Robin Thede and crew hit the stage again for another set of gut-busting, incisive sketches that continue to carve out a long-overdue space for Black women in comedy.
A Black Lady Sketch Show is the first half-hour sketch comedy show which is written, directed by, and starring Black women, its first season was also nominated for three Emmys. Coming off the back of all those expectations, and with a few new cast members, the second season finds a consistent rhythm of light-hearted entertainment in which these Black women can show how hilarious they are.
At the centre of the show, we have the returning trio of Robin Thede, Ashley Nicole Black, and Gabrielle Dennis, but this season we have Laci Mosley and Skye Townsend joining the group in place of the outgoing Quinta Brunson. Each of these women has an incredible amount of range, rapidly switching between a variety of hilarious characters. You particularly see this with Black, who switches from superspy to overeager friend to wannabe post-apocalyptic president with ease.
One notable difference in this second season is the lack of big-name cultural icons as guests. There are a few prominent people here and there, like Omarion and Gabrielle Union, but nobody on the level of Angela Bassett or Patti LaBelle. Still, they make great use of the guests they have — the best of these being when Union is brought onto a hotep-themed parody of Red Table Talk hosted by Thede as the haughty, paranoid Dr. Hadassah Olayinka Ali-Youngman (a fan-favorite character that returns from season 1).
In general, the skits are funny and light-hearted. It feels like the group are constantly experimenting, which you see highlighted in the ubiquitous credits bloopers. In one sketch, Thede gets her nails done by Denis as they gossip. There are no dramatic extras or special guest appearances; just funny lines delivered at an incredible pace. Watching the pair flex their talent here really shows how these people can be funny with or without the megastars and the HBO budget.
The show is laced with very Black cultural references, moving from CP Time to Verzuz to Vicks VapoRub. While not everything they’re referencing is contemporary, their fingers are pretty on the pulse, making a hilarious parody of the SZA/Summer Walker type artists and their strange live performances. At the same time, it never feels over-reliant on these references; the jokes are still funny if you don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the last 30 years of Black culture.
It’s just really great to see Black women allowed to be funny and creative on the screen without being railroaded into boring archetypes.
That isn’t to say every sketch is perfect; there are a few that don’t reach the high bar these women have set for themselves. One sketch where a gang runs a yoga retreat relies on a pretty flat concept and grating accents. A lot of the jokes don’t land, and there’s a lack of energy which makes the sketch feel even longer than it was. It’s a testament to the quality of the show in general that, amongst the many sketches here, there was only one which I actively disliked.
It’s just really great to see Black women allowed to be funny and creative on the screen without being railroaded into boring archetypes. The fact that this show has so many varied Black women also allows for them to play with particular stereotypes. Mosely’s hilariously raunchy take on the cliche of the hypersexual Black woman, for instance, is incisive without ever feeling like they’re making a declarative statement on all Black women. This freedom means that they can move in and out of the political with ease, talking about fatphobia and misogynoir then swinging back to cheque-splitting.
In a world where Black women continue to be used as memes and invent the language we use in popular humor but are never given credit for it, A Black Lady Sketch Show continues to be a breath of fresh air. While it lacks some of the star power of the first season, there’s still more than enough for you to get you in hysterics.
A Black Lady Sketch Show returns for more gut-busting sketch comedy on HBO April 23rd.