Why Robin Thede’s Perspective on Late-Night Is Needed by More Than Black Women (Exclusive)

Getty Images

Few women have successfully navigated late-night television, but with "The Rundown with Robin Thede," Robin Thede is making it her mission to offer something almost unheard of in this space.

Few women have successfully navigated late-night television, but with The Rundown with Robin Thede, Robin Thede is making it her mission to offer something almost unheard of in this space: the black woman’s perspective.

“You should want to know what a black woman feels; you get a bunch of Jimmy's opinions every other night. But with this show you're going to get politics and pop culture told from a different perspective,” says Thede, who after writing and performing on talk shows for Queen Latifah and Larry Wilmore and becoming the first African American female head writer of a late-night talk show (on Wilmore’s The Nightly Show) has stepped out on her own with her 30-minute weekly series on BET.

In fact, there are two Jimmys -- Fallon and Kimmel -- among the roster of straight, mostly white men hosting some of late-night’s biggest talk shows, but only Thede, Samantha Bee of Full Frontal, Sarah Silverman of I Love You, America and Chelsea Handler of Netflix’s recently canceled Chelsea are among the newly minted female hosts to appear on TV since 2016.

It’s a fact that’s hard to ignore -- and one that she often has to acknowledge. “I hope it gets better. I know there are four of us right now, but Chelsea [Handler] is on her way out so it will just be me, Samantha Bee and Sarah Silverman,” Thede says. “Even that number is more than I’ve seen at one point in my lifetime.”

Thede also represents an even smaller group -- following in the footsteps of Whoopi Goldberg, Wanda Sykes and Mo’Nique -- as the only black female late-night host currently on TV. Unfortunately for audiences, those previous three hosts all failed to make a formidable dent, lasting no more than two seasons. That’s partly why Thede’s presence is so important, she says. She’s providing a new, much-needed voice for African American women – a TV market unto its own -- and it couldn’t come at a better time.

“It felt like the perfect moment to add the voice of an African-American female to the conversation,” Connie Orlando, BET’s head of programming, told The New York Times about its efforts to shake up late-night.

Keeping to her word, Thede has been hitting on topics that black women want to hear about, working to be a voice for the unheard. One issue that she’s been driving home is that black women have been victimized for years as media and the industry alike continue to expose Hollywood’s biggest creeps and decades of sexual misconduct in 2017. She uses the allegations abuse against R. Kelly, whose lawyer adamantly denies any wrongdoing, as a jumping-off point. But even she admits it’s not enough.

“I don’t think black women are being heard as much as we need to be. I think, unfortunately in our community, we still protect people like R. Kelly. I am going to continue to keep his name in the conversation so that we can protect these women,” Thede says. “I think black women’s voices are being drowned out even as white women’s voices are being heard right now. I think it’s not fair. We are primarily the victims of domestic violence and sexual harassment. I think these voices are important and I am going to keep amplifying them, because since there’s no other black women on TV to do it and I don’t think it’s a priority for other late-night hosts as much. We talk about Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore and Louis C.K. Everybody is fair game.”

It’s certainly a bold sentiment from a debut host. But her years of work for Wilmore, including writing for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner he hosted in 2016, as well as for Anthony Anderson, Chris Rock, Kevin Hart and Wayne Brady, prove that she’s ready for this part of her journey. First shooting the pilot in 2016, Thede has worked hard as executive producer -- her first time in the role -- to bring the series to where it is now, from hiring a crew to navigating upfronts to filming. “It takes a lot to get a show on the air,” she reflects upon being an EP of her own show. “That’s definitely a step up from what I’ve done in the past.”

On the seven episodes that have aired so far, Thede has developed a blend of biting commentary, reported field pieces and scripted sketches to bring audiences stories on everything from the question of why African Americans are supporting President Donald Trump to an equity program in Oakland, California, that helps black marijuana growers who have been victimized by law enforcement. Nothing, it seems, is off-limits for her. Using her sharp wit and comedic timing like talons, Thede doesn’t back down from topics like climate gentrification.

“Climate change doesn’t even crack the ‘Top Ten Black Worries’ list. Climate change ranks far below racism and just below ‘who made the potato salad,’” she cracked during a recent episode. On another episode, The Rundown featured a fake biopic trailer for On the Edge of Glory about a competitor in a double-dutch competition that is too traumatized to compete because her edges got snatched at a Beyoncé concert.

The response has been positive, with headlines celebrating her for giving TV a “much-needed voice” and “filling a void in late-night,” with Vanity Fair asserting The Rundown is a “standout” in late-night’s crowded field -- and Thede agrees. “The reviews have been glowing,” she says, particularly audiences’ reactions. “I think they get into it and the whole thing is that this show makes them feel heard and they are going to see things on this show that they aren’t going to get anywhere else.”

As The Rundown continues to find its footing, Thede will be able to prove that her perspective isn’t only filling a niche with audiences, but is something that is needed across the board, especially as she, Bee and Silverman prove their staying power. “I think that it’s a trend showing that people not only want to hear from women,” she says, “but finally Hollywood is catching up and greenlighting shows by women.”