Franchesca Ramsey is making the world a better place, one internet video at a time. Now, the comedian and writer is taking her talents back to the television screen and simultaneously making history. Franchesca Ramsey is set to host a late-night Comedy Central pilot, making her the first black woman to host a pilot on the network. With her not-yet-titled project, Ramsey plans to create a platform for diverse comedians that addresses the terrifying political reality of today.
It’s a natural progression, considering Ramsey has already shined as contributor on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, and continues to deliver perfectly succinct educational videos about various social injustices — all while being hilarious — as the host of MTV News’ weekly web series, Decoded.
We spoke with Ramsey about her new pilot, the impact of Decoded, and how to deal with those trolls.
HelloGiggles: You are the first black woman to host a television show on Comedy Central, and you’ll be doing it during a very white male-dominated time slot. What does that visibility mean to you?
Franchesca Ramsey: I think representation is really important for people across all marginalized identities. For me, just being myself, oftentimes, I’ve found it’s inspiring people just to be a woman of color, to be a woman with darker skin, to be a woman with natural hair in media. I’m just really excited to have the opportunity to reach more people on a bigger platform.
HG: Decoded also won a 2017 Webby Award for Public Service & Activism in film and video. Is there an episode of Decoded that you are especially proud of, or that has gotten the most positive responses from viewers?
FR: We’ve done so many episodes now — over 60-something episodes — but [recently] we did an episode talking about immigration and the difficulties of legal immigration. And I think it’s got over a million views now. It’s just really great — I love being able to shed light on different issues that people maybe have one perception of, and they need to see a different perspective. That’s something I think Decoded does really well. But as for a specific episode, I feel like we’ve just tried so many different things, I can’t say that I like one more over another.
HG: Can you talk about why you find comedy to be an important form of activism?
FR: What’s really cool is that there’s a phrase, “There’s truth in every jest.” And I think that can be a positive thing in terms of illuminating conversations — but it can also tell you a lot about how people really feel about things. For me, I feel like comedy is a really great way to make people comfortable when it comes to topics that are uncomfortable. I think that if you can talk about something serious with levity, you can have a greater impact on people…They’re more receptive to the information, versus if you were just talking to them in a more traditional way that didn’t have humor interspersed throughout.
HG: You have already worked in television with Larry Wilmore, and, obviously, a lot of your work lives on the internet. As a comedian and writer, what do you see as the different strengths of creating for television versus creating for the digital space?
FR: I think the biggest difference is creative control. For me, a big part of why I got into the digital space is because I was looking for opportunities and I couldn’t find them — and so I just wanted tot make my own stuff. And that definitely happens in TV, but it just takes a little bit more time. I think that the internet right now — as we’re seeing — is a great stepping stone for whatever kind of career you want to have. Whether that’s in media or in comedy, or if you are a musician or in fashion — we’re just seeing so many people using the internet to create stuff that they want, to then get opportunities on larger platforms on a larger scale.
HG: Being a public figure online means you are confronted with trolls and sexist/racist commenters on a regular basis. Are there any specific things you do to maintain your sanity when you deal with this kind of behavior?
FR: Yeah. You know, I think that for everyone — not just when it comes to dealing with negativity online or in real life — I think that self care is really important. That’s something that I really try to implement into my routine in good times, so I’m better able to handle it in difficult times. So I love going to the gym, I love to take my dogs to the park, I try to limit my online time in the evenings. And taking a step back when things do get really negative in online spaces is really important, but I think that making sure that’s part of your creative process on a regular basis definitely makes it easier in those challenging times.
HG: When you were beginning your career, did trolls ever make you hesitant about being outspoken?
FR: I don’t think it ever made me hesitant about being outspoken, but I definitely think that when I was first starting out, it hurt me a lot more than it does now. Now I have a better understanding of what to expect — but I also have a better understanding of where it comes from. I think the type of people who use the internet to say nasty things about strangers — it’s because they’re not happy in their offline lives. And understanding that now makes it a lot easier for me to deal with — because it’s really a reflection of them, not of me. But when I was first starting out, it was really hard.
HG: You mentioned that creating online meant you had more creative control. How are you transferring that creative control to your pilot?
FR: I think in many ways, what’s really great is being able to collaborate with lots of different people, and I’m excited about that. I still realize I have a lot to learn. I love the digital space, but I’m excited about doing something new. So I’m open to working with people who are gonna help me make the best content possible.
HG: Do you have any advice for young women who are trying to build a creative career on their own, as you have?
FR: I think the best thing to do is to really just research — look at what other people in your field are doing, and kind of assess what they’re doing right and what they’ve done wrong. And you can learn from those mistakes. I think, especially when it comes to women, often it becomes very competitive — unnecessarily so. When in reality, there’s a lot we can learn from each other. So, if you have a passion for a certain field, really survey who is in that field and what they’re doing. And if you can work with them, awesome. But if there’s something that they’re doing that you can learn from, I think that’s just as valuable.
HG: Other than this history-making pilot, of course, what are some future projects you are looking forward to?
FR: I’ve got a book this year which I’m really excited about! I just closed that. It’s a lot this year, but I’m really excited. I think I’m in a great place in my career and I have a lot that I want to say. The more places and ways I can dive into it, the better.