A new HBO series has a deceptively simple title. Really, just a label: “A Black Lady Sketch Show.”
Yet those few bland words are a reminder of the radical nature of this program. In the history of television comedy, black women are often invisible women. “Saturday Night Live” had only four black women in its cast from 1975 to 2013. In our multicultural world, the idea of a show written by and performed by African American women shouldn’t be groundbreaking. But it is.
“A Black Lady Sketch Show” (11 p.m. on Fridays) was created, of course, by a black lady: Robin Thede (one of the rare African American women in the late-night talk show club, though her BET show was canceled last year). Along with Thede, the main writer-performers are Ashley Nicole Black, a former correspondent for “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee”; Gabrielle Dennis, who’s acted in several series, including “Luke Cage”; and stand-up comic and actress Quinta Brunson. Also contributing is buoyantly hilarious Amber Ruffin, whose “Amber Says What” segments on “Late Night With Seth Meyers” are Just. Too. Much.
Thede and her crew must have felt pressure to prove that black ladies can do a sketch show as clever, if not better, than the many “White Man Sketch Shows” out there. Only if they were feeling stressed, you’d never know it. The ladies, who clearly are all BFFs, are effortlessly, amazingly funny. They poke fun at issues specific to black women, like the care and maintenance of hair (“unnecessary pain is an important point of being a black woman”). They also take sharp aim at racial issues: When the four black ladies find out they’re the last people alive on earth, Dennis rejoices, “We don’t have any mediocre white people getting promoted over us.”
But their humor transcends gender and race. As a sideburned groom in oversize sneakers, Thede has trouble saying, “I do.” It comes out: “Don’t I?” Then the character raps to the tune of the wedding march: “Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah — damn, we good.” The minister firmly notes that without an “I do” the groom will not find success in the bedroom.
And those black lady writers know how to end a skit with a great twist. The bride has her own vow issues. The phrase “for better or for worse” prompts her to wonder: “I mean, does anyone pick worse?”