Amber Ruffin’s ‘Some Like It Hot’ bridges the generation gap
In 1959, the cheeky comedy did what few films of the day could do: defy Hollywood’s code of filmmaking, a restrictive set of censorship rules designed to keep any reference to homosexuality out, and more. taboo topics, off the big screen.
Some Like It Hot is about two cisgender, straight white men (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) who escape a mob boss by disguising themselves in clothes and clothes. join a female traveling group. Despite violating the so-called Hays Code, movie was hit at the box office and is considered a classic to this day.
As progressive and innovative as director Billy Wilder’s project is, it also highlights the limitations of pop culture of the era. It has an all-white cast (including Marilyn Monroe as the female lead) and only flirts with the idea of a weird romance without getting attached to it.
Comedy connoisseur Amber Ruffin, 44, struggles with the film for similar reasons. “No one made this movie with me in mind,” she told HuffPost during a video call.
Although she understands that many people are nostalgic for him, and some fondly remember their first viewing of the film, she does not share this feeling.
“That definitely wasn’t in rotation at the Ruffin house,” she said. “My parents didn’t say, ‘You should see this movie.’
But at her childhood home in Omaha, Nebraska, the time-honored tradition of parents assigning films to their children was not without its roots. because this or that movie is important or classic, or simply because mom and dad love it. “Daddy would love to make you see Ben Hur and the like,” Ruffin recalled with a gentle grin. You will watch it yourself.
Ruffin, the youngest of five children, was more fond of the films her older sisters watched, such as 1976’s The Car Wash, 1984’s Beat Street, and 1985’s The Last Dragon.
“These were staples in the house,” she said.
However, “Some Like It Hot” made such an impression on her that she returned to it later in life. And this decision will be a turning point in her career, which has already been catapulted by countless achievements.
These include joining prestigious improv troupes such as The Second City and Boom Chicago in Amsterdam, writing “two full-length musicals” and becoming the first black woman to write the late-night network talk show Late Night With Seth Meyers.
Ruffin also hosts her own talk show of the same name and co-wrote the 2021 New York Times bestseller You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories of Racism with sister Lacey Lamar.
“When I looked [‘Some Like It Hot’] again, as an adult, I thought, “There is some work to be done,” she said. “It’s difficult because the work that needs to be done is related to why everyone loves it. So it’s exactly what people celebrate in this film that needs to go.”
And when the offer came in to join the new Broadway musical production Some Like It Hot as a screenwriter alongside Matthew Lopez, it was a chance to create a 1959 iteration of storytelling that actually had people like her in mind. .
“I saw it more as an opportunity to connect with grandparents and grandchildren,” Ruffin said. “That was the most exciting thing for me about it. What if you could show Grandpa something he loves and you could love it too?”
This seems like an almost impossible feat these days, as the generation gap often seems galactic. Young viewers can be just as critical of past entertainment as older adults can be of contemporary entertainment. Often the disdain comes from both sides.
Sometimes there are good reasons for this, but sometimes it’s just an annoyance. Even Ruffin said, “Our grandparents love a mess, man.”
But the Broadway production of Some Like It Hot is a bright, rare exception that bridges the generational divide by retaining enough of the original story and intertwining the concepts and ideals that young people hold dear.
In the musical, Monroe’s sultry vocalist Sugar Kane is played by Adrianna Hicks, a phenomenal black performer. Natasha Yvette Williams brings to life Sugar’s employer, Sweet Sue (born white actress Joan Shawley). Meanwhile, J. Harrison Gheenon-binary black actor, takes on the role of Lemmon Jerry/Daphne, who is now fully flourishes as a queer musician.
It all manages to entertain, move and completely stun audiences without violating the essence of the 1959 story. And show received 13 Tony Award nominationsincluding one for Ruffin and Lopez for Best Musical Book.
Come to think of it, Ruffin wasn’t part of the show in its early stages. Four or five years ago, she started working on a completely different Broadway musical—an update of The Wiz due out this fall—when the people behind Some Like It Hot called.
She was familiar with the new production and even then had great faith in it, largely because of the talent involved: director/choreographer. Casey Nikolavcomposer Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman, as well as Lopez.
“I thought, ‘This is a hit,’” Ruffin recalled. “I knew it, and then I saw it. It was much better than I thought. They said, “We need help with this.” And I’m like, “Damn, this thing is the best.”
But really “Some like it hot” did need her. Back then, all the creatives were male, and none of them were black. “They looked around and most of the cast was Black,” Ruffin recalled. “They’re like, ‘Hmm…’
“So to their credit, they asked, ‘Are we doing the right thing here?'” she continued. “I came in and I like to think that I helped give a more authentic voice to a lot of the black women on the show. I also like to think that I helped make him a little dumber.”
The bar has already been set high thanks to the comedic genius of Curtis and Lemmon and Monroe’s timing. But the musical is the perfect combination of inclusivity and the same emotional beats from the movie, only stranger and blacker, with soulful big band musical numbers throughout. This is delight.
That’s because it still has the interior of the movie, but with something extra to appreciate. “It’s like telling a story focused on a laser,” Ruffin said, recalling the contributions made by Nikolav and her other partners.. “It’s an exceptional thought from a person who adores her, but in reality, the five of us beat her.”
Ruffin admitted that she didn’t even like Tony’s nods at first, because she continues to consider herself such a fan of the show.
“When we were nominated, I think I just forgot that I was a part of it too,” she said. “I thought, ‘Of course this show is going to get a fucking billion nominations.’ This is shit. But then I thought, “Oh my God, I’m part of this.”
And most importantly, she gets pleasure – one of her main goals in life. This is what has helped her jump from one job to another, often figuring things out along the way without much guidance or purpose. “I pursued what was the most fun.” Ruffin said. “I didn’t hatch a plan to become this or that. I just had the most fun.”
This meant moving to Los Angeles and learning how to write musicals after realizing it was “the right thing to do”, writing jokes for late night television and sitcoms like The Black Lady Sketch Show, and eventually, enter the world of Broadway.
And Ruffin loved every minute of it. But no matter how adaptive she was, mastering a new skill was not always pleasant. “You will never hear me complain, except for this tiny phrase: My God, just stay at one thing that I am already good at,” she laughed. “I hate studying.”
She hides it well, of course. “I’m a student and a whiner,” she explained.
Fair. But after spending most of her time writing books these days, she hardly has a minute to do anything else. She could be more than satisfied sitting in front of the TV and watching the Eurovision Song Contest for hours – “It’s funny because they are all performers, but almost none of them are singers” – or reciting lines from a 2004 romantic comedy. Spanish.
Although she hadn’t seen the movie in a long time, a few years ago it was practically playing in her Amsterdam apartment as it was the only DVD she had on hand. “I watched it all the time since it was my only option,” Ruffin said. “I loved it. But after that, I liked it.”
Spanish is filled with Latino stereotypes and is directed by a white male director (James L. Brooks). So, as enjoyable as the movie is, it’s also quite problematic. Sounds familiar?
“Uh-huh,” said Ruffin. “Our Spanish is our parents’ Some Like It Hot.” And with that, we’ve come full circle.