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Robin Thede makes #herstory with "A Black Lady Sketch Show"

Robin Thede on "A Black Lady Sketch Show"

"A Black Lady Sketch Show" is breaking new ground on screen and off. The new HBO comedic series is set in a magical reality created by actress and writer Robin Thede. The show features five black women as its core cast, with a writers' room comprised entirely of black women. But Thede wants viewers to know the sketches are not targeted to one demographic of people.

"The show is specifically cast, but universally funny," Thede told CBSN. "You're going to get specific things that for sure came out of the writers' room, or that the cast added on when they were performing, but then you're also going to get universally funny jokes."

Motivated by "Insecure" creator and friend Issa Rae, Thede pitched the idea to HBO executives and received a series order right away. 

"Originally I was calling it 'The Black Lady Sketch Show,' and Issa, being as smart as she is, was like, 'No, because then it feels so finite, like it's the only one,'" Thede recalled. "I was like, oh, we should call it 'A Black Lady Sketch Show,' so then it's just one of many, ideally."

A scene from Robin Thede's series, "A Black Lady Sketch Show," on HBO.
A scene from Robin Thede's series, "A Black Lady Sketch Show," on HBO. "A Black Lady Sketch Show" / HBO

Various storylines will play throughout a 6 episode arc, putting a comedic spin on beauty standards, relationships, and how the world views black women in general. Thede is part of the main ensemble cast,  while Rae serves as executive producer, with Dime Davis as the director. The show will be filled with celebrity guests including Angela Bassett, Laverne Cox, Patti Labelle, and more.

Thede has been in the business for years. She made history as the first black woman head writer in late-night television, and then hosted her own show, "The Rundown with Robin Thede," on BET. 

"A Black Lady Sketch Show" premieres on HBO Friday, August 2.

In an interview with CBSN producer Jonathan McDougle, Thede said, "The great thing about this show, we had an all Asian production crew. We had women stringing up lights, all sorts of folks in addition to the black women who were writing, directing and starring in the show. To be able to have that type of power is very rare, especially for a black woman."

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Jonathan: You've made a huge progression in your career, making history, or herstory. What was going through your head when you realized you could afford opportunities for other black women in comedy?
 
Robin: It's a gift to be able to employ and work with amazing, and talented black women as writers, cast members, producers, directors. For me anytime I can hire a black woman I get excited.
 
Jonathan: Is it discouraging to hear things like "black women aren't funny"? What goes through your head when you hear things like that?
 
Robin: (Laughing) I think people think all women aren't funny. I don't even think it's specifically black women. So that's where we have a little bit of an even playing ground in that hate. But I definitely think that black women are pigeonholed into being only one type of funny. Which is like loud, or the best friend and there's nothing wrong with that, but we can be so much more. I was raised in a family full of strong black women, they were great role models for me and really helped me believe that I can be anything, even if I didn't see it in front of me.

A scene from Robin Thede's series, "A Black Lady Sketch Show," on HBO.
A scene from Robin Thede's series, "A Black Lady Sketch Show," on HBO. "A Black Lady Sketch Show" / HBO

Jonathan: Why do you think an ensemble of all black female comedians took so long?
 
Robin: Because I wasn't here.
 
Jonathan: (Laughing) I like that. Speaking of breaking the glass ceiling, you can't help but think about other black comics like Monique, who felt that she was being lowballed with her Netflix deal. What goes through your head when considering scenarios like that?
 
Robin: I talked about this on my late-night show, just pay the woman her money. The pay gap with black female comedians is crazy, it's horrible. I think anyone in general who's not willing to pay comedians there worth is doing themselves a disservice because it's content people want to see.
 
Jonathan: How would you describe "A Black Lady Sketch Show," in three words?
 
Robin: Cinematic, magical and unprecedented.

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-Gabrielle Bolden contributed to this story

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