Long before we knew her as the Queen of Late Night, Amber Ruffin found herself living in the heart of downtown Denver. Doing her first run with improv group Second City, the comedian and writer spent one year in the Mile High, giving Ruffin her first glimpse of success.
“Denver was the best time I’d ever had. We had all just gotten those real, full-time comedy jobs,” she said. “It was the first time I ever really felt like, ‘Wow, this is what it’s like to not be terrified I wouldn’t make rent.'”
Now a writer for Late Night With Seth Meyers and host of her very own The Amber Ruffin Show on Peacock, Amber Ruffin will be making her grand return to Denver this Sunday with SeriesFest for a screening of her show at Red Rocks.
Born and raised in Omaha, NE, Amber Ruffin started her comedy career performing improv at local theaters. Comedy would end up taking her across the country, performing everywhere from Chicago to Los Angeles to Denver, even spending five years in Amsterdam with Boom Chicago.
In 2014, Ruffin got the call every comedian dreams of — to audition for the infamous Saturday Night Live. While she did not get a spot on the show, this audition would be the moment that launched the rest of her career.
“I auditioned for SNL and found out I wasn’t getting it. It was horrible. Seth [Meyers] called three days later, and I thought he was calling to be like, ‘Hey sorry, you didn’t get it.’ I didn’t think he was calling to offer me a job,” Ruffin said.
Meyers offered her a writing position on NBC’s Late Night With Seth Meyers, making her the first Black woman to write for a late-night talk show. This position eventually led to her own recurring segments on the show including “Amber Says What?,” “Amber’s Minute of Fury” and “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell.” Ruffin’s background in improv left her well-equipped for the transition into late-night writing, a skill she found to come quite naturally.
“Short-form improv is the best improv you can do. I’m the only person alive who thinks that but it comes in handy when you write,” she said. “When 300 people are looking at you, and they shout out something like ‘lemon,’ you had better make a joke that has the word ‘pucker’ in it. You have to instantly come up with a joke, and they are waiting on you. Here, you read a headline and you have all day to let it move you the way it moves you. It’s like a luxury in comparison.”
Ruffin’s work both behind the scenes and on camera caught the attention of NBC, earning her very own late-night talk show on Peacock in 2020.
“I never thought that was coming ever — I’m still a little shocked,” said Ruffin.
Airing each Friday, The Amber Ruffin Show showcases the host’s take on the news of the week through monologues and sketches. The show is a brilliant display of both her comedic talent and undeniable intelligence. Unlike many late-night shows, Ruffin does not fear escaping the trap of light-heartedness. She uses her platform not only for comedic relief, but to open the conversations the media often avoids having.
“I just got really tired of no one saying anything,” said Ruffin. “Remember when the news wouldn’t call racist shit racist, and it made everyone insane? That really affected me. I realized it was actively doing damage, and there needed to be an adult on TV who’s like ‘uh oh, this bad thing is actually bad’… The sad truth is, that’s where we are at.”
Along with her more light-hearted sketches, Ruffin dives headfirst into hard-hitting topics with confidence and purpose. Segments such as “How Did We Get Here” explore racism, politics and gender inequality, giving Ruffin space to call out the injustices she sees in the world around us.
“I’ve just been trying to tell the truth about my feelings. I don’t understand the part of this job where people feel like they have to report what’s happening without any feelings. I’m a comedian. The feelings are the thing, so I may as well go into detail about it,” she said.
Yet despite the weight of the topics she covers, her show feels far from heavy. Ruffin has managed to find the perfect balance between comedy and conversation, always finding her way back to the humor within it all.
“It’s just how we all are. Bad things happen to Black people all the time, and you have to laugh about it to keep from losing your mind. That’s how we learn to deal with things. Especially with the very bad time in America recently, everyone started to feel this way. You just can’t help but laugh about it — it’s our way of coping,” she said.
Ruffin will be returning to the Mile High on May 8 with SeriesFest, a Denver-based festival dedicated to showcasing creators through workshops, panels, live reads and premieres.
“[SeriesFest] asked, ‘Do you want to show an episode at Red Rocks?,’ so I said, ‘Fuck yeah.’ The whole time I was in Denver I never went to Red Rocks, and that really bothered me,” said Ruffin.
The festival’s main event, Ruffin will be taking over the amphitheater for a screening of her favorite episode of The Amber Ruffin Show, followed by a performance by alt-rock band Lake Street Dive.
“The audience can expect a lot of fun. No one loves me more than me, so at least one person will be laughing,” Ruffin joked. “It will be a really fun, really happy time. The night is closed out by Lake Street Dive, and that’s exactly what you want to do. You want to laugh, and then you want to be extremely loud. So it’s going to be a really great night.”
Amber Ruffin is a writer, comedian and host of Peacock’s “The Amber Ruffin Show.” Ruffin will be partnering with SeriesFest: Season 8 for a special screening of her talk show at Red Rocks Amphitheater on May 8. The event will be followed by a performance with Lake Street Dive. To learn more about SeriesFest or to purchase tickets to the screening, click here.