Tracee Ellis Ross is one funny actress -- as she proves week to week playing Dr. Rainbow “Bow” Johnson on the ABC series Black-ish, created by Kenya Barris. It’s a role that goes beyond the traditional tropes of a family sitcom, allowing Ross to explore what it means to be a woman, a wife and a doctor in a fresh way. “It is still very groundbreaking to me,” she tells ET. “There’s a traditional way that we’ve seen women be written for and I think this is very different.”
The show, which found its footing in season two and has continued to top itself early in season three, has also earned Ross her first of many major accolades, including nominations for two Critics’ Choice Television Awards, an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe Award. “It’s like day-old leftovers that get better on day two, like chili gets better. The food gets a chance to talk to each other,” Ross says of the show’s continued success, giving credit to the writers for setting up a strong foundation that the cast could build from. “The scripts had a lot more trust in them, both in the sense of who we are as characters and what the show's messaging is.”
But thankfully, Ross’ comedic talents haven’t been limited to Black-ish. Early in the year, she guest-starred on Broad City’s finale, “Jews on a Plane,” playing a flight attendant named Winona. Paired with Tymberlee Hill, who portrayed a fellow flight attendant named Mona (“Let’s give an amazing shout out to the two of us being each other’s sidekick”), the two guest stars mirrored Broad City stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s characters in hilarious fashion.
And let’s be real: Winona and Mona could easily spin off onto their own series. Armed with a Fitbit and a scrunchie, Winona was concerned with making those steps while Mona worried about attending her high school reunion, before the two came to blows with Abbi and Ilana.
“I came in for two days in the second half of a two-parter finale episode and what written on the page had a real person there that you could grasp in three lines,” Ross says. “I think that it’s something that Kenya does on our show and that something Ilana and Abbi do incredibly well on Broad City. They don’t bring characters in just to set up their characters. Whoever is on the show has a real arc.”
While the Comedy Central series normally shoots in New York City, the finale was filmed in Los Angeles, allowing Ross to find a weekend between episodes of Black-ish to make an appearance. “I know it wasn’t for me, but let’s just say that they decided to shoot the finale in Los Angeles so they could get me. Why not?” Ross jokes, adding: “I’ve never had more fun. The extraordinary experience of not only working with two stupidly funny people -- it’s not even right how funny they are -- but on top of that, they are women and they also write and produce and edit and do all of that stuff on their show. The experience of that was the biggest and most wonderful breath of fresh air.”
“To see women in these comedic roles on a weekly basis is everything,” Ross says, “and a bag of chips!”