The phrase to outline Season 3 of HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show” is “extra” — the sketches felt bigger, the jokes flew faster, even the guest stars, something of a signature for the series, seemed to multiply. And though speaking on Zoom from different coasts — star-creator Robin Thede sits on a couch in L.A. alongside staff writer Chloé Hilliard, while head writer Tracey Ashley is in New York — the buoyant emotions of these fast-talking, energetic collaborators is evident. And why not? This year, their hard work and comic ingenuity translated into five Emmy nominations, including for writing, directing and picture editing.
“We’re not a diversity pick — we’re arguably a stellar show that’s performing at the highest level,” Thede says of a series where the producers, writers, directors and stars are all Black women. “It’s specifically cast and written, but it’s universally funny.”
On this series, episodes aren’t shot, but formulated later in post-production based on which sketches go well together. How does the writers room work?
Tracey Ashley: Like any writers room, everybody comes in daily with pitches. Sometimes you’ll know right away, like, “That’s it!”
Give an example of a “That’s it!” pitch.
Chloé Hilliard: What about “Didn’t figures”?
Robin Thede: That was Shenovia Large’s pitch. “It’s [Black female scientist film] ‘Hidden Figures,’ but the worst version of them.”
Hilliard: You know how you say, “I’m going to smack you into next week”? That’s something we all grew up hearing. So [three scientists] figure out time travel by backhanding each other.
Ashley: That was solid from the start. We could all see it.
Is anything off limits?
Thede: There’s more do’s than don’ts.
Ashley: We don’t do body shaming.
Thede: Or ableism. No sketch over five pages. We don’t want Black women being catty toward each other. Can they be aggressive or murderous? Absolutely. But catty? No. The biggest no-no is to not be funny. We don’t want a straight man. We see that in sitcoms. Like the husband is super funny and the wife is a stick-in-the-mud. I just don’t subscribe to it. Also, with most sketch shows, every third line is a joke, which is high joke density. But we try to make almost every line a joke. That’s hard.
Were these considerations of yours when you devised the show?
Thede: The whole purpose of me creating the show was to create a narrative, cinematic sketch series for Black women, a grounded experience in a magical reality. I’ve said this a million times, but it’s true. That’s why our fans know everything about our recurring characters, about their lives. We want the characters to be three dimensional, not just so our cast can play really meaty characters. But also for our guest stars.
Angela Bassett. Gabrielle Union. Wanda Sykes. Patti LaBelle. What’s your secret when it comes to getting big names to appear in sketches?
Thede: People are always like, “How do you get so many guest stars?” And I’m like, “It’s HBO. I know a lot of very famous people. I’m very old and have been in this business for a long time.” But also they want to do the show. Black people don’t really have a space where they can drop in for a day and play in a free sort of way in roles written specifically for people like us. Three of our guest stars have been nominated for Emmys and hopefully more in the future.
Every time the sequence returns, the writers room is primarily full of new hires. Is that about not operating out of concepts?
Thede: What you must bear in mind is that for all of us, Black girls, it’s the one time we’ve ever been in a room that appears like this. It’s not like, in the event that they’ve written on a bunch of different exhibits, that they’ve used up all their concepts. These concepts have by no means been requested for. There’s a treasure trove of untapped concepts. So coming right here, they’re like, “I have a thousand ideas.” We inform them to indicate up on Day 1 with 100 concepts — they usually all do it.
Hilliard: For lots of the writers, that is the primary time in a room with all Black girls — from showrunner to writers. There’s a sisterhood, a assist, that comes with that. Even when you’re feeling such as you’re in over your head, we actually do maintain one another up, and that you just’re not the only real consultant of all Black individuals.
Thede: Which all of us have felt in different rooms.
What’s it wish to go up in opposition to “SNL” for the third time within the selection sketch sequence class?
Hilliard: To be nominated again to again? It simply proves this present isn’t a fluke.
Thede: It’s again to again to again. I all the time say that we’re solely in competitors with ourselves. There are solely two nominees [this year]. However even when we had been in a bigger class, I nonetheless suppose we’d maintain our personal. I don’t suppose individuals are placing within the work like we’re. That’s to not shade different exhibits. Sketch has been my life for 2½ a long time. That is my seventh sketch present. I do know what most sketch exhibits are doing. I simply took all of that and stated, “All right, how do we take it to the next level?” [pause] Tracey? What do you suppose?
Ashley: It’s an honor, an incredible accomplishment. All of us grew up watching “SNL.” And right here we’re, up in opposition to “SNL.” I’m sorry — that’s simply historic to me, it doesn’t matter what. To me, we’ve already gained.