‘A Black Lady Sketch Show’ Creator Robin Thede: ‘Humility for Black Women Gets Us Nowhere’

Robin Thede poses on red carpet
Robin Thede attends HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show FYC Event at Linwood Dunn Theater on April 13, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Maury Phillips/Getty Images for HBO)

*As Season 4 of HBO’s critically acclaimed “A Black Lady Sketch Show” begins, creator and star Robin Thede spoke with Essence about her insights after toiling in the industry for over two decades. And with her apologies to Kendrick Lamar, she learned that it doesn’t pay for Black women to be humble in this business.

“I realized that humility was getting me nowhere. And humility for Black women gets us nowhere. We are taught, ‘Be humble, sit down,’” says the comedienne, citing lyrics to Lamar’s 2017 hit, “Humble.”

Now being wantonly “cocky, or annoying” is something entirely different, cautions Thede, but she says Black women must speak up for themselves and highlight their accomplishments whenever opportunity presents.

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“Why do we work so hard, if we’re going to diminish our accomplishments? It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Thede says. “Say, ‘Yes, I am great!’”

Named after late actor and comedian Robin Williams, Thede’s path in the same profession began 21 years ago and took years of honing to become the success she is today. Thede said she began mimicking characters as soon as she learned how to talk.

“I’m obsessed with characters and impressions,” Thede tells Essence. “I think I would sit in front of the TV and just mimic. It’s how I learned to do Jackée [Sandra Clark, on the sitcom “227”] and people that I saw on TV. It’s how I learned to do their voices.”

Thede grew up watching “Saturday Night Live” with her father, and looked up to pioneering Black women in comedy, like Whoopi Goldberg and Kim Wayans. (Below: Watch Thede give Goldberg her flowers in person on “The View.”)

At Northwestern University, Thede helped to launch the Black student-led improv group “Out ‘da Box.” After graduation she studied at the world-famous comedy institution, The Second City. The gig helped Thede realize that comedy was her calling, and she would pursue it a a career. “I’m not good at anything else!” she tells Essence.

In 2015, Thede made history as the first Black woman to be the head writer for a late-night talk show, “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore.” A year later, the five-time Emmy nominee became the first Black head writer for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. And in 2019, Thede was the first Black woman to create a sketch comedy series, “A Black Lady Sketch Show.”

“When you create a sketch show, you can’t be derivative of what’s been done in the past. So the real prize of A Black Lady Sketch Show is that it feels different,” says Thede. She adds: “A Black Lady Sketch Show is this Black lady cinematic universe to be able to create this world where only we exist, but we get to exist in the best forms of ourselves, in the worst forms of ourselves. And there’s no judgment from other eyes.”

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