The comedians unpack their psychological demons and dating records in a hard-hitting fucking interview for Document’s Fall/Winter 2020 issue
“Can you tell me who Marcus Garvey is?” comedian Ziwe Fumudoh asks social media personality and orchid enthusiast Caroline Calloway during an installment of Fumudoh’s wildly popular Instagram Live show, Baited with Ziwe. It’s a question Fumudoh asks a lot of her “iconic” guests, who have included politically vociferous celebrities like Alyssa Milano, other comedians, a former Bachelor contestant, and a certain New York Times food columnist recently fallen from grace. In a later episode, after ensuring Fumudoh and her audience were aware she knew that civil rights pioneer Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on a bus a whole nine months before Rosa Parks did, Rose McGowan admitted she needed to learn more about the Black nationalist leader.
“Never heard of him,” Calloway responds.
“Never heard of him? Interesting. What about Huey P. Newton?” Fumudoh leans into her phone’s front camera. She is wearing black latex dominatrix gloves and her signature white eyeliner for the occasion.
“Is he a poet of the Harlem Renaissance? Because otherwise, I don’t know him.”
Baited, originally a YouTube series that was revived on Instagram in the blur of the pandemic, has earned Fumudoh a book deal and a Showtime variety show. Expertly indulging celebrities’ eagerness to prove they are not only “learning and doing better”—as many an Instagram apology has claimed—but are, in fact, Layla Saad-reading, bail fund-donating allies, ready to make themselves the butt of the joke in the name of anti-racism—Fumudoh has served her loyal audiences some of 2020’s most searing cringe.
One guest whose Baited appearance didn’t send waves of secondhand embarrassment through the internet was Fumudoh’s friend and fellow comic Patti Harrison. Infamous for her deadpan delivery of filthy jokes, Harrison writes for the delightfully disgusting cartoon exploration of puberty, Big Mouth, and plays the hot, mean secretary on the Hulu series Shrill. After Harrison admitted she had spent Juneteenth in bed and that she owns but has not yet read Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Fumudoh asked Harrison to improvise a song about race a cappella: “Race is complex and race is here / We have to pay attention to that,” Harrison began to sing as Fumudoh danced. “It is in our conversation more than ever / Which is good…”
Watching the two women, it is clear they represent a comedy vanguard that is far more savvy, self-aware, and, well, funny than its straight, white, male, and often predatory, predecessor. Fumudoh and Harrison reconnected a few weeks following Harrison’s unflinching impromptu aria to probe more difficult topics of today’s discourse: the existence of God, the five love languages, and the art of seduction in the age of pandemic.
Patti Harrison: I have some really hard-hitting fucking questions, Ziwe, that I spent a long time putting together.
Ziwe Fumudoh: Okay, cool, because I prepared nothing. But I’m a seasoned journalist, so I am always prepared.
Patti: I don’t want you to feel scared, but I just want to give you a taste of one of the questions that I prepared for you. You don’t have to answer this question right now, but you may absolutely have to answer it later on the call. I’m really sorry to ask you these gotcha questions but: What music did you like as a kid [laughs], and what was your first concert?
Ziwe: Oh, my gosh, personal. This is, like, very intense. This is completely off the record: My favorite music as a kid was Britney Spears. I loved ‘Oops!…I Did It Again.’ I would hold up my Fisher-Price tape recorder to the TV when she performed on All That, and I would be like, ‘Everyone, shut up!’ I would put the speaker on the mic and record it. Then I would listen to it with the ads in the background over and over until I wore out the tape.
Patti: When you were yelling to the room for everyone to shut up, who was ‘everyone’?
“I have to work out how much of my love language is based on healthy parts of my personality and what’s based on my neuroses.” —Patti Harrison
Ziwe: My siblings. I would be like, ‘Quiet down, Britney is performing! Argh!’ But my parents were very religious. I was raised Christian, so my first concert was actually Kirk Franklin, famously a preacher-slash-DJ-slash-composer who had an addiction to porn and masturbation but made amazing hits like ‘Stomp’ and ‘Revolution.’
Patti: How did you find out he was addicted to masturbating and porn, did you know him personally?
