Robin Thede is showing no signs of slowing down the rich expansion of the magical reality found in “A Black Lady Sketch Show.”
Picking up from the Season 3 finale, which revealed that Dr. Haddassah had been secretly mind-controlling the women, Season 4 embraces the twist to “constantly reinvent” reality as the comedian and show star and creator introduces characters from prior seasons to one another and disparate storylines intertwine.
“My life and my world are constantly reinventing. It should as we go through life, and so I think allegorically we get to play with that,” Thede told TheWrap ahead of the fourth installment’s April 14 premiere. “What is this world where Dr. Haddassah would be elected president? It’s obviously not the world we live in, but in a parallel universe where all these characters get to play, and where these women get to inhabit these characters. We start to meet the women behind the characters and this mystery starts to unfold.”
While this element enriches the viewing experience for loyal fans as recurring segments — cue Black Lady Courtroom — and characters like Coral Reefs Gang and Chris, Thede encourages newcomers to tune into the fourth chapter even if they haven’t watched the show before.
“There’s two ways to enjoy the show: 1) at the base level, just watching the sketches and enjoying and laughing … and that’s a lot of people take away,” Thede said. “The second level is with rewatches and with connecting sketches from years past and connecting characters and following their storylines… The real reward is, if you have been watching since Season 1, then you’re gonna get all those Easter eggs and understand the continuing storylines.”
With three seasons of the HBO series under her belt, Thede also continues to expand her writers’ room with new and different voices, noting that this season’s broader format makes the installment accessible to a wide variety of viewers.
“We talk about an all-Black women writers’ room, but what that means is that we get to really celebrate the diversity amongst a group that may seem the same, but it’s not,” Thede said. “We’ve got Black women from all sorts of different walks of life and different experiences that bring so many different types of comedy to the table.”
Keep reading to find out which characters fans vied to be brought back and how Thede constructed the music-filled fourth season of “A Black Lady Sketch Show.”
Music has always been an integral part of the show. Can you talk about crafting the music video sketches and how that differs from solely written dialogue?
I think we approach it with the same kind of energy, which is that we want as many jokes as possible in as rapid succession as possible. We have a big musical opening sketch after the cold open this season, which was really fun, because we got to feature all the new cast members with the OGs. So that was a really fun introduction; I think it’s just set the tone for them.
Of course, we have a new opening song [and] credits every year, and I think people are finally getting used to that. The first time we changed the opening credits, they were like, “what, where are the puppets?” We have different paths and it’s a sketch in and of itself, we don’t treat it as something that’s an afterthought. We are very intentional about everything on this show … Black culture is so inextricably linked to music. We use that to create comedic moments that you may not even realize why the music is making you laugh. But we try to use it as ironically — or not ironically — as possible to illicit another level of laughs.
What feedback have you heard from viewers? What do they want to see more of?
I haven’t played Chris in two seasons — people have been hounding me about that — so he is back and better than ever, with a better hairline than ever. They’re also really excited about the new cast members, and they’ve each got their own fan bases, which I love. So I know they’re gonna have a really good time seeing them. Black lady courtroom, oh, my gosh, we didn’t do it last season for the first time, and people were livid. So, it is back, honey … Also the Coral Reefs Gang — we haven’t seen them in two seasons — so Gabrielle Dennis is back and she has a rival, which I’m really excited is Tracee Ellis Ross, who just crushes it. We only write when we know we have a story to tell, and so that’s why some seasons some of the characters don’t come back.
They asked about guest stars — they want to see all their faves on the show. I’m really excited about folks like Debra Wilson and Jackée Harry, who makes a triumphant return to the show, but Debra we had never had on before and I’m really excited to have her and pay homage to these women who paved the way for us to do this.
As we are still slowly going out of the pandemic, what was it like shooting this season with hopefully a bit less restrictions?
[For] Season 2, everybody was double-masked and testing eight times a day, and it was just scary, because it was no vaccine. And then Season 3 people were vaccinated; it was feeling a little better. And then [for] Season 4, now there’s no restrictions on, like, kids or animals or crowds, so we really went for it, and we were able to create pretty much without restriction. Our crew is still unmask, and we still test everyday, but that was just to make sure everyone had peace of mind and was safe and healthy. I think that we’re kind of back to definitely feeling like production normalcy for the most part.
Can you talk about the choice to remain at a six episode-season for Season 4?
Oh, that doesn’t have anything to do with me. We are happy to get the six we get — it still takes the better part of a year to make the show because we’re making short films, so new locations, new characters … Imagine your favorite comedy show having to reinvent itself everyday — it’s a big task and it’s a dense show. I know six is never enough. And I love that, right? I love that we keep people wanting more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
“A Black Lady Sketch Show” premieres Fridays on HBO and streams on HBO Max.