12 February 2020
How A Black Lady Sketch Show is changing the world, one joke at a time
Laugh-out-loud funny, not afraid to be controversial and unprecedented in sketch comedy TV history, A Black Lady Sketch Show is now streaming on Showmax. TV Guide calls it “unapologetically goofy”, but it’s also ambitious, setting its sights on nothing less than changing the world, one laugh at a time.
“Sharp, entertaining, and seriously overdue.”Pop Buzz
The six-episode HBO series is created by, written by, directed by and stars a stellar array of the most talented black women in American comedy. Creator Robin Thede (host of BET’s The Rundown with Robin Thede and head-writer for The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore) executive produces, writes and stars, with Issa Rae (Emmy and Golden Globe nominee for HBO’s Insecure) producing and guest starring.
Each episode consists of four to six sketches framed within an ongoing end-of-the-world storyline that showcases the comedic talents of Thede and her core cast: Emmy winner Ashley Nicole Black (Full Frontal with Samantha Bee), Gabrielle Dennis (Insecure, S.W.A.T.) and Quinta Brunson (Quinta vs. Everything).
The all-star guest line-up includes Oscar nominee Angela Bassett, Golden Globe nominees Maria Gibbs and Jackée Harry, Emmy winners Lena Waithe and Loretta Devine, Emmy nominees Laverne Cox and Amber Riley, Imagen Award winner Gina Torres, Nailed It! star Nicole Byer, Grammy winner Kelly Rowland and even Grammy hall-of-famer Patti LaBelle.
Hollywood Reporter hailed the show as “energetic, funny and wonderfully distinctive,” saying, “On both sides of the camera, A Black Lady Sketch Show is a revolution.” Los Angeles Times called it “exceptionally well-realized” and “winningly played.” And Pop Buzz wrote, “A Black Lady Sketch Show is sharp, entertaining, and seriously overdue.”
The series made #18 on Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the best TV shows of 2019, with a 100% critics rating. It featured in Best of 2019 lists from AV Club to Los Angeles Times, Salon to Vulture.
The end of the world as we know it
From concept to the screen, American comedy has traditionally been overwhelmingly dominated by white comedians, usually male. Not only does A Black Lady Sketch Show blow that sky-high, it also has the advantage that, because it’s all black and almost all female, it’s an excellent antidote to what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called “the danger of a single story”.
With over 100 characters across the first season, there’s lots of room to play with comedic stereotypes, play against them, send them up and come up with totally original characters we’ve never seen on screen before, but who we can take one look at and go, “Yeah, she’s real. I know her.”
The diversity starts with the writers’ room, Thede explained in an interview with Essence. “The six writers I chose, plus Lauren Ashley Smith and myself, are really different. We have older writers, younger writers, LGBTQ, all sorts of different people in the room. Some from the Midwest, some from the coast, we just have different experiences in the room. When you get pitches from all of those different brains, inevitably you will get a range of experiences, socioeconomic statuses.”
Plus, as Ashley Nicole Black said at Essence Fest, “Being in a writer’s room with all black women means you don’t have to explain your entire cultural experience. Not having to explain yourself makes you so much funnier.”
In front of the camera, Quinta Brunson makes the most of getting to play multiple characters across multiple sketches – as opposed to being the one and only black female in a comedy show line-up. “I got to be another layer of black womanhood,” she told Essence. “My comedy grew because I didn’t have to represent all black women.”
It’s all paying off. Both audiences and critics are loving the show. “The only criticism I have,” said Eric Deggans on NPR, “is that it took so long for us to get here.”
In the grand scheme of effecting major social change, it’s early days yet for Thede and her crew, but the show’s growing fandom online and HBO’s renewal for a second season are cause for celebration. Thede hopes it’s a sign of things to come. “We almost named it The Black Lady Sketch Show”, because that’s what it is,” she said at Essence Fest. “But then we settled on A Black Lady Sketch Show,” Thede said, emphasising the ‘A’. “We want to be one of many. This opens the door for many more to come.”