Ziwe: Well, he talks about it in public. He’s like, ‘I was addicted to masturbating, but God healed me.’ So that’s something that I learned about as a child, that people could be addicted to porn. It was eye-opening, but I was glad to learn his perspective. What about you?
Patti: I felt very ‘alt’ as a child because there was an age gap, so when I was, like, four, my sisters were in their teens—except for one who’s closer in age to me—so I loved Björk. I loved Eurythmics and Sheryl Crow; I thought she was the prettiest woman in the world.
Ziwe: What was your first concert?
Patti: My older sister Charlene, who’s, like, two and a half years—so this is the thing I should know by now, I’ve lived with her for literally my entire life. I always get that detail mixed up, I’m like, ‘She’s two and a half years older than me; she’s three grades older than me…’ I think.
Ziwe: It sounds like you’re making up a sister, you keep reiterating these details as if these sisters don’t exist. And I don’t think we’ve ever seen photos of these sisters either.
Patti: No her name is Macy. Or Charlene. Or Dana. I can’t really show you a photo because they don’t like their photos shared, but I can definitely draw a doodle on a napkin and send that photo to you.
My sister was super into the Spice Girls, so I got super into the Spice Girls. The Spice Girls was my first concert, and I was obsessed with it. What about you?
Ziwe: My first concert was Kirk Franklin! I told you!
Patti: Oh, sorry, I’m so high out of my mind on Zyrtec.
Ziwe: Patti, wake up!
Patti: Wait, so you said he did ‘Stomp’?
Ziwe: Yeah, and it goes like this: [yells] ‘STOMP!’ I’m dead serious, and you’re gonna Google it after this conversation and go ‘Yeah, that’s how the song goes.’ He had a song called ‘Revolution’ and it would go: [yells] ‘DO YOU WANT A REVOLUTION, WOO WOO.’
Patti: See, that track is for me, like, it’s a high-energy song. Are you in any way still religious?
Ziwe: I believe in God for sure, but I haven’t gone to church in a minute because I haven’t left my house because of corona. What about you?
Patti: Growing up, my mom kind of changed her religion and political ideology based on whoever she was dating. So she had some turns. At one point we were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and then just kinda nondenominational Christian. But for most of my childhood, I was very God-fearing; I definitely had that instilled in my brain. Even now, I would identify as agnostic. I think it’s trauma more than anything else; I have it ingrained in my brain that someone’s watching. Every now and again, if I’m doing something morally corrupt, I get this tingly spidey sense that, you know, I’m like, ‘If there is a God…’
Ziwe: I have the ‘uh-oh’s.’ I feel guilty if I think about sex too much. I get excited in certain parts of my body, and I’ll be like, ‘Uh-oh!’
Patti: The Christian uh-oh’s, it’s medically diagnosable. Are you going to go home for the holidays?
Ziwe: I’ll go home for one of the holidays. I haven’t lived home consistently since I was, like, 13 years old. I went to boarding school, then I went to college. Then after college, you move to respective cities. So it’s really anxiety-inducing to have rules and someone tell you what to do and to not have privacy.
Patti: I knew vaguely that you went to boarding school, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard you really talk about it. You said that the idea of going home makes you anxious because of the structure and the rules, but is boarding school strict?
Ziwe: It is strict, but there isn’t a woman named Gertrude who has a ruler who hits you. It’s not like that. But [when I’m home], it’s more about the cultural restrictions. My mother is very Christian. If she’s like, ‘Are you coming to church?’ I start to feel guilt, stuff like that.
“I don’t have the emotional capacity right now to actually be flirty and alluring in the way that I would normally be in the first stages of trying to woo someone. Like, buddy, go get your fucking test, and then you come over and then you rail me, and then we can sit in silence for, like, 14 minutes.”—Patti Harrison
Patti: This is a dark pivot, and you don’t have to answer this because it’s potentially re-traumatizing, but have you ever been cheated on? I was just curious to get that on the record.
Ziwe: On the record, I have been cheated on, which is, like: Who could ever cheat on me? I’m—what’s the word? ‘Perfect!’ [Laughs]
Patti: You say that as a joke, but no one deserves that.
Ziwe: Yes, that’s true. No one deserves being cheated on, except for me because I was a bad girl. [Laughs] This was in high school, so everybody’s emotionally immature. I moved on from that experience, although I do wish him horrible.
