the lack of a concrete plan was alarmingly apparent. At one point, Ziwe asked Sanders, “What is Biden doing for Black Trans women?” Sanders responded, stating “We need to be very clear that we often name the names of Black people who have lost their lives at the hands of police officers, but we do not talk enough about the epidemic that is Black trans women losing their lives.” The word salad flowed and flowed.
There’s a reason Ziwe leaned in a record setting twenty (20!) times during the interview, peering incredulously at Sanders as she shared talking points clearly targeted at the youth (Bernie said Joe would be the most progressive administration in history! Trump is bad! And so on). Ziwe pressed Sanders harder than most news anchors would and still Sanders stuck to her script, without really ever opening up, admitting that she didn’t have an answer to a question, or getting personal. The political jargon kept spewing and the wheels kept spinning
Sanders’s enthusiasm for the Biden-Harris ticket, for Ziwe, and for getting young people to vote was palpable, and Ziwe herself at the end of the interview expressed her hope that Biden would be our next President. Still, in such unprecedented times and on such a unique platform which provokes radical, sometimes uncomfortable honesty from its guests, Sanders’s answers felt packaged rather than personal. She didn’t seem to be appearing on the program as Symone D. Sanders, but rather as a mouthpiece for the Democratic coalition.
How many Black friends does she have? “I’m not counting I’m definitely not counting I have ton of friends of all races and walks of life.”
How many times did Ziwe lean in? 12.
Does she read? Yes, but she doesn’t look at the authors.
Chris: This was an all-time great Ziwe interview. Classic yet surprising, chaotic and cringey. In every way that Sanders avoided providing simple answers to Ziwe’s questions, YesJulz, a radio host and social media personality from Miami, provided answers that were honest and real. She was an open book revealing that she said the n-word when she was “little” (read: a teenager) and ending the interview by apologizing to a black woman named Karen that she had wronged in the past. The interviews with Sanders and YesJulz were diametrically opposed in content and style, yet Ziwe could clearly hang with both. “By the way folks this is what we call range,” Ziwe said before her second interview and I can’t disagree. She has the range.
Everything about YesJulz, a white woman born Julieanna Goddard, and her interview was tough, from the underwater, gargled sound quality on her phone to her answers to Ziwe’s questions. When she began the interview by saying “Ghana was a whole vibe,” I knew we were in for some old fashioned Baited fun, and fun was certainly in store. At one point, Ziwe asked YesJulz how she would define cultural appropriation to which YesJulz responded, “Someone who is appropriating… culture.” The dictionary found dead in a ditch. While YesJulz has made a name for herself battling claims that she often appropriates Black culture, during the interview she denies it and then promptly tells Ziwe who does her box braids even after Ziwe pointedly said she’d like to send that person a cease and desist. That’s like claiming that you never drink and drive and then taking 4 shots before grabbing your keys and leaving the party. Girl, you told on yourself.
The contradictions kept coming, with Ziwe asking YesJulz about some controversial tweets where she claimed that Black girls don’t like her because Black men do. While YesJulz said that she wouldn’t tweet that now, she still doubled down on what she said, saying that’s what she felt at the time, but that Black women love her now. When Ziwe asked more questions about whether Black woman love her, YesJulz responded by saying that she loves Black women, which, while nice I guess, is not a legitimate answer to the question Ziwe was asking. When Ziwe jokingly asked YesJulz “what’s her favorite race of women?” YesJulz said “I’m not going to answer that question… but I love my Dominican friends” an incredible about face in the span of two seconds that also misunderstands the concept of race vs. ethnicity. A true chef’s kiss moment for the the show.
The most absurd moment was when YesJulz defends a freestyle rap that she once did to win her brother a video game console (you truly can’t make this stuff up) that people found to be racist by spitting the entire thing live. To watch YesJulz earnestly read her racist rap off of her Notes app without any semblance of a beat as Ziwe danced along in her cow-print bustier was to look at God. It was high art that you truly can’t find anywhere else. Ziwe saying “I think what was missing was context” when it was all done was truly the marachino cherry on top of the ice cream sundae that is watching white people embarrass themselves on a public platform.
But the crown jewel of the interview had to be the history test at the end. Before the history portion, YesJulz claimed to be an avid reader who doesn’t know the background or race of any of the authors she claims to like, listing “Coates” as one of her favorite Black authors. Honestly, that’s more than most people can say so good on her. YesJulz also scored some points for knowing that Assata Shakur was related to Tupac. Beyond that she had a pretty tough go of it. Ziwe introduced some new figures, like civil rights activist Ella Baker who YesJulz confused with a musician that I have to assume was some combination of Etta James and Chet Baker, and some familiar subjects, like Ida B. Wells, and YesJulz had one word to describe them all: incredible.
When asked why she agreed to go on the show, YesJulz admitted that she said yes and then fully forgot and then saw it was popular online so decided to follow through with it, another moment of unnecessary yet revealing honesty. In a summer so boring and repetitive, where the majority of us sit in our apartments all day for fear of catching and spreading a global pandemic, Ziwe’s Instagram Live Show has been one of the only sources of joy and excitement to be found, at least for me. Consistently surprising and entertaining, yet thought-provoking and oddly healing, Ziwe’s Instagram Live Show became a cultural juggernaut in ways that many television shows couldn’t imagine to be in their wildest dreams. 5 out of 5 stars. In a word, incredible. See you after the hiatus.
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