'We still don’t have a woman of color hosting a late night show,' says the comedian
Whether Franchesca Ramsey is faulting Piers Morgan for his comments on Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” or calling Kanye West’s “Famous” music video “gross,” The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore contributor is fearless. Speaking with EW, the comedian also took a no-holds-barred approach to the state of diversity on late-night TV shows.
“We’re definitely making some headway, but, you know, we still don’t have a woman of color hosting a late night show,” Ramsey said. “Sure, we’ve made huge strides and I’m super excited and proud to be part of The Nightly Show because it is a big deal to have a black man hosting a late night television show. I think that when you make progress, you can’t just sit back and say, ‘Okay, great, we did it, we’re done!’ We’re not done. I want to see more. I think there’s enough room for everybody.”
With David Letterman suggesting his Late Show successor should’ve been a woman and Ramsey’s fellow Nightly Show writer Robin Thede recently penning a powerful essay on the subject, diversity in the late night lineup continues to make waves. Jessica Williams, who left The Daily Show with Trevor Noah last week to focus on an upcoming project, has blamed the “white dudes at the top” for the lack of diversity and used Samantha Bee as an example that it “can be done.” Reflecting on the topic with EW, Ramsey pointed to showrunner Shonda Rhimes for changing the network television landscape, saying late night could learn a lesson from the Shondaland empress.
“After Scandal, I remember I got more calls for that pilot season than I have ever gotten before. Everyone was looking to have a black woman on their show,” Ramsey said. “Like, ‘Oh wow, you can put all of these people of color on television and people will watch!'”
She added: “I feel like we have to see in the late night space somebody take the plunge and try something different before anybody else gets on board. But as much as I think network television is awesome, there are so many platforms now. We have so many places now to get content. I think if somebody takes a risk wherever it is, on whatever platform, and it’s successful, other places will start to follow suit.”
Ramsey is no stranger to other platforms — she got her start on YouTube, where she made videos when she wasn’t working as a graphic designer. In 2012, the Florida native garnered attention and acclaim with “S— White Girls Say to Black Girls,” her take on the “S— Girls Say” viral video. The video brought Ramsey to the public eye, as she was featured on MSNBC, ABC, MTV, and in The New York Times. After four years of building on that success, Ramsey now hosts MTV News’ web series Decoded, a fresh take on race in culture, in addition to serving as a contributor on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.
Read on for Ramsey’s thoughts on her “Hash It Out” segment, using humor to tackle big issues, and how she handles internet backlash.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did The Nightly Show opportunity come about?
FRANCHESCA RAMSEY: I was actually a guest late last year. When I first got called in, I initially said no because I was just so resistant to talk about politics. I didn’t feel like that was something I was good at. My producer over at MTV [convinced me], so I was a guest, and they asked me to come back and be a guest again and after that, we had a meeting and they asked if I would come work with them. Initially I thought it would be a part-time opportunity, but they ended up offering me a full-time job.
What’s been the best part of working there?
The collaborative process is really cool, to be in a room full of people throwing around ideas and figuring things out together. And also the challenge. Like I said, I never really considered myself very strong in the political spectrum. I feel like The Nightly Show has really pushed me to be more aware and informed.
What’s your process when you’re coming up with a segment or a topic to cover?
We have an awesome team that pulls a lot of stories that are trending in the news. They work with Larry to decide what he might be interested in, and then we come up with a bunch of ideas and pitch [them]. Based on the take that Larry likes the most, we go back and start writing. Generally we get assigned stuff the day before, and then in the morning, we check in and work on it and go through a round of edits before we rehearse it and it goes on the show.
You’ve done segments on Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Kanye West’s “Famous” video. Has there been a favorite segment that you’ve done or are most proud of?
I really loved the Lemonade edition of “Hash it Out.” Lemonade resonated with me, and I love the direction Beyoncé is going with her music and her career. I thought it was important to stand up for her because I feel like she’s gotten a lot of unnecessary criticism as a black woman talking about her sexuality and her blackness. It’s frustrating to see people unfairly criticize her self-expression. I’m excited The Nightly Show has given me the opportunity to talk about stuff on television that don’t get explored very often — misogyny, rape culture, blackness. Those are things I don’t see talked about in comedy that often, so I’m excited we get to do it.
NEXT: What Ramsey has to say about haters, Brexit, and Donald Trump
How important do you think humor is when talking about big issues?
I think it’s huge. People feel really uncomfortable talking about race and identity, largely because the subject is so taboo. Humor, in my experience, has been a great way to make people feel a little bit more comfortable and realize that they’re not being judged, in that we all have a lot of stuff to learn. Humor can help get people’s guard down and make them a little more receptive to the information. But you have to open to the conversation because even using humor, if you look at any of the comments on my videos, you’ll see lots of people who will interpret it like I’m yelling at them, that I hate all white people, or that I’m just the meanest person in the world. It’s largely because they don’t want to learn, they don’t want to understand the conversation or be receptive to what’s being talked about.
Yeah, looking through your video comments and Twitter feed, you get a lot of negative responses to your work.
Oh my God, yeah. [Laughs]
How do you deal with that?
I feel like I’ve really gotten better at picking and choosing who I respond to and how I respond. A lot of times on Twitter, people say, “Why do you talk to all of these people? They’re so terrible.” And it’s not about the people who are saying these nasty things to me – I know they don’t want to learn. But if other people watching can see that I can very directly answer people’s questions and give them some resources, the people that follow me might learn something from it. And that, to me, is more important than somebody who calls me names. Of course, I’m human and some days, it’s upsetting. But it’s just part of the job. Even when I wasn’t talking about race, identity, and social justice, people were still saying terrible things about me. [Laughs] I try to really keep in mind all of the people who are positively affected by my work. They’re the reason I do the work.
Watching your videos on Decoded and your segments on The Nightly Show, you seem to be very “woke,” as the kids say, when it comes to politics. I wondered about your general thoughts on the upcoming presidential election. Does something like Brexit foreshadow bad things for Americans, come November?
It’s really scary. What’s happening with Brexit, I’m hoping, is a wake-up call for a lot of Americans who are passive about politics. [It’s] a great example of what happens when you don’t actually do your homework. After Brexit, there were huge numbers of people in the U.K. Googling what Brexit means and what the EU is. There were literally people who went and voted to leave the European Union and didn’t even know what the European Union was. That’s freaking terrifying. And I look at people here who say they want to vote for Donald Trump and they don’t even understand what he’s advocating, who don’t even understand the limitations of what the presidency actually is. He’s promised all sorts of things he can’t actually do, but he’s mobilizing people in the name of racism, xenophobia, and bigotry. I don’t think that I’m the most socially conscious, smart person about anything, [but] like everyone, I try to inform myself. I don’t want to tell anybody who to vote for; I’d rather people just do their homework and make sure they vote for the person that they feel like is best to run our country. Personally, I do not think that person is Donald Trump. So I’m going to vote for whoever’s going to make sure Donald Trump is not in the White House.
Looking forward, are there any projects you’re excited about, or general goals you have in your career?
I’m writing a lot, developing a scripted series with a friend. We’re trying to take our time with it and make sure that it’s right. Aside from that, I’m just focused on Decoded and The Nightly Show. I still feel new there, I still have a lot to learn, so I’m really excited to continue refining my writing skills and my ability to talk about these important issues in fun and creative ways. I’m really excited The Nightly Show is a place I can do that.