'The Nightly Show' star Franchesca Ramsey talks cancellation and comedy in 2016
Thursday's last episode of The Nightly Show — following Comedy Central's abrupt cancellation of the late night show the Monday prior — saw Larry Wilmore's correspondents dealing with the show's send-off in varying ways. Some were off on vacation, others were having a secret office hook-up and Franchesca Ramsey didn't bother helping Wilmore too much when he called upon her: she was in the middle of a Skype interview.
Of course, Ramsey's dismissal was in jest; the comedian was a stand-out on Wilmore's show with her ongoing segment #HashItOut, which highlighted the many memorable moments of stupidity that can be found on social media, case in point: the sexist backlash to Ghostbusters.
Ramsey's no stranger to the stranger things on the internet, too: she became a viral sensation in 2012 with a poignant take on the endless "Shit People Say" videos with "Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls." Since 2015, she's hosted the MTV News web series, Decoded, a weekly segment that dissects social and political issues in the form of sketch comedy and vlogging.
In an interview with Mic, Ramsey discussed The Nightly Show's cancellation, how her approach to comedy has changed since her viral claim to fame and if we'll see a female host of color in late night.
Mic: How did you first hear the news about The Nightly Show's cancellation?
Franchesca Ramsey: So we found out on Monday. We actually got an email from our executive producer the night before, letting us know that our morning meeting had been cancelled and that we were going to have an all-staff meeting instead.
We all kind of knew that something was up based on that, since we always start the morning with a writers' meeting, so they gathered the entire staff — writers and contributors and crew and all the administrative employees — in the studio, and Larry announced to us that the show has been cancelled.
One of the key criticisms in Comedy Central's decision to cancel it is that the show really keys in on racial issues, much like Samantha Bee focuses a lot of topics on feminism. Do you think that type of dialogue will still be prevalent in late night?
FR: I know that The Daily Show has been exploring some race and identity issues, but right now I haven't seen a show that was doing it at the same level that we were doing it. Also, just exploring different identity issues in general, so not just race but class and gender and sexuality were things that we all were really committed to trying to shed light on the inequalities in those areas and the challenges people were facing in a comedic, but smart way.
Trevor Noah and Sam Bee are the only two late night hosts who are either women or people of color now. How far away do you think we are from an actual woman of color hosting a late night show? Who would you recommend? Would you ever want to take on such a role?
FR: There's a ton of super talented people out there, and I would be honored if I was ever considered. It's something that's always been a dream of mine and I'd love to have my own show. I think that we've come a long way, but there's always room for more.
I really believe The Nightly Show opened the door for myself and all of our contributors; we had a super diverse cast. I hope that other networks realize that there's a voice left by our show and that that voice takes these issues and looks at them in a critical, but comedic way is very important. I would be honored to see a woman of color get that opportunity.
You've worked in a lot of different modes of comedy through your career. Do you see similar challenges for women of color, and black women specifically, in those different modes? Or are there different challenges depending on whether it's a viral video, a writers' room, and so forth?
FR: I think what's been really great about the internet and why it was a place that I started producing content is that there is a more level playing field in terms of being able to get the content up there as fast as possible and there's not really any gatekeepers and if the content's good, people are going to watch it. That was huge for me, and it's been so exciting to see so many other people leveraging the internet in creative ways, but now it's actually crossing over and getting people opportunities on television and podcasts are becoming TV shows now.
That's really, really cool — and again, I think that's creating opportunities for people who normally didn't have their voices heard in the mainstream media; they're doing it on their own and now are getting their chance to get larger platforms because of their work.
Your viral claim to fame was back in 2012 when you made a couple of Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls videos. It really took off — compared to all the other "Shit People Say" videos — because it provided a real, albeit hilarious, examination of race. How has your process for combining social commentary with humor changed since then?
FR: Especially because now I'm working with MTV News, and I'm hosting Decoded, we're definitely more educational. We do have sketch, but we also do a more deep-dive episodes on different topics, whereas "Shit White Girls Say" was just a comedic social commentary.
I think that a lot of people — as much as it resonated with a lot of people — a lot of people misunderstood the message, because there was a lot of nuance there that if you were not familiar with the experience, you were not going to understand. It really wasn't made for everyone in that respect.
Now, with the work that I do with Decoded and even on my personal channel, we try to approach the topics in a more, what I usually call "101." We try to keep it more 101 so that it's relatable to lots of different types of people and it's been really successful, a lot of the videos get shown in classrooms, which I'm super proud of. I think it just makes it more accessible.
The past few years have brought, almost simultaneously, the Black Lives Matter movement and those who support Donald Trump to the fore. Has the role to political and social-centric comedy changed as a result? Has your approach?
FR: I don't think I've changed my approach, but I do think that the landscape has changed. I think more people are realizing the importance of using their voices. Unfortunately, every day it seems like we have a new instance of police violence and it's really kind of become life and death, a matter of actually talking about these things in an intelligible way in reaching lots of people.
I don't think that my approach has necessarily changed, but I think more people are seeing a need to be vocal, because if they don't say something, there could be disastrous results, either for themselves or for people that they care about.
The Internet has reached Peak Woke in the last couple of years — more so than ever before. Even looking at this year's Olympics, compared to 2012, sexist commentary from sports personalities and publications are being called out constantly. Where would we be if it wasn't the norm now?
FR: I don't think it's necessarily that there's more commentary, I think that we have more places for people to express themselves. These are conversations that have always been happening, but before Twitter, if a news outlet made a sexist headline, you really had no option other than to write a letter, I guess? There was nothing you could really do about it.
You could maybe share the article or the newspaper with a friend and complain about it, but there is really no course of action — and you definitely couldn't get it in front of millions of people instantaneously with very little effort, you know what I mean? You don't even have to put your pants on to use Twitter.
Your segment on The Nightly Show, #HashItOut, were some of the show's biggest hits online. Was there a particular segment you were proud of?
FR: I really enjoyed the Lemonade edition of #HashItOut, mainly because it was just great to troll Piers Morgan, 'cause he's just the worst. And I think Lemonade was incredible. It was a really important piece of art and music and black female empowerment, so I was really glad that we could talk about it on the show in a smart and funny way, but also explain the relevance and the importance of it.
So people like Piers Morgan could get it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.