For comedian, podcaster, former The Onion writer (represent), voice-over actress, and now late-night talk show host Ziwe, a first appearance as guest with The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert was like coming home. Not in the sense that she’d ever sat for a celebrity interview (remote or otherwise) with Colbert, but because, as the clearly delighted Colbert rediscovered upon booking Ziwe, his newly minted late-night peer once worked for him as a lowly but ambitious Colbert Report intern.
“At this point, it feels slightly like stalking,” joked Colbert, an assessment that edged more and more into the realm of possibility once he started reading out Ziwe’s career path. Ziwe went to Colbert’s alma mater (Northwestern), where a professor used The Colbert Report’s “Stephen Colbert” character as a comparison to the satirical stylings of Jonathan Swift. Ziwe went on to do improv in Chicago, as Colbert famously and formatively did. Ziwe is currently doing voices on two animated shows (Tooning Out The News and Our Cartoon President) produced by Colbert. And then there’s the little fact that the “Ziwe” of Ziwe is patterned after The Colbert Report”’s egomaniacally self-impressed “Stephen Colbert.” As the real Ziwe put it, “Because I interned at your job, and I saw your face everywhere—it inspired me to create an opening theme song with my face everywhere.” Ziwe called it “an homage” to her former boss’ blowhard character, which is a much nicer word than “stalking.”
Still, Colbert was effusive in his beaming pride at his former “chatty intern”’s burgeoning success, swapping tips on how to playact as a preening, self-important jackass while getting guests to open up, perhaps a bit more than they intended. Noting that it’s oddly liberating to play someone who “thinks that they’re really great, and puts their face on everything, so you can pretend that thats not your ego, that’s just a character,” Colbert asked Ziwe how her own heightened version of actually humble self can get in the headspace to ask guests some potentially uncomfortable questions. “I start thinking before I speak,” was how Ziwe summed up her approach, playing a clip of Ziwe’s Ziwe going into a fugue state when first episode guest Fran Lebowitz confesses crankily that she only appeared on the show to get Ziwe’s pesky producer off her back.
Reminiscing about the good old days (when Colbert was unaware he had a future comedy star among his interns), Ziwe remembered Colbert’s own “control freak” tendencies in putting together his post-Daily Show vehicle. Colbert admitted that, while it’s tempting to micromanage every aspect of production, no matter how seemingly insignificant (“Could this pen be funnier?,” Colbert recalls thinking), sometimes you just have to let the chatty intern get a joke on the air. Showing a picture of Ziwe’s one onscreen gag that made it to air (a chyron about California’s thankfully overturned anti-gay marriage Prop 8 read, “Gay, Set & Match”), Colbert congratulated Ziwe on Ziwe—and on riding her apparent Stephen Colbert obsession right to the top.
Ziwe’s season finale is on Showtime this Sunday.