“A Black Lady Sketch Show” Is Queer, Brilliant and Ridiculously Funny

I’m just gonna say it. We, the black delegation, declared 2019 the Hot Girl Summer and we played ourselves. I know it’s controversial, but hear me out – almost every black girl I know who started summer joyfully quoting Megan Thee Stallion lyrics on their IG captions and in their group chats is ending summer barely holding on. It’s me. I’m one of those girls.

This summer has been a blur of anxiety attacks, fights I don’t mean to keep tripping into with loved ones, racism and micro aggressions at work, holding down my friends through various dramas of their own, and did I mention a few hospital visits? Oh yeah, I had a handful of those, too. The line between Hot Girl Summer and Hot Mess Summer is thin, and I found it. Which is probably why I’ve been putting off writing about HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show. I think I felt intimidated, maybe a little unworthy. Even its black girl muppet-puppet theme song is a tribute to Hot Girls! Never mind the fact that it’s also one of the most memorable and catchy black television themes that I can remember – seemingly destined to go down in history alongside Rosie Perez and Jennifer Lopez dancing to In Living Color and Aretha Franklin’s rendition of A Different World. It opens right at the top with Megan’s distinct flow, “All the hot girls make it pop, pop, pop/ Bad bitches with the bag say ah-ya-ya!”

Do bad bitches sit in front of their computers in a hot pink sports bra with a blueberry stain down the front from breakfast that they were too busy to clean? While eating frozen white chocolate chips straight out of the Nestle bag because that’s easier than figuring out air conditioning and we’re writing on a deadline, so fuck it? That’s the situation in my apartment right now.

I first fell in love with A Black Lady Sketch Show the minute I heard that Issa Rae and Robin Thede were assembling an entire black women’s comedy writing room. I love sketch comedy. I’ve watched every episode of Saturday Night Live for at least the last 15 years. When I was ‘90s kid, my cousin and I would do our homework to reruns of In Living Color with the volume on low so Granny wouldn’t hear us doubled over in laughter. Despite his painful and upsettingly stubborn insistence on transphobia, I can still quote most of The Chapelle Show from memory (even when I wish I couldn’t). I firmly believe that the complexity and nuances of black humor are not showcased nearly enough mainstream comedy. This means I was an easy and early sell for ABLSS.

It also means that I know what I’m talking about when I say this: A Black Lady Sketch Show is so good that it’s positively dumbfounded me.

I can’t believe it took me this long to tell you that, on top of everything else, A Black Lady Sketch Show is gaaaaaay! There are three black queer women in the writers’ room (Lauren Ashley Smith, Ashley Nicole Black, and Autostraddle fan favorite Brittani Nichols!) and a black queer woman (Ashley Nicole Black) in the central cast of four. The first two episodes include two sketches specifically designed around black queer culture and, in an important detail to highlight, when taken together both of those sketches demonstrate a variety of black masc lesbian presentations that’s nearly impossible to find on television. In a future episode, a black bisexual woman describes her sexual awakening via The X Files’ Mulder and Scully. Lena Waithe has already guest starred. Yes, she was a babe. As has Laverne Cox! I couldn’t stop laughing! To be honest, all of the guest casting is a rolodex of Who’s Who in Black Hollywood (get ready y’all, even Patti LaBelle is coming!)

I’ve written before about how difficult it is to find black LGBTQ+ representation in black television. Actually, I’ve written about it a lot. Black queer women and women of color should not have to watch predominately white casts where our character is a mere sidekick or after thought just to be able to see ourselves. It’s a generations long trend that’s slowly changing. This is the forefront. A Black Lady Sketch Show recognizes that “black ladies” come across a variety of gender identities and sexualities. Black lesbians are funny. Black queer women are funny. Black trans women are funny. And we aren’t going anywhere, any time soon.

I couldn’t possibly explain the back-breaking team effort that goes in to making comedy feel this effortless or what it feels like – for the first time in my comedy loving life – to enjoy a sketch without first having to filter it through several male, white, and straight lenses just to get the joke. In fact more than once I paused ABLSS and wondered aloud if people who weren’t black women would even understand what was making the action on screen so funny; let me tell you that the sensation alone was liberating. There’s absolutely no reason that anyone watching A Black Lady Sketch Show won’t enjoy a good deep belly laugh, the same way I’ve laughed countless times over a Seth Meyers’ Weekend Update sketch on SNL, even though it was written by Ivy League educated white men who never intended me as their target audience. The difference is that for once everything from the writing, the hair and make up, the lighting, the casting was designed with me in mind. And that, even if you put all of those elements aside (and you shouldn’t) – the show itself is EXCELLENT.

I’d put any part of A Black Lady Sketch Show against critics’ darlings like Donald Glover’s ATL or Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Veep, the best of Tina Fey’s SNL or anything from Mad TV and I wouldn’t break a sweat worrying about losing my lunch money. ABLSS is smart. It’s observational and absurdist. It’s the exact opposite of mindless humor; it requires the audience’s full attention. Some sketches or characters follow a narrative arc across various episodes, others are one-offs, all of them are designed with thought and care. There’s room for silliness, for spy action-adventure, cultural commentary, and sci-fi. I realize at this point it sounds like I’m basically saying “everything and the kitchen sink!” and it sort of becomes meaningless, but my point is the exact opposite: A Black Lady Sketch Show never chooses to limit itself; it sets a new bar and then rises to that challenge every single time.

I’ve already included two full sketches along with this review, but you know what? Here’s a third! Because it went viral among all my queer friends last weekend, and I would hate for you to miss out. Also, because maybe my Hot Girl Summer didn’t work out how I’d hoped, but I realized while writing this review is that A Black Lady Sketch Show never asked for my perfection. They’ll gladly take my mess. They’ve been there, girl. They just want to help us laugh through it.

Carmen is Autostraddle's Associate Editor and a black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 143 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. What a great review, Carmen!

    I love this show so, so much…with the crew that’s behind it, I expected the show to be funny but I wasn’t ready for the really smart and subversive politics…like those in the “Bad Bitch Support Group” sketch. My absolute favorite (ongoing!) sketch thus far though is Ashley Nicole Black’s Invisible Spy…I laugh hysterically every time.

    I adore the show’s queer content; it gives me a little hope that Issa Rae might learn from this experience and do better with LGBT representation on Insecure (🤞🏾). Without putting its queer foot forward, both in sketches and with guest stars, that ballroom spoof might have read very differently.

  2. I was gonna love this show regardless, but the fact that it’s had queer sketches in every episode so far really sold it for me. (Side note: I didn’t know Ashley Nicole Black was queer! I like her even more now!) The Basic Ball sketch had me CACKLING. I love how it’s able to be funny without being mean or insulting or making fun of groups of people, like SNL sometimes does and shows like MadTV often did back in the day. It’s just fun and funny and I really really enjoy it.

  3. “This hoe trynna take deep breaths?”, “Maybe she’s a bad bitch with alopecia” and “Mother exhausted from the house of tired” kill me every time.

    Also love the thick (plus sized for those unaware) spy serial they have going on. Also how ungodly fine are Gabrielle Dennis and Aja Naomi King? My goodness!

  4. “Dance Biter” had me cackling. I swear I’ve heard similar comments from friends.

    “Like we not going to get back together 12 more times before we break up for good”

    “You’re not even out to your Grams yet. How am I gonna explain you dying at a lesbian party”…

    and

    “You think I’m tryna leave the turnup just because I passed out in an alleyway under mysterious circumstances?”

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