Patti: I wish him horrible, too.
Ziwe: Have you been cheated on?
Patti: Not that I know of. I’ve only had two official boyfriends in my life. The other people that I’ve seen romantically, even if it was for a prolonged period, never became official in a way that it was understood we were monogamous to each other.
Ziwe: Do you like being single, or do you prefer being in a relationship?
Patti: I think I have a lot of complexes. I didn’t have my first boyfriend until I was 26, and I didn’t come out as trans until I was, like, 23? I never had a partner when I was presenting male. I was single the entirety of my youth, so there’s a part of me that’s, like, I’m over it? My ex-boyfriend, we broke up like last August. So it’s been a full year, and I’ve seen people since then, but no one who’s been my partner, and I’ve been single all of quarantine. It’s really depressing—
Ziwe: It’s lonely!
Patti: It’s very lonely, but it’s a ‘grass is greener’ situation. Couples I know are under a lot of stress because they’re in such a confined space with this other person. In a lot of cases, it’s putting a strain on people’s relationships. But if it works out, it’s great, because then you have the support system. What about you?
Ziwe: Do I like being single? My career’s better when I’m single. That’s something I know to be true. When I’m single, I have bursts of experience, and I have time to work on my stuff. With that being said, am I lonely? Yes. I’m just kind of going with the flow. You can’t really force anything, because I have tried to force things before and they’ve worked out horribly. So I’m just letting the universe control my life.
Patti: I don’t have the emotional capacity right now to actually be flirty and alluring in the way that I would normally be in the first stages of trying to woo someone. Like, buddy, go get your fucking test, and then you come over and then you rail me, and then we can sit in silence for, like, 14 minutes.
Trying to date right now, I feel safest preemptively asking for this, like, ‘COVID monogamy.’ Because it’s like, ‘Hey, just so you know, I’m not emotionally equipped right now to take on a full romantic partnership relationship, but I am very lonely, and I want one person who I trust very deeply, who I know cares about me, who I know is being safe, who would never lie to me, and thinks I’m the hottest person in the world, and has never thought anyone before me was hot, and will never think anyone after me is hot. But it doesn’t have to be monogamous—but we need to be monogamous, you know, during the pandemic—and after.’
Ziwe: Exactly, and then it could be a year or four or nine, or forever. [Laughs]
Patti: But they have to be okay with the fact that I get to fuck whoever I want, and then also marry whoever else I want and, you know, be able to ghost them at any given moment. They have to be okay with that. But they also have to just buy me a lot of, like, Pandora bracelets.
Ziwe: What’s your love language? Are you quality time? Are you gifts?
Patti: Pandora bracelets and getting Pandora charms, basically. [Laughs] No, I would say it’s quality time. And I’m very physically affectionate, and….words of affirmation? Is that it? I think that has to do with me being an insecure person, too. I have to work out how much of my love language is based on healthy parts of my personality and what’s based on my neuroses. What’s yours?
Ziwe: For me, I love compliments, but that’s not necessarily my love language. I think it’s quality time. Like I have to see you. If I don’t see you, then we’re not together. You mentioned earlier, ‘I can’t be my fun, flirty self.’ What is ‘fun, flirty Patti’? What are your moves?
Patti: I sit with my back straight, my arms behind the chair, and my legs spread, and I’m wearing, like, a fedora cocked to the side over one eye, a white button-up with a little vest over it, and then little glittery black short-shorts and fishnets, and black patent leather pumps.
Ziwe: And then do you stomp your foot and go ‘HOO-HOO-HOO—hey, bub!’ [Laughs]
Patti: Yeah, I go, ‘HOOO, HOOO.’ I do deep, tantric breathing, then I say, ‘Hey, bub.’ ‘Bub’ is like my mating call.
Ziwe: I’m bad at flirting, and I don’t know when people are flirting with me, and this is one of my greatest flaws.
Patti: Okay, how would you flirt, in a hypothetical situation?
Ziwe: I’d be like, um [baby voice], ‘Do you like my belly button? ’Cause you can kiss it!’
