A Black Lady Success Show
Robin Thede’s A Black Lady Sketch Show trailblazes a path through conventional entertainment and delivers charm in the form of sketch comedy that ranges from silly to thought-provoking. Steeped in the culture, the show manages to showcase the diversity of black women in a way that is welcoming for all.
Picture this: you’re with a man who isn’t terrible, but just not for you. You want to break up with him, need to break up with him, but something very particular is holding you back.
You’ve waited too long and now the guy feels it, too; he’s about to pull the trigger and you find yourself begging him to stay.
No, not for any silly reason like being in love with the fool, but rather, what happens when the break up commences. You try to resist, but it happens anyway and it comes… she comes…
So many times
Said it was forever
Said our love would always be true…
You roll your eyes, but your newly minted ex’s go wide in wonder as he watches Patti Labelle apparate from thin air, singing the best broken heart song you’ve ever heard.
On my own… once again…
And the kicker is that this is the REAL Patti LaBelle, and she won’t let you live until you join in with her heart-wrenching yet soothing melodies.
Yes, this may have seemed like a delicious fever dream, but it was actually a sketch on the hilarious A Black Lady Sketch Show on HBO.
A Black Lady Sketch Show is the best show you may be missing. The groundbreaking comedy delivers timely entertainment in the form of sketches that challenge as well as titillate.
The show is undeniably, unequivocally “black”, but beyond that they paint black experiences in all of their diverse nuances and perspectives while managing to tie them together with a unifying string of community.
Created by Robin Thede (host of the sorely short-lived The Rundown with Robin Thede), A Black Lady Sketch Show is the first sketch comedy series written, produced and starring Black women. Thede is no stranger to firsts, as she served as the first Black woman to be head writer for a late-night talk show (The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore).
The show stars Thede along with Ashley Nicole Black (Full Frontal with Samantha Bee), Quinta Brunson (YouTube) and Gabrielle Dennis (Marvel’s Luke Cage). The four are surviving the aftermath of the apocalypse and reminiscing on their (many) past lives.
It excels in so many different arenas, but the one I’m most impressed with is how a show specifically served by black women, that champions black culture, is also one of the most diverse shows on TV.
As a black lady myself, it’s important that I see myself represented in media. Because of the lack of choices, for a long time the only responsible representation was overly positive, since one black woman represented ALL black women. We counteracted being cast as drugged-up single mothers and sexually promiscuous sidekicks with being overly successful doctors and lawyers. The valley in the middle consisted of sassy sidekicks or characters whose stories were so whitewashed that they could literally be cast by anyone.
I started seeing myself, but it wasn’t me.
I once had a friend who told me he wasn’t attracted to black women. I mentioned how ridiculous a statement that was because we’re so diverse even within the sphere of being black. It was especially interesting because he only knew a handful of black women (welcome to the Midwest, y’all!) and the rest of what he saw were really suspect representations on TV. It wasn’t until he moved and experienced more of the world that he was able to open up his horizons.
A Black Lady Sketch Show is a marvel because it’s entertaining, even while being specific to so many different facets of black culture. From the “Bad Bitch Support Group” (with an AMAZING turn by Angela Bassett – auntie de ma vie) to “Basic Ball” (which contains the titular and brilliant line “Your boss knows you have no eyebrows!”), the show delivers such culturally specific humor, but in a way that remains engaging and inviting.
And more importantly, it’s real in a relatable way, even if you don’t relate. At its core, “Basic Bitch Support Group” is a scathing indictment of the beauty standards foisted upon us not only by the patriarchy, but each other. It’s a deeply layered sketch that shows a surprising amount of humanity for such a short run-time.
There are so many different points of view that the show doesn’t seek to say “This is the way black women react to xyz”; it simply showcases several POVs and allows you to decide how much you can relate to. I grew up in the Midwest, and my experience as a black woman is completely different than someone who grew up an hour away from me.
I once had a boss tell me she was so happy I wasn’t like Omarosa from The Apprentice, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why she even made that connection. Then I realized that this was just a black woman she’d seen on TV, and she immediately compared me to her. It was unfair and ultimately made it so I had to be perfect and not show any vulnerability so I didn’t end up acting like Omarosa… aka the other black woman she’d been exposed to.
By showing different experiences, Thede and her team open up the community so all facets can be discussed and displayed – the good, the bad, and everything in between.
A sketch about wearing make-up holds just as much weight as being insecure about a possible upcoming catcaller. A show that juxtaposes a satire on the invisibility of black women (Invisible Spy) is aired on the same show that takes soul food restaurants to task and finishes out with a Twilight Zone inspired ending. It’s a roller coaster that takes off to social justice and descends into fun and every episode is a treat.
Where other shows struggle with their queer characters, A Black Lady Sketch Show excels. There are queer characters and story lines written seamlessly into the narrative. One sketch called “Dance Biter” is so slick that the main couple being a queer couple is beside the point without it being hidden. There is natural affection and you know they’re a couple, but you also know the joke isn’t their coupling. This allows you to settle into the story line and look for the twist elsewhere.
Another sketch featuring Amber Riley and her boyfriend choosing Ashley Nicole Black for a threesome never once jokes about the idea of fluid sexuality. It’s totally normal, and the joke is about the ridiculousness of sex itself, not the people having it.
The ability to balance calling black women out on some faults while praising them for others, gives the viewer the ability to really test their empathy. Even in the most extreme cases like the “Rome and Julissa” sketch (so good!) or anything involving (my current OTP) Chris and Lachel, the characters are so extreme and unrelatable, that you can’t help but to relate to them. Most of us have been love-crazy and made the stakes out to be much higher than they actually were. And sketches like these give you a big wink and a nice pat on the back, letting you know you weren’t the only ridiculous one.
The show is so empowering and representative, and each one of the ladies brings a charm that makes them a cohesive unit while still showcasing their diverse personalities. We’ve all had these friends, we’ve all been these friends, and we all support one another.
Issa Rae of Insecure fame produces the show along with Thede. As soon as The Rundown cancellation was announced, Rae contacted Thede asking what they were going to work on. With HBO’s full support, the team of black women created a show that lasts in a landscape where excellent material is cast-off. It appears A Black Lady Sketch Show is ready to carry the torch as far as it can. Thede’s creation has sparked a groundbreaking sensation that will hopefully lead the way for other female and POC creators.
The name of the show is not coincidental. Thede has said that the show is A Black Lady’s Sketch Show and not THE Black Lady’s Sketch Show because she hopes it will be one of many to come.
There’s room at the table as long as everyone works together to pass the salt.
A Black Lady Sketch Show has been renewed for a second season so go ahead and binge the first on HBO or HBOGo!
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