Ziwe Fumudoh Has Mastered the Art of Putting White People on the Spot

On Thursday night, Desus and Mero writer Ziwe Fumudoh interviewed Alison Roman on her weekly Instagram Live comedy show. The shows, similar to Fumudoh’s YouTube series Baited, revolve around the comedian asking white guests questions about race—from simple but revealing queries (“How many Black friends do you have?”) to targeted ones designed to, well, bait them into saying something terrible (“What do you qualitatively like about Black people?”). It’s one of the last places you would expect to see Roman, who stepped in hot water last month after making problematic remarks about Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo—prompting questions about her racial politics and the apparent cultural appropriation in her recipes. Roman was, for a time, canceled.

Yet there she was on Thursday night in front of nearly 20,000 Instagram Live viewers, humbly submitting herself to Fumudoh’s waggish, razor-sharp cross-examination: “Why do you hate Asian women?” “Would you consider yourself the Christopher Columbus of food influencing?” “How do you describe the difference between curry and stew?” (That question was a reference to one of Roman’s more contested recipes.) The pièce de résistance came when Fumudoh asked Roman to name five Asian people, a question the cook stumbled through. After calling out Teigen, Saturday Night Live star Bowen Yang, and poet Cathy Park Hong, Roman struggled to come up with more names.

“Why is my face literally on fucking fire right now?” Roman asked as Fumudoh laughed. “This isn’t hard, and I am absolutely blowing it!”

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Fumudoh spoke candidly about that moment, breaking down the alchemy behind the show—which has also welcomed guests like Caroline Calloway and Nick Ciarelli—how she got Roman on board, and why the majority of her white guests insist they have four to five Black friends (no more, no less).

Vanity Fair: How did you get Alison Roman to come on your show?

Ziwe Fumudoh: Honestly, it was very easy. She’s followed me for a while, so I just asked her, then she said yes. If you’re really interested in growth, this is the perfect show to come on and talk about race and be vulnerable and admit, Hey, I don’t know everything there is to know about what it means to be Black in America, but I’m willing to humble myself and learn.

Did any of her answers surprise you?

Everything surprised me. The point of the show is, I don’t really know what’s going to come out of my guest’s mouth. When I asked “qualitatively, what do you like about Black people?” and her response was, “Um, I like their cooking and dancing,” I had to cut her off. I’m just gonna do you a favor and stop it before we go down this road. Watching her struggle to name five Asian people on the spot? That’s surprising!

What’s interesting is my viewers have to confront their ability to answer the questions, right? Because if I asked any given white liberal “Who’s Fred Hampton? Who’s Huey P. Newton? Who’s Angela Davis?” a lot of them wouldn’t know. My ultimate goal isn’t to get my guests canceled, truly! I’m just trying to have a good discussion about race and entertain people.

You actually got scoop from Alison that Chrissy Teigen apparently isn’t a producer on Alison’s upcoming TV show, despite what Teigen tweeted after Alison’s interview went viral. What did you make of that?

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