Patti: [Laughs] Okay. So, again, that’s inviting them to compliment—your belly button. That’s pretty—that’s interesting. I haven’t tried that. I always just ask them if they like my fedora and my patent leather pumps.
What I meant earlier, if we weren’t in the pandemic, I think I would be more like, ‘Hey, let’s go do something fun and cute.’ Just be more invested in making it a nice experience for the other person. Now I’m just like, ‘Hey, I’m absolutely so depressed, and I’ve masturbated, like, seven times today, and my genitals are so raw, so let’s just, like, lay face down, and I’m going to fart into the air, then you tell me if it’s so bad you want to kill yourself or not. And then if it’s not, then I won’t go to the doctor to get it checked out.’
Ziwe: When I was a kid, I used to be on Xanga all the time. But what the hell was I doing? I should have been making algorithms to connect young singles. That would’ve been a better use of my childhood.
Patti: I mean, you just didn’t know. You can’t blame yourself.
“When you first move to New York, you’re like, ‘Wow, the movies!’ Then by your third year in New York, you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t get to my favorite bagel shop because High Maintenance is shooting.’” —Ziwe Fumudoh
Ziwe: I blamed myself for not creating Facebook.
Patti: I mean, I just watched The Social Network for the first time a couple weeks ago.
Ziwe: There was a lot of fanfare around it when it dropped. I watched it this year for the first time. I had mixed feelings about it, but I came away liking it, just aesthetically. I liked the old money of it all. The Harvard of it all.
Patti: Why is that part of it alluring to you?
Ziwe: I’m just so fascinated with it as someone who went to boarding school. I’m interested in the way it’s exhibited in pop culture. Part of The Social Network was filmed while I was in boarding school. The dorm that I lived in is in the movie, and they put on fake snow on the quad.
Patti: Wow, that’s crazy. I thought it was so amazing when I arrived in New York. The first time I saw someone filming something, I was like, ‘Wow, it really has all lined up for me.’ And I’m sure it was probably, like, a Tic Tac commercial or something. I was truly creaming in my little gaucho pants.
Ziwe: When you first move to New York, you’re like, ‘Wow, the movies!’ Then by your third year in New York, you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t get to my favorite bagel shop because High Maintenance is shooting.’
Patti: Fucking High Maintenance is always shooting at a bagel shop.
Patti: We’ve got to take them down. Put it in print that I said High Maintenance has got to go for what they have done to the wait times at each bagel shop in Greenpoint.
I went to Ohio University, and I guess the lore about Ohio University is that the same people who designed Harvard also did our school or some shit. So people were like, ‘Oh, actually it looks really close to Harvard.’ It’s a pretty school, but it’s in the rural hills of Athens County, Ohio. I went to a super rural high school. Literally, there were, like, cornfields on two sides. It was very isolated, and it felt really, like, out there and in the middle of nowhere.
Ziwe: In a good way or a bad way?
Patti: I think, now, in a good way. At the time, I felt really isolated, and it didn’t feel like there were any opportunities for me. Also it’s a really insane place to be in the closet.
Ziwe: Then you lived in Brooklyn. What do you prefer? Like where do you feel most at home, as an artist?
Patti: As an artist? Okay, Ziwe, it sounds like your espresso hit right before you asked this crazy, wacky question.
Ziwe: We’re 53 minutes in! I’m trying to give them a proper conclusion. They’re going to have a hard time trying to figure out how to forge this interview to make it have a point.
Patti: Good! Because that means our conversation is organic in the way that vines grow and they tendril and they bifurcate and they split. Whoever reads this interview will see many different paths of understanding or lack thereof to latch onto. A lot of different people are going to relate to this interview. A lot of people are going to be so devastated and hurt and probably receive some small grade of trauma from reading this interview. Also, Ziwe referred to me as her close friend—that’s not true, we are partners. Put it in writing, we are sexual romantic partners, and we are engaged. And we’re going to Bali!
Ziwe: I would love to go to Bali! We were going to go, but that fell through. Could you believe what happened to 2020? A year stolen!
Patti: Imagine if we went right, like, at the top [of the COVID crisis], and we got stuck there, and then we were just having to shelter in place in Bali for five months.
Ziwe: Would that be so bad?
Patti: That would be amazing.