Good news: The Amber Ruffin Show has been officially renewed through September. The half-hour late night show, whose episodes premiere every Friday night on NBC Universal’s streaming service Peacock, has been one of our favorite shows on TV over the last six months, with Amber Ruffin’s silliness a reliably enjoyable way to kick off the weekend. Like most streamers, Peacock doesn’t release viewership numbers, but NBC’s clearly been behind The Amber Ruffin Show for a while; unlike it’s former timeslot neighbor, Wilmore, it got renewed past its original order, and now will have at least a full year under its belt. NBC has also experimented with airing it on NBC instead of just streaming. Hopefully whatever numbers it’s pulling are enough to keep it on Peacock past September, and well into the future.
If you haven’t seen The Amber Ruffin Show yet, and want to know what the fuss is about, here’s a quick introduction. It’s a weekly, half-hour late night show that gets rid of all the non-comedy bits. There are no interviews, no guests, no bands, nothing but jokes and comedy sketches featuring Ruffin, her co-host Tarik Davis, and a top-notch writing staff that includes head writer Jenny Hagel, writing supervisor Demi Adejuyigbe, and writers Shantira Jackson, Dewayne Perkins, Ian Morgan, Ashley Nicole Black, Michael Harriot, and Ruffin herself. It’s a comedy show for comedy fans, a silly, goofy, absurd half-hour that finds ways to be topical and political without becoming too serious. It’s absolutely worth checking out, and if you don’t subscribe to Peacock, and don’t feel like downloading the free tier of the app, you can still check out many of its segments on YouTube.
Here’s a short guide to what you can expect from the show, using some of the best clips currently available on its YouTube channel. These aren’t necessarily the best sketches from The Amber Ruffin Show, but they’re all great, and should give you a good idea of the show’s tone and what it focuses on.
Ruffin’s show doesn’t really have a traditional monologue. She might tell a few jokes at her desk, but they generally serve as the starting point of a sketch, or at least something more absurd and inspired than a series of jokes about current events. That doesn’t mean The Amber Ruffin Show isn’t political; it just finds more ingenious ways to broach the same subjects that other talk show hosts monologue about. Here’s an example from an early episode of the show. Ruffin looks at how little has changed over the last 220 years by meeting a time traveling version of herself from 1793. It gets the point across—that systemic racism is still alive and well in the 21st century—in a way that’s unexpected and deeply funny, which gives it more power than a monologue typically has.
Ruffin loves to sing, and she’s really good at it, so you can expect a musical number most episodes. This bit from December is one of her best so far, a ‘70s AM gold sounding ballad about how she’s going to stop telling jokes about how flat white women’s butts are. Of course she finds room within the song for several jokes about how flat white women’s butts are. The show often touches on issues about feminism and race relations in an enlightened and progressive way—notice how this sketch is framed around Ruffin no longer wanting to give white women a complex through jokes told to deal with her own complex—but uses them to drive Ruffin’s jokes more than anything else. Ruffin routinely takes the right side on thorny issues without getting preachy or subjugating the humor, and that’s a very rare skill.
I thought I had written about this sketch for Paste back when it first aired, but maybe I just tweeted about it. Either way, this deeply ridiculous sketch is the kind of comedy I love—just an unapologetically silly idea, executed with the right combination of seriousness and “this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done” disbelief, and with a brilliant bit of misdirection that ends with a great capper. This is the kind of classic late night nonsense that you could’ve seen on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, the network late night show most similar to Ruffin’s.
Here’s another example of the show’s abject silliness, as well as its love for pop culture and for the formal qualities of joke and sketch writing. It’s a long, elaborate story towards a blazingly obvious punchline, and part of the fun is wondering how, or if, the sketch will flip your expectations. It’s funnier that it doesn’t, as you’ll find. The fact that the whole thing is framed as Ruffin and Davis, two old friends, going for a walk is exactly the kind of specific but entirely unnecessary detail I like to see in my comedy.
Finally, here’s another example of how good the writing is on this show. You might worry that the first half devolves a bit too much into Chuck Norris meme territory, but the lines about Broadway Jack’s achievements are charmingly ridiculous, and the format of cutting from the joke to somebody simply saying his name provides a structure that grows funnier with each repetition. And then it takes a turn, before ending with another small, specific, unnecessary, and very hilarious detail at the very end. This is good comedy writing, which is exactly what you’ll find in almost every episode of The Amber Ruffin Show.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.