Inside Comedian Ziwe’s Late-Night Dressing Room – Coveteur

But you’ll find Susan Alexandra, marabou plumes, and (obviously) plenty of pink.
“I was in Ibiza with Loewe and when they were styling me I told them that I wanted to look like a first lady—but kind of slutty,” late-night host Ziwe tells Coveteur. “Like, give me Carla Bruni, but slutty. That’s how I dressed my Barbies.” This ultra feminine aesthetic informs the visual identity of her namesake talk show, Ziwe, a satirical sit-down interview series which defies definition but is essentially a comedy show that functions as a journalism show with the cadence of a variety show. From the opening credits to the final sign-off, Ziwe takes cues from Barbie—the all-pink set was modeled after her signature Dream House—along with a swath of Ziwe’s other childhood favorites. “A lot of the things that I wear on screen are reflections of what I was watching as a kid,” she explains. Naming shows like Gossip Girl and Shaolin Showdown, Ziwe explains that “those characters have such a strong aesthetic so I’m bringing that to the screen.”
Though she’s not always clad in pink, the color is baked into the Showtime series’ optics. But there was once a time when the Massachusetts-raised comedian wasn’t fond of her signature color at all. Growing up, she explains, the aversion stemmed from what she believed it represented. “I thought, ‘That’s what girls wear and girls don’t get to do anything fun. They have to cook and clean!’” Judging by the flamingo shade of her dressing room, it’s safe to assume that her perception has shifted.
Conceptually, Ziwe’s affinity for pink is a study in subversion. The host makes a distinction between Ziwe the character and Ziwe the person. And as she mapped out the character who would be inhabiting her late-night seat, pink was a defining factor. “I thought, can this character be someone who embraces her femininity in its full power and also has a strong intellectual perspective? Me embracing pink is like me embracing the idea that femininity knows no bounds. It’s not as restrictive as ‘girls do X and boys do Y,’’ she reflects. “It’s beyond that. It’s sort of like a political statement.”
On Ziwe, the abrupt cuts and tongue-in-cheek tone make each half-hour episode feel like a fever dream, a notion reinforced by the saturated color palette. Her highly-orchestrated satirical take on the talk show exists in the same vein of shows like Between Two Ferns and The Eric Andre Show. But even those hosts wear traditional suits. Ziwe went a different route. If she was asking her sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes incriminating questions, in standard black or navy tailoring or the personality-devoid pastels daytime hosts often favor, the jokes would get lost. On Ziwe, the over-the-top outfits authenticate the experience.
As an offshoot of her virtual interview series Baited, which was launched after the 2016 election and exploded during the 2020 pandemic, Ziwe uses her talk show to serve social issues with a heavy dose of satire. She takes a blowtorch to pleasantries to unfurl her guests’ relationship to race, among other things. She opened a 2017 episode of Baited explaining, “I’m going to interview my white coworkers to make them feel uncomfortable about race.” In a tech-themed episode of Ziwe, she told the notoriously monotone NBA star Blake Griffin “I’m not convinced that you’re not a robot. That’s why we booked you for this show.” On Ziwe, cringing is kind of the point. And engaging often means delighting in this discomfort. In the aforementioned Baited episode, a handheld ‘discomfort cam’ zoomed in on guests as they got flustered—it was incredible.
There’s a place for discomfort in the costuming of Ziwe, too. Pieces that aren’t entirely functional can serve a comedic purpose. She harkens back to an episode from the first half of season 2, featuring actress Ilana Glazer, when Ziwe struggled to walk in sky-high heels. “There’s a part where I’m walking from my chair to the platform and you can see me clomping around—I just didn’t wanna fall,” she says. Writers will even pitch segment ideas as outfits. “When fashion is operating at its best, it has a sense of humor,” Ziwe says. “I like to bring that to the show and I think our costume design team does as well.”
This team is headed by Pamela Shepard, whom Ziwe first met while working as a writer on Robin Thede’s series The Rundown. Shepard was the only person Ziwe and her team interviewed for the role. “She’s really fashion-forward, but she also understands my sense of humor. I’ll give her an idea like, ‘I want to look like the stepsister from Cinderella’ and she’ll pull an outfit like the one I wore in our global warming episode.” For this episode, the same one with the Glazer one-on-one, Ziwe tackled climate change in a satiny gloved Miscreants London minidress with sky-high platform heels and a fuzzy Emma Brewin hat—all in an incendiary shade of tangerine. “She really is a great stylist and has deep pull.” The magic, Ziwe explains, is in the way that Shepard is always attuned to the comedian’s sources of inspiration—no matter how niche they might be. Within the span of our hour-long phone call, she cites Dorit Kemsley, Coretta Scott King, and Patrick Star as reference points for the outfits on Ziwe.
The preppy undercurrent that radiates through Ziwe is innate to its host. While studying at Phillips Academy—one of the nation’s most prestigious boarding schools—she recalls making her first-ever designer purchase at a local thrift shop: a Ralph Lauren sweater. “For better or worse, the staples [at the school] were Lilly Pulitzer prints, Sperry’s, and a Ralph Lauren cable knit sweater that you’d tie around your neck.”
While her penchant for extravagant hats (see: the Riddler-esque Ruslan Baginsky tophat that she sports while interviewing Nicole Byer earlier this season) can be traced back to early Sundays following her Nigerian immigrant parents to church, she credits her appreciation for texture to Blair Waldorf, her preppy predecessor, Cher Horowitz and Clueless costume designer Mona May. The latter Ziwe attributes what she refers to as the “fuzzy pen-era with the [yellow Dolce & Gabbana] plaid skirt suit and the Alaïa silk dress,” she says. “That’s the ecosystem of how I dress.”
By design, textures abound on Ziwe. “The character is sort of like a toddler with a black card,” Ziwe says. “She’s super tactile—there’s velvet, silk, satin, and beads. It’s really playful. That just comes from me being a kid at heart and wanting to touch my clothes and feel like they’re toys.” Pairing this energy with Ziwe’s own savvy (she majored in African-American studies, film, and poetry at Northwestern) creates a singular watching experience. It’s Ziwe’s world and you’re lucky to be in it, even if you’re squirming.
As she wrapped production on the second half of season 2, Ziwe opened up the doors to her dressing room, inviting Coveteur into a labyrinth of latex, plaid, and, of course, endless shades of pink.
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