Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Amber Ruffin celebrates her jump to NBC with a triumphant anthem to Black excellence

Amber Ruffin, James T. Lane
Amber Ruffin, James T. Lane
Screenshot: The Amber Ruffin Show

If you were watching NBC at 1:30 a.m. on Friday, you might have noticed a new face in the late-night network TV lineup. No, not Lilly Singh, whose A Little Late With Lilly Singh normally airs its Friday reruns at that time, but the other woman of color finally busting through the all-white, all-boys, many-Jimmys late-night host barrier. That’s because Peacock’s The Amber Ruffin Show is getting a trial run in that time slot after Late Night With Seth Meyers (host: white, male, but not named Jimmy) for the next few weeks, with the next airing on March 5.

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Now, that might sound like a slight on the fine folks at NBC’s streaming adjunct Peacock (where you can still see The Amber Ruffin Show in its regular 9 p.m. slot every Friday), but there have been precious few Black women (or women, for that matter) given those coveted late-night talk show slots over the years, and NBC’s tentative lineup change signals at least the possibility that Ruffin might join fellow ceiling-buster and genuinely funny (and not-white, not-male, not-Jimmy) person Singh in the still-prestigious network late-night firmament. (Since A Little Late, like most late-night shows, only airs Monday through Thursday, a Friday slot for the one-per-week Ruffin show would provide viewers with some solidly trenchant and funny weeknights-at-1:30 appointment viewing for five straight nights.) At the very least, the tryout is a good sign for Ruffin’s prospects, as the fledgeling Peacock show keeps getting the 10-episode-at-a-time order treatment.

Not specifically celebrating her own success so much as offering up a more generally uplifting Black History Month farewell, Ruffin on Friday introduced her special guest for the night, Broadway star James T. Lane, to belt out a soaring rendition of “Lift Every Voice And Sing.” And while Ruffin pulled a “Subterranean Homesick Blues” with some cheeky flashcards outlining the achievements of Black Americans in recent months, Lane’s perfect pitch as he sang the “Black national anthem” could not be denied. And, as Ruffin herself (seen here holding up a cue are citing the record number of elected Black lawmakers in Congress, the education levels of African immigrants, and Amanda Gorman, to name but three) noted in a revealing fake movie trailer earlier in the show (about Harriet Tubman’s real reason for freeing all those slaves), symbolism is nice and all, but actual progress toward eliminating systemic racism is the real harmony Black people are waiting for. Still, as Ruffin—via cue card—noted as Lane’s voice swelled with the song’s rousing conclusion, “The Black renaissance is here. And while we still have work to do. We are on the way up.”

Tune in to The Amber Ruffin Show Fridays at 9 p.m. on Peacock and next week on NBC at 1:30 a.m.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.