Robin Thede is Determined to Hold Black Women Front and Center

ShelCopeland
·4 mins read
Photo credit: Bravo - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bravo - Getty Images

From Oprah Magazine

  • A Black Lady Sketch Show, a sketch comedy show that debuted in August 2018 on HBO, stars Robin Thede, Ashley Nicole Black, Gabrielle Dennis and Quinta Brunso.

  • Its creator Robin Thede shared her experience about its foundation during a virtual conversation with Hearst Black Culture on August 24.

  • The show produces quick, hilarious storylines with celebrity guests like Angela Bassett.

It's likely that thanks to shows like Saturday Night Live and In Living Color, you're familiar with the concept of sketch comedy series. But before Robin Thede brought Black women front and center of the genre, you’d likely never seen it done quite like this before. The 41-year-old comedian is breaking barriers—and leaving viewers in stitches along the way.

During a virtual "sip and chat" with Hearst Black Culture, an affinity group with Oprah Magazine’s parent company, in August, Thede shared that she originally pitched A Black Lady Sketch Show with another network that didn't accept the show. But that "no" worked out for the better when she got a call from actress, writer, and producer Issa Rae.

Photo credit: Jeff Kravitz - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jeff Kravitz - Getty Images

“[She] called me and said ‘What are we going to do together? You're free. You're never free. What are we going to do together?” Thede said of Rae—who would eventually become her co-executive producer. Rae then suggested that Thede pitch the show to HBO, the network that airs her series Insecure. “So, I went in there and they bought it in the room and sent it straight to series.”

The rest was history—and we mean that literally, as the now three-time Emmy nominated A Black Lady Sketch Show made history as the first all-Black woman cast and writer’s room. In fact, her resume bears a lot of firsts: in 2015, she became the first Black woman to be a head writer on late night talk show, for her position at The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, and the following year she was the first Black woman to be a head writer for the White House Correspondent's Dinner, according to her biography on HBO.

The series premiered in August 2018 with Thede as part of the central cast along with Gabrielle Dennis, Quinta Brunson, and Ashley Nicole Black. In its first season, the show even had iconic special guests like Angela Bassett, Patti LaBelle, Laverne Cox, Nicole Byer, and Yvonne Orji. Its success can not only be attributed to the diverse, real, and charismatic storylines, but because it is also, simply, funny. Skits such as a “Bad B*tch Support Group” and “A Black Lady Courtroom” immediately went viral online, representing Black experiences with Black characters and writing.

Although Thede is acclaimed for breaking barriers as being the "first" in the industry so often, she says that she shouldn’t have to be—and described it as “bittersweet.” “It shouldn’t be like that, you know, it shouldn’t be still this club where we’re shut out of things.” Now, in her personal commitment to make even more room for Black people, and she makes it a point when shows or productions ask her for recommendations to hire, she sends a Black person, and challenges them: “You should hire two, at minimum.” And they typically do.

“With A Black Lady Sketch Show, we wanted to show that Black women can do so many different things and that we’re not all the same and we’re not all from the same family,” she explained.” “We all come from such different backgrounds and we’re all put under the same stereotypes so much at a time. And I think only when we’re in charge of our voices are we able to really show the breadth of what Black women can be, and we’ve only just begun on this show.”

And the show, already renewed for sophomore season, is stalled in production due to covid-19, so fans will have to wait a little while longer before getting any new material. “Some of this stuff will have to change because we can’t have, you know, 100 extras in a sketch or kids and dogs and that kind of stuff,” she went on to explain. “But none of the content will suffer and none of the acting will suffer, hopefully. So, hopefully, I still how up and do what I need to do. I know my cast is going to bring it.”

And it looks like from Thede, more funny stuff is on the way. In August, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Thede inked an overall deal with Warner Bros. TV, and her latest project where she acts in a horror satire, Bad Hair, premieres on Hulu on October 23.

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