Nearly two years ago, A Black Lady Sketch Show premiered on HBO as the first and only sketch comedy show to center the Black woman’s perspective in TV history. It was the very essence of the show being created, written, produced, directed and starring Black women that made it a revolutionary staple in pop culture. Though the show is naturally hilarious in its various skits and outrageous characters, viewers found joy in the fact that the show also created a way to use comedy to shed light on Black issues.
ABLSS, now returning for its second season, has doubled down on its focus to put Black women front and center with the help of some new castmates. The show’s core cast is comprised of veteran actresses Robin Thede, Ashley Nicole Black and Gabrielle Dennis, as well as newcomers Laci Mosley and Skye Townsend. This group of ladies all act as a sisterhood, encouraging each other to push the envelope for our community any way they can through their skits and improv.
After filming the show’s sophomore season amid the pandemic, series creator Thede spoke to us about how ABLSS continues to humanize Black women by showing us in all of our different facets and shades, and how the series is breaking barriers for more of its kind to exist in the TV landscape.
“I think our existence is the revolutionary part of this show and diversity amongst Black women,” she shares. “I think too often when we use the word ‘diverse’ we use it to say people are Black and white in a project, but to me, that’s not diversity – that’s just not homogenous. Diversity is where people get to show up as their full human, three-dimensional selves and be accepted for who they are. So watching what’s happening in Hollywood is not true diversity in that definition.”
She made it clear that the show doesn’t follow any particular theme other than continuing to spotlight Black women in every which way that we come. By her definition of diversity, ABLSS does more than just displaying the range of Black women’s shades and hues, it also highlights our quirks and personalities in a way that doesn’t make us out to be caricatures, unlike other shows in comedy history. “People say, ‘well how can A Black Lady Sketch Show be diverse?’ Well, it’s diverse because we have all different types of Black women. There’s not one [single] type of Black woman on the show, in fact, there’s hundreds. So for us, it’s about showcasing the range of types of people we can be and the limitlessness of our abilities, not only as performers but as characters as well. We can truly do it all and that is one of the really fun things that I enjoy about the show.”
For Thede, the show is not about sending any one particular message to viewers. ABLSS is rebellious by nature because it does what many forms of media have failed to do for Black women – given us a platform to be our true authentic selves. “At the end of the day, I’m making a sketch comedy show, I’m not saving the world,” she says. “The work I do is to celebrate Black women. It’s an act of love and it’s such a simple thing to do. Black women raised me, and I am a Black woman, so it’s like how do I pay back that love that I got?”
After a grueling year of global health issues and a nationwide racial reckoning, it was important that ABLSS be a beacon of light for people during such a dark time. According to Thede, this season is both a reward and love letter to those who have waited for the show to return for the past year and a half. “This season, more than anything, we really wanted to radiate joy because it’s been such a hard year,” Thede says. “And it’s taken us so long with the COVID-19 shutdowns to get this season out, but we knew people were waiting for it and that’s such a beautiful thing to have people wait for us. I’m so happy that people missed it so much and resonate with the show so much, especially Black women because we make it for us.”
Since ABLSS first debuted on HBO, it’s done more than offer lighthearted laughs for its audience. It’s also become a historical moment in history to represent how far we’ve come, but also how much progress have yet to make. According to Thede, “there are no shows like ours – an all Black-lady sketch show in the history of American television, period. The weight of that really can’t be underestimated, it’s a huge thing what we’re doing.”
ABLSS acts as a free-thinking outlet for Black women, but also a reminder of how white male-washed the sketch-comedy landscape has been over the past few decades. Even with shows like Saturday Night Live, Black women’s narratives are lacking and it shows how uninclusive the space has been for us. Though ABLSS is the first of its kind, Thede’s hope is that it certainly won’t be the last. “That’s the reason it’s called A Black Lady Sketch Show, not The Black Lady Sketch Show. I don’t want it to be the only way,” she says. “Yes we’re the first but that doesn’t mean that we’re supposed to be the only. I would love if other networks replicate a version of this. Something different obviously, but something where Black women get to play in a space where they don’t have to be centering whiteness or maleness or any of that.”
“They can just be who they are in an environment that pretty much allows them to play freely and that’s why I created ABLSS,” she adds. “It’s the place where we can showcase our comedy authentically. We’re not being funny in service of a man or white comedians, we’re being funny in service of others. Anything that encompasses Black and women in this country has a place on our show.”
One thing that’s clear from watching ABLSS’ hundreds of characters, Black women of all shades, shapes, sizes and backgrounds all have an opportunity to see their experiences on full display for the world to witness. By depicting a variety of stories and tales on the show, ABLSS does everything in its TV power to humanize Black women’s perspectives without shying away from the truth. “I don’t believe in diversifying an all-white show by adding one Black [character],” Thede says. “I just hate that trope and I hate what it’s doing for us because it’s always defining Black people by their relationship to white people and that’s not how you humanize us. You humanize Black people by showing them in their regular everyday environments. With our show, we want to pull in everyone – everyone who would normally be stereotyped or overlooked or underserved. I hope that that happens and people see the vast variety of what we do on this show, and start to expand their horizons about what we can be.”
With its second season now underway, Thede is optimistic that ABLSS will continue to open doors not just in sketch comedy, but in Hollywood all around so that our joyful stories will always have a place to be seen and heard. “We hope that that happens beyond our show, but I can tell you firsthand that takes a lot of work. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I’m hopeful that our show will continue to be a beacon of light for that progress.”
A Black Lady Sketch Show airs every Friday at 11 p.m. on HBO and HBO Max.