Robin Thede Wants Hollywood to Realize 'Finding Talented Women of Color Is Not Hard' (Exclusive)

Robin Thede

The creator and star spoke to ET about setting an iconic standard with her HBO series 'A Black Lady Sketch Show.'

Season 4 of A Black Lady Sketch Show premieres Friday night, bringing fans another six episodes of new sketches, major guest stars and lots of laughs. The HBO series, which debuted in August 2019, is widely seen as the first of its kind -- a sketch comedy series written, produced by, and starring Black women. Its singularity in the world of comedy is matched by the show's undeniable gift of meshing universal and culturally specific humor. 

Creator, showrunner, executive producer, writer and star Robin Thede won't accept sole credit for the show's quick-witted sketches, emphasizing how collaborative the entire show is behind the scenes. "The writers' room is so much fun," she tells ET. "They come ready with like a hundred ideas on day one and they start pitching the beginning, middle and end of the concept. It's definitely not me dictating the sketches." 

Thede shares that she purposely includes Black writers with various backgrounds to keep the series fresh and their perspectives diverse. "I like to hire Black women writers who have all sorts of different experiences. Some went to Ivy League schools, some grew up in a hood, some did both, and of all ages as well," she explains. "And I think that's really critical because it's so important to show the breadth of what we can be, right? If I was writing every single sketch, it would just be The Robin Thede Sketch Show, and nobody wants that."


ABLSS is the first television series to have a writers' room entirely composed of Black women. The production has grown to include all women of color in the seasons following its freshman entry. Season 2 earned Daysha Broadway, Stephanie Filo, and Jessica Hernández the Emmy Award for Outstanding Picture Editing for Variety Programming, making them the first all-women of color ensemble to receive the award in Emmy history.

"Everyone that I've put around me is smarter than me, is better than me," Thede insists, adding that the only credit she deserves is one for having good taste. "I wanted Hollywood to know that finding talented women of color is not hard. I'm literally just picking and choosing out of an endless selection of talented women of color. My production design team is like Asian women and Latinx women. My editors are all women of color, mostly Black. My writers are all Black women. My cast is all Black women. Every producer who works on the ground, day-to-day, on my show, is a woman of color."

In December 2022, Thede appeared on Kirk Franklin's Good Words podcast, where she explained that she worked "in service of others" after vying for fame in selfishness for several years. Now, she explains that said service is providing a platform for the writers, editors, producers and more who have previously been overlooked in the industry because of their identities.

"[I'm] telling them, 'You may have been underestimated somewhere else, but that's not gonna happen here. And I expect you to be excellent, but I'm also gonna give you excellence as your boss and as the showrunner and as a performer,'" the Emmy winner says. "I'm gonna show up and be ready, I'm gonna show up and perform to the best of my abilities... so that we're all making the best product and everybody's invested in it. I don't try to micromanage my staff. I'm just like, 'Go be great.'"

She tells ET that her act of service is "actually caring and supporting" the people she collaborates with. "And then, in turn, the product that we put out, the comedy that we put out is an act of service to the audience. That joy that we're able to give people is an act of service to all these Black women that we make this for," Thede continues. 

The writer notes that although the teams are making what they want to see because "we are the audience," it's about the viewers at the end of the day. "When you guys get to see it, to see your reaction is like, OK, I made somebody happy. I pulled somebody outta their funk. I gave you 30 minutes of joy in a day that may not have been great otherwise, and you can always go back and watch it and see new things," she adds.

"That's what I also love about this show, there are layers among layers. I'm excited for the world to see this season and to see how much bigger and broader we get to be," Thede shares. "There's music, there's dance, there's period pieces, you know, there's all these things. So I'm excited and I think that the audience has really gone on this journey with us. And even if you've never seen the show, you can jump into season 4 and still laugh immediately."

It's hard to imagine ABLSS going even bigger than in previous seasons. The series concluded its third season on May 2022 and was renewed the next month. It's received 13 Primetime Emmy nominations -- becoming the first Black women-led sketch show to receive a nomination for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series -- and three Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series.

