Robin Thede is working hard to get her name in the history books. Emmy-nominated and with a 15-year career behind her already, the actress, writer and comedian has worked on some of America’s most-watched TV series in The Queen Latifah Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live! Not to mention comic Mike Epps’ short-lived Funny Bidness and Kevin Hart’s mockumentary Real Husbands Of Hollywood. Though despite her impressive resumé and classy wit that transcends cultures, Thede has in the past operated behind the scenes, or at least to one side of the star.
That is until now, of course. As creator, writer, star and producer of A Black Lady Sketch Show, Thede is finally front and centre in a comedy masterclass with Black women at the helm. Season two is currently following the show’s raucous first outing (which earned three Emmy nods), so we caught up with Thede to get her take on fame, social distancing, Beyoncé’s kids – and winning a bucket load of awards.
On A Black Lady Sketch Show
“It’s always been a dream of mine [to have my own sketch show]. Sketch comedy, for me, is the ultimate freedom. You get to play all these different characters, but only have to live in them for a day at a time. I don’t know if I could play the male characters for a whole season on television though, because the beards are too itchy. My favourite new character is called Messica. She’s really fun for me because, as somebody who grew up like a social outcast, I can relate. I get to exercise some childhood demons.”
On Beyoncé’s kids
“We have a lot of celebrities on the show. They come and play for a day and do these silly characters. [I really want to work with] Beyoncé – I say it every season. Well, really Blue Ivy, because she’s the funny one. No shade to Beyoncé, who I love, but Blue Ivy is so funny. Unfortunately, we couldn’t have any kids on this season because of COVID. I would ask her if, you know, there’s a next season. Hopefully, we get one.”
On the Emmy Awards
“I love the Emmys. [The fact that] A Black Lady Sketch Show got three Emmys nominations in our first season for six episodes that aired a year ago is insane to me. I am so honoured that we were recognised in that way. And, you know, this year we’re airing right before the Emmy voting starts [in June]. So I think that’ll be better for voters to [remember us]. I believe that this season – although season one was fantastic – is even better. I’m hoping that we continue to get that love [from the Emmys].”
On social distancing
“I think it’s absolutely necessary. Things are starting to open up and people are getting vaccinated, so hopefully it’s gonna get better. But last year, we desperately needed to do it. We were five days from shooting when we got shut down on March 13. We had all of our guest stars booked, all of our cast and then we got shut down. So we spent that time in between learning how to make a show during COVID and how to keep the actors safe when we didn’t even know you could get COVID from touching cardboard. So much love and work went into [making season two] and I would hope that people appreciate that. We wanted to create this Black lady joy more than ever because people really need to laugh again.”
On making history
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I was the first Black woman to be a head writer on a late-night show on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, and then I created my own late-night show [The Rundown with Robin Thede] as one of four Black women ever to do so. Now being the first Black woman to create this sketch show for American television is a big deal and I don’t take that lightly. I want to always be able to create space for people like me, who can continue to create their projects on their own and have their voices heard.”
On her favourite British comedies
“I love it! I grew up watching Benny Hill, Monty Python, Little Britain and Tracy Ullman. I loved all things British. I mean, Ab Fab, hello? British comedies were really informative in my upbringing but I didn’t see a lot of Black people in them – although Three Non-Blondes was the only kind of A Black Lady Sketch Show that ever existed. British comedy is so layered and so iconic, but it could be more diverse, just as American comedy could be as well.”