Watch EW's late night Emmy roundtable with Robin Thede, Sam Jay, Amber Ruffin, and more
Through a global pandemic, and continued incidents of police brutality, plus general racism and socioeconomic injustice, there have been times in 2020 where late-night writers like X Mayo of The Daily Show have said "I ain’t got a joke in me, and ain’t sh— funny."
Still, EW gathered writers like Robin Thede of A Black Lady Sketch Show, Amber Ruffin of Late Night With Seth Meyers, Sam Jay of Saturday Night Live, Kristen Bartlett of Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, and Mayo to recount how they kept their respective shows going, and became some of this year's Emmy nominees in the categories honoring late-night shows.
In describing how humor has changed over our extended periods of time in quarantine, Thede said "I didn’t know anything about Zoom six months ago, so the first couple weeks when everybody was doing Zoom bits, it was very funny, and now they have ceased to be funny to me. So I think comedy just happens in cycles, and now things are funny like that woman screaming ‘Not the bayang!’"
Jay herself had concerns with having to do whole shows over Zoom, but notes that through the comedic institution's experimental spring episodes, "it was good to see that everybody is as good as SNL says they are because in like two episodes it was like ‘Oh we could’ve done this for a season and it would’ve been fine,’ and that to me was the biggest feat of the whole thing."
Bartlett shared that the past few years, especially in the time that Full Frontal has been on the air, "we’ve had a technically ‘rich’ time" material-wise, but the challenge this year has wrought has been less on the comedy side of things, and more on the management side. Bartlett was promoted to co-head writer a month before coronavirus really hit New York City, and so she's had to quickly learn how to manage the news and take care of her writing team in the most uncertain of times.
Ruffin too has had to quell the concerns of her team of writers now that she is beginning to figure out how they will produce her upcoming Peacock talk show. She jokes that after they nervously asked her if they had to all gather on Zoom to write the show, she bluntly told them, "Absolutely not. You write your sh—, you come to me, and we will rewrite it separately, let’s go."
Despite many productions being shut down, one core thing the group has stayed on top of is uplifting other women, especially women of color, with Thede pointing out that not only is ABLSS director Dime Davis the first Black women nominated for a variety directing Emmy, she'd be the first Black woman ever to win a directing Emmy across all categories. "We don’t only do all of our jobs at a high level, an Emmy-nominated or winning level, we also bring people with us because we all know what it was like to not have that," she explains.
Mayo ends the conversation on a similar note, with a sentiment that has the group nodding in agreement, saying "Although I am very blessed and honored to be nominated for an Emmy, how I made people feel and how people feel about me, and the legacy that I left once I leave this earth is far more important. And I believe any leverage that I get as a Black woman in this industry, the only reason I get it is to pull back, to lift as I climb."
Watch the full late-night Emmy roundtable in the video above.