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On debate night, Late Night's Amber Ruffin rebuts whiny racist backlash over diverse recasting

Amber Ruffin
Screenshot: Late Night With Seth Meyers

It was debate night, and you know what that means! Less than half of the people jockeying to unseat America’s everlasting shame Donald Trump got ridiculously little individual time to actually debate. You know, what with CNN running a sound-bites-only shot clock, ramping up the opening festivities so that the first question wasn’t asked until the 25-minute mark, and, for some reason, imagining that we really, really wanted to hear how many ways wishy-washy moderates polling under one percent can say, “Whoa, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, you darn kids need to slow your roll (on climate change, Medicare for all, reparations, and anything else that might get us yelled at).”

It also means that late-night went live, with the likes of Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah, and Jimmy Fallon all postponing their afternoon tapings to give their post-debate analysis. (Or “analysis,” in Fallon’s case.) As with the ridiculously overstuffed Democratic candidate field (suggesting that, for some reason, people are just lining up to kick Donald Trump’s bigot ass all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue), the actual analysis trended more toward easy jokes at easy targets. Like self-help guru (and person who thinks vaccines and anti-depressants are just, like, optional) Marianne Williamson. Or millionaire businessman John Delaney, who was essentially murdered on live TV by Elizabeth Warren. (“I don’t understand why anyone goes to all the trouble of running for President of the United States just to talk about what we can’t do or shouldn’t fight for” is what Meyers called a “thesis statement of her candidacy and the night,” and what the rest of the world mentally translated as “Look, you milkily well-intentioned irrelevancy, let the grownups talk.”)

But since this was just night one of the two-part Democratic gabfest, and since CNN’s interruption-heavy, Republican talking point-driven questions ended up servicing the needs of precisely nobody, it’s tempting to look elsewhere for enlightenment and entertainment. Luckily, viewers didn’t have to go far, as Late Night writer and human sunbeam Amber Ruffin was around to ask her signature incredulous question, “What?!,” about all manner of silly, yet sneakily insightful, topics. “Amber Says What” is Ruffin’s show-stealing showcase for deceptively chipper observational comedy about stuff that everyone but Ruffin gets wrong. You know, like that white lady who thinks that she invented the hair-wraps that black women have used in their hair since humans existed. Or the perennially white New York Post, who could have avoided their alarmist, widely mocked headline about a black woman “setting her hair on fire” on a New York subway (she was sealing her synthetic braids) by, as Ruffin said, “talking to any black person.” Or that Cats trailer, which had more than Ruffin asking “Am I supposed to feel scared?” (Amber’s on board for Jennifer Hudson singing “Memories,” though.)

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But it was self-proclaimed nerd Ruffin’s take on ubiquitous entertainment overlords Marvel’s Comic-Con lineup of “diverse” upcoming movies that was the showstopper. Actually, as Amber said, you can take those quotation marks off, as a Black Widow movie, a female Thor, a black, queer female “king of the Valkyries,” and Mahershala-freaking-Ali as freaking Blade has the post-Endgame MCU looking refreshingly inclusive—and white MCU fanboys getting predictably huffy. “But diverse recasting is the way this country is headed,” began Ruffin, rising to solemnly proclaim, “In this unpredictable, chaotic mess we call life, one thing remains a constant. The old ways die, and new ways rise up to replace them.” With a roll of recast intellectual properties like Ghostbusters, One Day At A Time, Oceans 11, The Little Mermaid, and the as-yet-unproduced Godfather remake starring Amber Ruffin, Amber continued in sonorous, introductory narration mock-seriousness, breaking into “Circle Of Life,” a song from another recently-recast would-be blockbuster, and essentially telling fandom’s spoiled man-babies to get over it. Concluding with mocked-up credits for Late Night With Amber Ruffin, Amber then threw back to host and boss Seth Meyers—for now.

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About the author

Dennis Perkins

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