The sketches feature a core cast of Black women living relatable, hilarious experiences in a magical reality that subverts traditional expectations. Thede, Gabrielle Dennis and Skye Townsend return for season 4 as the show's main cast members alongside three new featured players -- DaMya Gurley, Tamara Jade, and Angel Laketa Moore -- and nearly 30 celebrity guest stars, including Omarion, Bobby Brown, Tracee Ellis Ross, Colman Domingo, Kyla Pratt, Sam Richardson, Yvette Nicole Brown, Tank, Jay Ellis and Kel Mitchell. 

Thede explains that this season is more extensive than previous installments because of how many more people and better circumstances production had to play with. "We knew we had six cast members to play with this year, which is more than we've ever had. So we got to create more and more characters this season and we're coming out of Covid so we could do more," she says. "There are so many people in so many of the sketches and so much going on and so many guest stars. We just want to keep topping ourselves every year!"


ABLSS' cast members exemplify how the show attracts the brightest stars, including alumni Quinta Brunson, Laci Mosley and Ashley Nicole Black. Thede reveals that the series doesn't regularly hold auditions for roles other than main cast members, which they have only held for seasons 2 and 4.

"We don't audition for the guest cast, we just send straight offers to people no matter how big or how small. I just think that's dope, I just pick up the phone and be like, 'You wanna come be on it?'" she jokes. "I hated auditioning, so I've tried to really take auditions out of the process. The first audition for the show was going into season 2, it wasn't even season 1. I just texted my friends and was like, 'You wanna come be the show?' I'm always scouting talent and looking for people."

Of the three new cast members, Thede shares that she originally intended on hiring one person for the new season but had to take all three actors. "I've been a huge fan of Angel Laketa Moore forever, so I'm really, really excited. She does some crazy characters that the world is just going to eat up," she says, admitting that she watched Tamara Jade during her time on The Voice as a member of John Legend's team. 

"And then she came in to audition for us, did all these characters and I was like, 'What can't you do?'" Thede recalls. "And then DaMya, my little Baby D! She turned 24 on the day of her final audition and had just come out of conservatory school before she blew up on TikTok. So she's a real trained actor, who has this hard-comic sensibility and was already editing and shooting all her own videos. So, we just get so lucky. I was only gonna cast one other person, but I was like, 'I need all three.'"

The showrunner shares that she could have easily cast "12 more" actors because of the sheer amount of talented women that came in to audition to join season 4. "There were so many, so many great Black women that came -- I literally wrote tearful letters to the ones who didn't get it," she adds. "I was like, 'It could have been you. It really could have, it's not your fault.' It's heartbreaking for me to tell Black women 'no' on this show because it's literally named for them, you know? So it's hard for me to turn our sisters away, but we'll get 'em in there eventually."

Although Thede is quickly growing an impressive Rolodex of celebrities that have starred on the show to include in future seasons, there are always more she'd like to add to the roster's ever-growing list, such as Whoopi Goldberg.

Luckily, Thede has made headway with the star. She recently visited The View, where the writer told a speechless Goldberg that she watched the actress' Broadway show growing up, sharing how much Goldberg inspired her career. 

"I was freaking out, I was bawling -- ugly crying, as Oprah would say," Thede previously recounted for ET. "I told her, 'I've been waiting my whole life to tell you thank you for showing me that Black women can play characters and stretch and play men and play little kids; like, I just hadn't seen that.'"

She added, "I know that sounds like a silly thing, but I had never seen that and I was a little kid watching her Broadway show on TV...  I got to tell her that and then she turned it on me and said, 'Well, look what you've created for this generation,' and I was just like OK, I'm gonna take this in and not be humble or whatever. I'm telling you, it's just one of those moments where I was so happy, I got to have that with her."

And, of course, Thede took the time to invite Goldberg to join ABLSS as a guest star, which the 67-year-old was into -- until she learned she'd have to fly to Los Angeles. "She doesn't fly, and so she was like, 'Uhhh,'" Thede recalled, laughing. "She said, 'If I'm out there, I'll do it,' but I think we are gonna try to find something to work on together. I mean, look, she's just a genius and I stalk people I love!"

A Black Lady Sketch Show season 4 premieres Friday on HBO at 11 p.m. ET. Fans can stream episodes on Max.