A Black Lady Sketch Show returned for season three earlier this month, pulling out all the stops following its last go-round, when the show’s ambitions were somewhat hampered by the pandemic. This latest installment brings with it returning characters like Dr. Hadassah Olayinka Ali-Youngman, as well as a whole new crop of larger-than-life types portrayed by Robin Thede, Ashley Nicole Black, Gabrielle Dennis, and Skye Townsend, plus a host of celebs making delightful cameos. (Pose’s Michaela Jaé Rodriguez has already dropped in.)
In anticipation of the third episode airing April 22, The A.V. Club sat down with creator, executive producer, and star Thede to get the inside scoop on her favorite sketches from the season so far. Over Zoom, Thede detailed working with the legendary Bob the Drag Queen, improvising based on lame inspirational slogans, not “ruining the magic,” and more.
Watch the sketches (and read Thede’s insights about making them) below.
Robin Thede: We were going to do this sketch in season two, but we couldn’t have all those dancers in a confined space during COVID. But during season three we could, because we had mandatory vaccinations and testing every day. Bob the Drag Queen is back as the emcee [from season-one sketch “The Basic Ball”], and we got our same judges back. I was so proud they were able to come back—little Easter eggs like that, people will get to see.
So Bob shows up at his brother’s funeral, where it’s a very somber service, and he says, “Oh, no, miss thang, it is too sad up in here. Claudacious would not have wanted to go out this way.” And then he magically turns the church into the funeral ball, and we’re off to the races. And now you’ve got the characters from the church, right? You’ve got the woman who thinks she can sing; you’ve got the thug that shows up with a gun, wearing his colors; you’ve got the grandma who has a Rascal Scooter; you have the people that show up just for the food. You have all of these archetypes that are really specific to the Black community, but I think anyone who’s been to a funeral can probably relate.
Bob is so great. A lot of those jokes were written by Shenovia Large—great writer—then we did some punches on it. But then Bob always comes in with a ton of jokes, too; he comes with a lot of his own material and peppers it in throughout the day. It’s such a joy to watch. As fun as it is to watch on TV, it’s 10 times more fun to see his show in person. I wish everybody could witness it.
RT: The ladies from ‘The Last Supp-her’ [a sketch from season 2, written by Holly Walker] are back. These are the women who have been around Jesus and the disciples, but they had to sit at the kiddie table. They are constantly being slighted by their frenemy Mary Magdalene, who is close to Jesus and seems to be their friend. But every time she invites them somewhere, some shenanigans are going on. It’s a bit of Mean Girls meets the Bible. So what would happen if these characters were in the cheap seats at the resurrection? It’s one of those kinds of sketches that is really character-based and situational. [These women are] never going to be satisfied with their position and where they are.
Shooting this was really fun. We were up in the mountains out near Simi Valley. We made sure that we got it scripted, but then we would just go off on long 10-, 12-minute runs of improv—just figuring out what we could do and exploring other things that these women would be talking about. So, you know, that run where Skye [Townsend]’s character, Hannah, is talking about paying cave rent—that was all improvised in the moment. We didn’t want to script that. We knew we would get to that beat, but we didn’t know what it would be about, so we let Skye kind of lead us there. And we never really break when we’re doing it, because we just don’t want to ruin the magic.
RT: Every auntie in America is gonna drag me for this sketch. This is about what happens when all those inspirational quotes in your house have a much darker motive behind them. My mom, my aunts, everybody’s mom has these quotes scrawled in cursive on their wall or on a thing on their shelf. “In this house, we do hugs”—that kind of energy.
We thought it would be really fun to play this as these Midwestern ladies who are really scamming to find women to work in their inspirational quote sweatshop. And Ashley [Nicole Black] and I got to play with our Midwest accents—she’s from California, but I’m originally from Iowa. I was wearing a belt that was slightly below my boobs, and it was very much cutting off my circulation. It’s a small touch that most people won’t notice, but it really helped me feel tight and rigid.
I told our production designers, Cindy [Chao] and Michele [Yu], to have props get us a bunch of paraphernalia—framed things and things that have quotes on them—and hide them [around] the set, and then we have to improvise about whatever we pull out. And they just raided a HomeGoods! They were all real. They didn’t make any of those. There was a long 15-minute run where Ashley and I are just pulling things out from under the chair, from behind pillows, and we have to incorporate it into the dialogue and into the scene. After we finally cut, the crew just lost it. We did two improv takes like that, and what’s in the sketch is from some of that. And the silliness of it—what does it mean when it’s wine o’clock?