A Black Lady sketch show is a joyous oasis in the comedy world
One of the most popular sketches in the HBO comedy series A Black Lady Sketch Show tells the story of a herd of black women who cross paths by chance in a courtroom. The judge (played courtesy of Yvette Nicole Brown), the bailiff, the court reporter, the lawyers: everyone in the room is a black woman. And it elicits a level of jubilation that the sketch comically captures.
When I spoke to Lauren Ashley Smith, the editor of A Black Lady Sketch Show, about what comedy taught her about people, she hinted at the scope of this beloved sketch. “Even when you think that something is so unique to you, which it can still be, there are certain universal truths and certain points of contact that we can all relate to. You don’t have to be a black lawyer to understand why “Black Lady Courtroom” is so joyful and so moving and so funny and so relatable. All you have to do is be someone who has seen a person’s oasis in an environment where you never expected to find it.
I was delighted with Smith’s use of the word “oasis” because that was the precise language for which A Black Lady Sketch Show offered so many members of his audience. It’s a place of entertaining respite and food for thought – food for a hearty belly laugh. Smith shared this as the writers and producers behind A Black Lady Sketch Show back for season 2, they kept the audience response in mind. Smith convincingly hoped and gauged that by tapping into what made the show’s writers laugh, they would inherently create a work that resonated with their audiences. When I asked Smith what she thought of the positive comments Season 2 has received so far, she shared, “I didn’t go to TV for compliments. But to share the common experience of going “ we thought this thing was funny, do you think this thing is funny, we all think this thing is funny! … ” It’s such a fun community experience to watch people go through these things that we so lovingly put together.
The love with which the new episodes are created is clear as day. It is one of the shining elements of A Black Lady Sketch Show. As comedy writers who are also black women, Smith and her peers are vital members of their own audiences in addition to being talented creatives. As Smith put it succinctly, “only we can write about ourselves in a certain way. It changes the intent and integrity of comedy when it is written by us with us in mind.
The debut of season 2 of A Black Lady Sketch Show brought Smith significant joy. She and Robin Thede, the show’s creator, executive producer, writer and one of its main stars, have been anticipating this moment since production on the show was delayed in early 2020. “We are done d ‘write season 2 on Valentine’s Day 2020 and we were about to start filming the season right before it all came to a halt because of Covid, ”Smith said. She went on to tell me how exciting it is that people are finally citing sketches that she and Thede have been reciting for literally months.
I asked Smith what his favorite sketch from the show’s second season was so far. Without hesitation, she told me about “Reunited & It Feels So Weird,” a skit about a group of friends meeting up for vacation that I highlighted in my review of the show. “It was one of those things where when writer Shenovia Large introduced the concept, I laughed from pitch to page, from shoot to edit. Smith happily sang “this is the decoupage crew, ay, ay” – a song that is at the heart of the sketch’s laughter factor – over the phone to me. I joined.
Smith’s laughter and her willingness to disclose how the show’s internal machinations work, and the intent with which staff editors come to the table, made it clear why she’s leading the show. I wondered what it meant for her to create a comedy, to make her audience laughter during what has been a deeply agonizing year. Together we talked about the catharsis of comedy. Smith shared that because she had gained the ability to experience deeper despair over the past year, she had also cultivated a greater threshold to experience lightness and joy.
“Because I expanded my ability to sense the darkness that has come,” she said, “[I] expanded my capacity for sadness and in this to joy. I laugh so hard now because I know how rare it is and how deeply fulfilling it is. In addition to that fulfilling personal laughter, I located the success of A Black Lady Sketch Show next to that of The Amber Ruffin Show and shows like Ziwe. I asked her what it was like to be a part of this cultural moment where there was a growing array of exciting and effective comedies directed by black women that they were passionately engaging with. “I’m so thrilled with the sheer talent, diversity, depth and breadth of the comedy that’s going on right now,” she replied. “It’s such an opportunity to show that these women didn’t just get good yesterday. They’ve been those geniuses since before we saw them on billboards. If anything, this is such a testament to where we’re going to be.
Listen! Listen! A Black Lady Sketch Show Releases new episodes Friday, available to stream on HBO Max. Smith is ultimately hoping to star as Oprah Winfrey on the show. Let’s cross all the fingers and toes.
Adesola Thomas is a screenwriter and cultural writer. She loves to talk about Annette Benning’s performance in Women of the 20th century and make lasagna. You can follow her on Twitter.