A Black Lady Sketch Show Bosses Reflect on Favorite Season 2 Sketches and Their Emmy Noms
With fewer series submissions across the board for the 73rd annual Primetime Emmy Awards, the number of nominees on final-round ballots dipped a bit year-over-year as well. Nowhere was that more shocking than in the variety sketch series race, a once bustling category with six nominees that fell to three last year and only two now: incumbent winner and long-running NBC series “Saturday Night Live” and sophomore “A Black Lady Sketch Show” from HBO.
“We can’t forget 2020 was a global pandemic. So, I think that every show that that was able to accomplish a season last year should be proud of that,” says “A Black Lady Sketch Show” creator, showrunner and star Robin Thede. “The standard is actually higher than before the pandemic because people are so desperate for new content, people are so desperate to laugh, and people need joy.”
Only nine sketch series were produced and released in the eligibility window amid the COVID19 pandemic, which is why “A Black Lady Sketch Show” is the lone challenger to incumbent winner (four years in a row) “SNL.” (Due to the Television Academy’s sliding scale rule, categories with one to 19 submissions net out at zero to four nominees.) But the fact that the shows could not be more different should make this race one of the more interesting ones to watch.
“SNL” is a late-night broadcast series that has been on the air for 46 seasons. Its sketches are conceived and written just days before they are performed live and filmed in the multicam style in front of a studio audience in New York City, and America coast to coast. That show often directly responds to the week’s news, from politics to pop culture. Conversely, “A Black Lady Sketch Show” treats its season as any scripted narrative comedy, running a writers’ room well ahead of production and commenting on larger societal themes instead of specific events. “A Black Lady Sketch Show” then shoots single-camera to capture a more “cinematic” style,” notes Thede. (Though, she says they do sometimes cross-shoot to catch the actors’ natural rhythm in one take.)
Speaking to the cinematic style, the “Invisible Spy” sketches, Thede continues, are specifically inspired by the Jason Bourne movies. Meanwhile, network mate “Succession” informed the second season “Last Supper” sketch. “These three women were having a conversation, but essentially they were having three self-centered conversations, and ‘Succession’ is these rich children of this magnate who are essentially never listening to each other, just monologuing out loud,” she says. “We had three cameras constantly in motion so that you can feel the frenetic pace of ‘Succession,’ but dealing with it in a sketch form about women being bitter that they weren’t at the table at the Last Supper.”
“A Black Lady Sketch Show” is also one of the few series on television to come from a Black, female production team and feature a Black, female cast. And that perspective informs every sketch that makes it into the show.
“We are seeing Black people and specifically Black women in these magical realities and scenarios that we don’t often get to see in comedy shows,” says co-executive producer and head writer Lauren Ashley Smith. So, they are constantly thinking about how material works to “elevate and make Black people look in this amazing way that we rarely get to see ourselves” in addition to how well a joke works.
Smith points to the Season 2 sketch “Living on the Edges,” which features a young woman who is settling in for the night, with her hair “half-undone, when the finest dude she’s ever met wants to come over. That doesn’t play if you don’t make the wig in the right way and don’t light the wig in the right way. If you don’t understand and see the difference in the way that the hair looks, the sketch dies. So, we think about things that are small.”
“We take a lot of care with each and every element of the visual nature as much as we do the joke and the performances because we know that if all three of those things are right, we’re going to deliver a really high-quality product,” adds Thede.
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