One of the most popular sketches from HBO comedy series A Black Lady Sketch Show is about a gaggle of Black women who serendipitously cross paths in a courtroom. The judge (played gracefully by Yvette Nicole Brown), the bailiff, court stenographer, lawyers: everyone in the room is a Black woman. And this prompts a level of jubilation that the sketch comically captures.
When I spoke to Lauren Ashley Smith, the head writer of A Black Lady Sketch Show, about what comedy has taught her about people, she alluded to the reach of this beloved sketch. “Even when you think something is so unique to you, which it still can be, there are certain universal truths and touch points that we can all relate to. You don’t have to be a Black lady 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 saw an oasis of a person in an environment where you weren’t expecting to find them.”
I was delighted by Smith’s use of the word “oasis” because it was the precise language for what A Black Lady Sketch Show has offered so many members of its audience. It’s a place of entertaining respite and food for thought—food for a hearty belly laugh. Smith shared that as the writers and producers behind A Black Lady Sketch Show returned for Season 2, they kept audience response in mind. Smith hoped and cogently gauged that by tapping into what made the show’s writers laugh they would inherently be creating work that resonated with their audience. When I asked Smith how she felt about the positive feedback that Season 2 had received thus far she shared, “I didn’t get into TV for compliments. But to share the communal 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 experience these things that we so lovingly put together.”
The love with which new episodes are crafted is clear as day. This is one of the lustrous elements of A Black Lady Sketch Show. As comedy writers who are also Black women, Smith and her peers are core members of their own audience in addition to being talented creatives. As Smith succinctly said, “only we can write about us in a certain way. It changes the intention and integrity of the comedy when it’s written with us in mind by us.”
The debut of Season 2 of A Black Lady Sketch Show has brought Smith significant joy. She and Robin Thede, the show’s creator, executive producer, writer, and one of it’s main stars, have been anticipating this moment since the show’s production was delayed in early 2020. “We finished writing Season 2 on Valentine’s Day of 2020 and we were about to start shooting the season right before everything shut down because of Covid,” Smith said. She went on to tell me how exciting it is to have people finally quoting sketches that she and Thede have been reciting for literally months.
I asked Smith what her favorite sketch from the series’ second season so far was. Without hesitation she talked with me about “Reunited & It Feels So Weird,” a sketch about a group of friends who meet up for a vacation that I highlighted in my review of the show. “It was one of those things where when the writer Shenovia Large pitched the concept, I was laughing from the pitch to the page to the shoot to the edit.” Smith gleefully sang “it’s the cut-up crew, ay, ay”—a ditty that’s central to the sketch’s laugh factor—over the phone to me. I joined along.
Smith’s laughter and willingness to divulge how the inner machinations of the show work, and the intention with which staff writers come to the table, made it clear why she is at the helm of the show. I wondered what it means for her to create comedy, to elicit laughter from her audience in what has been a deeply harrowing year. Together we talked about the catharsis of comedy. Smith shared that because she has garnered a capacity to experience a deeper despair in the past year, she has also cultivated a greater threshold to feel levity and joy.
“Because I have broadened my ability to feel the darkness that has come,” she said, “[I] expanded my capacity for sadness and in that for joy. I laugh so hard now because I know how rare it is and how deeply fulfilling it is.” In addition to that personal laughter being fulfilling, I situated the success of A Black Lady Sketch Show alongside that of The Amber Ruffin Show and of shows like Ziwe. I asked her how it felt to be a part of this cultural moment where there was an expanding breadth of exciting, effective comedy by Black women being made and eagerly engaged with. “I am so overjoyed at the absolute talent and diversity and depth and breadth of the comedy that’s happening right now,” she answered. “It’s such an opportunity to show that these women didn’t just get good yesterday. They’ve been these geniuses since before we saw them on billboards. If anything it’s such a testament to where we are going to be.”
Hear! Hear! A Black Lady Sketch Show releases new episodes Friday, available to stream on HBO Max. Smith eventually hopes to have Oprah Winfrey guest star on the show. Let’s all cross our fingers and toes.
Adesola Thomas is a screenwriter and culture writer. She loves talking about Annette Benning’s performance in 20th Century Women and making lasagna. You can follow her on Twitter.