Crawford: The importance of ‘A Black Lady Sketch Show’

Colin Crawford, Columnist

“A Black Lady Sketch Show” is currently airing its hilarious third season on HBO. The comedy series is an exemplary model of smart writing, leaning on the Black cultural experience in America while also remaining inventive, rather than playing into stereotypes. Cast members of the Emmy award-winning show include Northwestern alumni Robin Thede (Medill ‘01) and Ashley Nicole Black (Communication M.S. ‘08), and their brilliant writing is part of what keeps me watching. But what makes “A Black Lady Sketch Show” so near and dear to my heart is the diversity of the sketch subjects and the visibility they provide. 

The show’s sketches are often so relatable and touch on every aspect of Black America. This is perhaps most evident in this season’s opening sketch, “Product Purge.” In the bit, Thede, among a gaggle of cast members and extras, leads a charge towards a beauty supply store on the fictional one-day-a-year where all textured hair care products can be returned for a full refund, even if they’ve been used. Guest star Michalea Jaé Rodriguez of “Pose” lends to the star power of the sketch as a sassy store clerk. 

This sketch captures those familiar feelings of frustration all too well. When I first started using hair care products, some would make my hair even frizzier, while others would give me crunchy curls. I blew through bottles so fast because what worked for other people didn’t always work for me. The mostly-full bottles of leave-in conditioner, styling cream, hair mousse, soft gel and much more lined my counter, taunting me. 

The sketch ends with Thede remarking on the fact that she made thousands in cash back on this “Product Purge.” Though this was certainly a hyperbole for comedic effect, in all seriousness, if this day truly existed, I think I’d make a pretty penny. At the end of the sketch, she indicates she is going to use the money to buy more hair products, a bitterly ironic statement that I myself am guilty of making. 

As soon as I saw the sketch, I sent it to my sister, my fellow textured hair care alchemist. Together, we had experimented with so many different products that I knew she would relate to the sketch. 

That’s the beauty of  “A Black Lady Sketch Show” — the sketches make us feel seen, and they validate our experiences. 

The show is especially welcome after the drought of Black-led television caused by the fall of the United Paramount Network in the early 2000s. The channel had been a host for many shows featuring Black leads, but after it merged with the WB to form the CW in 2006, these shows disappeared.

The importance of seeing yourself on television cannot be underestimated, and the UPN-WB merger took so much away from the Black community. I believe “A Black Lady Sketch Show” is trying to get back some of what was lost by giving us, well, everything. 

It is also quite revolutionary because it is not a family sitcom à la Kenya Barris’ “-ish” empire. Instead, it is a compilation of short clips that work together to create a fuller portrayal of what it is like to be Black in America. 

From satirizing spankings by turning discipline into a WWE-esque game show called “Get the Belt,” to turning a funeral into a ballroom culture homage hosted by Bob the Drag Queen in the aptly named “Funeral Ball,” these sketches are essential because they show the Black experience is not a monolith — there is real diversity in the Black community. 

“A Black Lady Sketch Show” is a gem. And I’m thankful it exists because I can see myself, my lived experience and even my hair on a mainstream platform. 

Colin Crawford is a Medill first-year. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.