Since the very start of late night television talk/variety shows (Broadway Open House was the first to air in a late night slot in 1950 on NBC), we’ve all become accustomed to watching a succession of white men sitting at a desk and interviewing famous folks—after warming us up with a relevant monologue, of course.
As far as Black representation goes, Arsenio Hall became the first African-American late night talk show host with The Late Show before launching his very own show in 1989.
Speaking of The Late Show, its former host, Joan Rivers was the last woman to host her own network late night show in over 30 years until Lilly Singh debuted A Little Late With Lilly Singh in 2019.
As W Magazine’s Brooke Marine wrote in 2019, prior to Singh’s premiere:
Of the Big Four broadcast networks—NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox—NBC will be the only one with a woman in the hosts’ chair once Singh’s show premieres, in September. Singh took a moment during her Tonight Show appearance to pay homage to the few women who have had hosting gigs before her (Cynthia Garrett took on the same NBC late night time slot as Singh in 1999, when she became the first Black woman to host a network late night show, called Later With Cynthia Garrett).
Of course, there are different levels of historic moments in late night TV—there’s hosting an already-established show and hosting your own, original show. Garrett is often cited as the first Black woman to be given a late night show with Later, though the show itself was already an established franchise with previous hosts Bob Costas and Greg Kinnear. It’s similar to Jimmy Fallon being the host of The Tonight Show, which originally debuted in 1954 and has since had many hosts (most notably, Johnny Carson). Wanda Sykes did have her own original show during the late night slot on Fox, The Wanda Sykes Show, which debuted in 2009 and aired on Saturday nights for one season until 2010.
While Singh (who also has her own original show) becoming the only current woman and only person of color with her own late night talk show on a major network (also NBC) is huge, I imagine that must be a lonely place to be. Well, cue Amber Ruffin.
Last Friday, Deadline confirmed that The Amber Ruffin Show—which currently airs on Peacock—will be aired on NBC during the 1:30 a.m. ET slot this Friday to replace Lilly Singh repeats as a test run (New episodes of Lilly Singh air on weeknights in that time slot, but not on Fridays, so reruns typically air). You know what the hell that means? Ruffin will be the only Black woman to have her own original major network late night show (and the first for a weeknight). Plus, it’ll be roughly 22 years since a Black woman hosted any late night show on a major network, since Garrett. This is huge for Ruffin, who is already used to making history in late night, having been the first Black woman to ever write for a late night show (Late Night With Jimmy Fallon in 2014).
Additional strides for Black women in late night include Whoopi Goldberg (who had a late night show run in syndication in 1992 with The Whoopi Goldberg Show), Mo’Nique (BET’s The Mo’Nique Show in 2009) and Robin Thede (BET’s The Rundown with Robin Thede in 2017).
“Having my own show is something I never thought possible,” Ruffin exclusively told The Root in a statement. “I loved watching Robin Thede, Wanda Sykes and Whoopi Goldberg and I can’t wait to add another name to the list of Black women in late night. I hope people watch The Amber Ruffin Show—full stop, but also—I hope people watch and realize that late night comedy is an option for them. I hope people see themselves in this show. I want us to feel seen so bad.”
I second that emotion. The above-referenced shows represent a mirror to how far we still have to go. Black women have had late night shows on cable, while lacking in major network representation—or, when we finally land a network show, it’s either on a weeknight or we’re “tested” in a very late slot first… to see how it goes. Then, when we do get a consistent spot on network or cable, the show is short-lived. While Ruffin is aware that these will be test shows, the historic moment is palpable—and for Ruffin, it’s “a frigging dream.”
“I’m gonna be at home watching this Friday night, teary-eyed [and] chock full of Red Bull,” Ruffin concluded.
We’re definitely wishing Ruffin well during her test show run, and hoping we all watch to make it a permanent move—we’re crossing our fingers that she has many more weeknights to celebrate with her Red Bull! Hopefully, one day we’ll look up and ladies like Singh and Ruffin won’t be alone—it’ll be the norm. Cheers to Ruffin! Oh, and speaking of cheering folks on, a certain Senior Writer at The Root named Michael Harriot has a seat at the writers’ room table on The Amber Ruffin Show! Black excellence after dark.
The Amber Ruffin Show will make its major network debut with two-episode airings on Feb. 26 and March 5 on NBC at 1:30 a.m. ET. You can typically catch The Amber Ruffin Show on Fridays at 9 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. PT on Peacock.