Has it really only been just over a week since Tina Fey introduced “sheetcaking” into the national lexicon?
If I were judging by the sheer volume of think pieces, retractions, apologies, apologists, and use of the phrase, “You don’t understand–it’s satire” I’d think it’s been a year.
Honestly, I find all the discussion around Fey’s piece significantly more aggravating than the piece itself.
First off, there’s the way people have been fairly leaping out of the woodwork to explain to marginalized folks that Fey’s piece was *satire.* Satire, apparently, being a very special, hard to understand form of speech that is impervious to critique and which POC need explained to them by white liberals. This line of thinking was brilliantly countered by a piece from AfroPunk.
If I didn’t know better, I would say that white supremacy is so deeply ingrained in U.S. culture that even people who want to work for racial justice find it easier to debate the merits of white women comedians rather than focus on the excellent work of black women comedians.
Instead, I’d like to focus on one of the most brilliant political comedians working today: Amber Ruffin.
Just a day before Fey’s skit Ruffin did a piece about safe spaces on Late Night with Seth Meyers. The piece is fucking brilliant: it managed to be funny and somehow touching while also covering the basics of intersectionality, what safe spaces are, what safe spaces aren’t, why they are needed, and why people with privilege can be oblivious to how important they are.
But this is *far* from the first time that Ruffin has been the best part of comedic political commentary on TV. Her “JTF” piece, which aired the day after the election is something I still go back to on days when living in the darkest timeline makes me unutterably tired. The piece starts out with a warranted (necessary) critique of white folks whose privilege has insulated them from the daily knowledge of race based violence in the US and ends with an encouraging message for all folks called to activism after November 8th. It’s a delicate, comedic line that I haven’t seen any other comedian pull off, ever.
Then there is the long running segment “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell” which is one of my favorite primers on both in-group language and intersectionality to use when I teach.
Aside from the absolute gloriousness of when Amber appears on the show it is also worth acknowledging that, as a writer, she’s part of the success of the show as a whole. When brilliant “A Closer Look” monologues like this build the reputation of “Late Night” up to “the heir to Jon Stewart” it’s in no small part because of Ruffin and the rest of the writing staff.
I heard once that the US Treasury trains their staff to detect counterfeit bills not by memorizing the million ways a bill can be fake but, instead, by memorizing all of the features of an authentic bill. I suggest we take a cue from the treasury and, rather than focus on all of the things wrong with Fey, we take a good, long look at all of the things right with Ruffin. For those of us who want to use comedy to speak truth to power this could be the best possible lesson.