When HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show premiered in 2019, it broke new ground in comedy as the first sketch series to have an all-Black-women-led cast—not to mention all Black women in the writers’ room as well.
Created by Robin Thede and executive produced by Issa Rae, A Black Lady Sketch Show earned three Emmy nominations and was universally praised for both spotlighting the versatility of its stars—Thede, Gabrielle Dennis, Ashley Nicole Black, and Quinta Brunson—and for showing the breadth of Black women through the characters they played.
Season one felt like lightning in a bottle, given the novelty of seeing Black women so heavily represented in sketch comedy and for the undeniable chemistry of its four leads. So going into season two, the initial challenge was to bypass the dreaded sophomore slump.
“We have one job, and that’s to make people laugh,” Thede says. “We knew we wanted to hit [audiences] with more of the relatable sketches, more of the I-feel-seen sketches, but also more craziness and more unexpected twists.”
However, five days before production started, COVID-19 shut everything down. On top of that, because of the rearranged schedule, Brunson had to bow out of the season to work on her pilot for ABC.
Despite the triple punch of exceeding fans’ expectations, shooting within COVID-19 compliance, and finding new talent to replace Brunson (Laci Mosley and Skye Townsend), season two of A Black Lady Sketch pulled off the hat trick with aplomb.
“It’s a testament to true Black girl magic,” Dennis says. “Sometimes pressure makes diamonds. And I feel like we did a great job of making do with what we had to do.”
“I initially came into the season wanting for myself and for everybody to play more different characters,” Black adds. “But then when the season was delayed and when we actually got to shoot it and knowing that people had been sitting at home waiting, I wanted to just go so hard. I want people to be crying laughing. I want for a half-hour that you forget that this year happened.”
A Black Lady Sketch was one of the earlier shows to start production amid the pandemic. The crew started prepping in August, began rehearsing in September, and was filming by October.
“We were shooting really blind in some ways,” Thede says. “And then when we had to adjust because Quinta already had this amazing pilot for ABC. We just got to roll with it.”
“I came to [Dennis and Black] and I said, ‘The burden is going to be on you two,'” Thede continues. “‘It’s on you two to make this show what it needs to be.'”
Season two brings back fan-favorite characters, including Trinity the “invisible” spy, played by Black; business-savvy gangster Elisa, played by Dennis; and the indefatigable “hertep” Dr. Hadassah Olayinka Ali-Youngman, pre-PhD, played by Thede. The season also gives ample room for the new cast additions, Mosley and Townsend, to shine, which was aided in part by the on-set mentoring of Dennis and Black, who’s also a writer on the show.
“In the moments where I’m not on camera being a silly ham, what I can bring to set is a calm, meditative energy,” Black says. “So I do think with the newer girls, they would get close [to me] like, ‘What should I be doing now?’ because I’m making myself available to that by being calm—even if that’s not what I’m feeling.”
“Meanwhile, I’m spinning like a top,” Thede adds. “So everyone’s like, ‘Get away!'”
Despite that slightly manic energy, Dennis credits Thede for getting everyone through a rocky season.
“She does such a great job of leading and setting the expectations and setting the bar that we have to come in and just deliver it, like we got to deliver to mama bear,” she says.
“It is [like being a mama bear]!” Thede adds. “It’s me being super protective of all my cubs, because I know that if the environment is not right, how can you be your funniest self?”
Ultimately, pushing through and delivering season two “saved our lives in a lot of ways,” Thede says. “Not to be dramatic, but we didn’t have to sit at home and think about the end of the world every day. We got reminded of it when we’re on set, getting our nose swabs every day. But it was able to provide us that outlet for which these women are such true artists. Even at the height of COVID, to be able to put on a crazy wig and play a funny character and not think about the world for a few minutes was so nice.”