Hop on Twitter, and you will find a multitude of posts from frustrated black women decrying everything from cultural appropriation – to be clear, Kim Kardashian did not create cornrows – to the deplorable and racist way four freshman congresswomen of color have been villainized by the POTUS.
In contrast, much-needed moments of levity by black women and for black women are much harder to find. That’s going to change when HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show” premieres Friday. Funny, irreverent, subversive and self-aware the series, created and executive produced by comedian Robin Thede, is rife with brilliant bits meant to be shared via social media. Every episode (HBO previewed the first six for critics) has at least three noteworthy sketches that will make viewers revel, ruminate and post. Even the title sequence, which features puppets and Megan thee Stallion’s “Hot Girl,” is sharable.
In the pilot, there is a quick and clever nod to ashy skin and a longer piece on a support group that celebrates the impossible to uphold beauty practices perpetuated on Instagram, i.e., lash extensions and waist trainers, that demand all women be “bad bitches” every moment of every day. But the sketch that will likely garner the most buzz features cast member Ashley Nicole Black (“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee”) as a government spy who successfully infiltrates criminal enterprises because her size and appearance render her invisible in society’s eyes.
Another sketch featuring Thede, Black, and castmates Quinta Brunson and Gabrielle Dennis (“Luke Cage” and “Rosewood”) allows all four women to portray heightened versions of themselves as they hangout and debunk perceived levels of blackness. This segment is especially relevant not just because of the topics they address – headscarves, Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” versus the Britney Spears cover, and whether or not certain turns of phrase are racist – but because the sketch recurs in every episode. A twist at the end of the first installment also explains why they’re spending time together in the first place.
The second episode pays homage to “Pose” and ballroom culture with the “Basic Ball.” The categories and executions are singularly hilarious but are made all the better by Caldwell Tidicue aka Bob the Drag Queen’s spot-on emceeing. Tidicue is just one name on a long and illustrious list of amazing guest stars including Patti LaBelle (who is ridiculously funny in episode four), Lena Waithe, Kelly Rowland, Gina Torres, David Alan Grier, Garrett Morris, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Tyler James Williams, Deon Cole, Loretta Devine, Larry Wilmore and Amber Riley.
Issa Rae, who also serves as one of the show’s executive producers, makes a few cameos as do her “Insecure” cohorts Yvonne Orji and Natasha Rothwell. And there are a few surprise guests that will likely make some viewers stand up and cheer.
Another sketch of note is the impressive “Romeo and Juliet” themed piece that intelligently combines iambic pentameter with hip hop and pop culture references. This daring experiment is more clever than funny but will nevertheless have comedy and Shakespeare nerds taking notes. “Viral Proposal,” which features guest star Jermaine Fowler, will also land big laughs in large part because Brunson successfully pushes a closing punchline to its limits. A parody of the 1980s sitcom “227” and a semi-recurring sketch on church open mics do the same.
Thede, head scribe Lauren Ashley Smith, director Dime Davis and their history-making all black-women cast and writers room clearly love pushing every joke to the brink for layers of comedic effect. As a result, some undertakings are incomparably amusing while others fall flat. The latter includes a divorce party that goes terribly wrong, a misleading menage a trois and an all-hands-on-deck gangbanger staff meeting. There is also too much reliance on sketches that turn out to be advertising parodies. A bit on the dangers of black woman joy starts out strong but doesn’t quite land.
But the harnessed joy on “A Black Lady Sketch Show” is dangerous because it burps in the face of any notion that black women comedians aren’t funny or polished. This show proves that these ladies are more than ready for the spotlight. While the show won’t make everyone laugh – What sketch comedy offering does? – or even appeal to all black women it will resonate with those seeking refuge from the endless cycle of internet outrage. And who can’t use a break from that?
“A Black Lady Sketch Show” premieres Aug. 2 on HBO.