Megan McLachlan speaks with actress Quinta Brunson, who co-stars on HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show.
A Black Lady Sketch Show on HBO is making history as the first series to have an all-black women writers’ room. The brainchild of co-creator and co-star Robin Thede, the sketch series also stars Ashley Nicole Black (Full Frontal with Samantha Bee), Gabrielle Dennis (Insecure), and Quinta Brunson (Quinta Vs. Everything).
I got the chance to chat with Brunson about what it’s been like to work on this groundbreaking show, the show’s homage to a Ryan Murphy series, and what it was like to work with guest stars like Angela Bassett.
Awards Daily: This is such an amazing amalgamation of talent, between the four of you. How did this come about?
QB: Robin [Thede] and Issa [Rae] pitched this show to HBO, and HBO pretty much bought it on the spot. They assembled a writers’ room very quickly, but with care, because Robin knows a lot of black women in the business and was able to assemble that pretty easily. She had been in contact with me for a while and told me the show was a possibility. Once it was finally a reality, she called me and said, ‘Hey, this is happening and I really want you to come do it.’ I had happened to just be freed up from another obligation, from a show I was creating, and it was just the perfect thing. I feel like it was the same thing with Gabrielle [Dennis] and Ashley [Nicole Black]. It was kind of a dream-come-true scenario.
AD: A Black Lady Sketch Show reminds me of the film The Women, where there are no men in any of the scenes. But there are also no men behind the scenes, as this is the first show to feature an all-black women writers’ room. How has working in this capacity been different from other projects you’ve worked on? As a writer yourself, were you able to collaborate?
BM: One thing that was really great is that we got to have creative input through the table reads and rehearsals, for the actresses, which I was really grateful for. A lot of times, especially on network shows, you don’t have room to make changes. Once we got in the room—and we didn’t make a ton of changes at all—we were able to develop these characters into our voices and they had a lot of leniency with how I carried a character versus how Gabrielle carried a character. And that was wonderful and that’s what improv and sketch is all about. We bring something different that might modify the words a little bit, but it’s able to bring the words to life.
As far as working on this show as opposed to other projects I’ve been on, I’ve very often been if not the only black person in the room, the only black woman in the room, so you feel the responsibility to carry both your race and your sex as your character, so it makes me feel like I have to be representation for all of black womanhood or all of black existence. Working on this project was fun because it was freeing; I got to be whoever I wanted to be because there was so much representation in the room that we were able to create new ideas for what we look like on screen.
AD: The Boppers sketch from the first episode is hilarious. I love how it speaks to pop music and how the men behind it are not always as sincere as their lyrics. How did that sketch come about and what was it like working on it?
BM: One of the writers Holly Walker came up with that sketch. She’s great. It was so funny because I thought they were going to get men to play these characters. That was my favorite part, was us getting to dress up as men and cracking ourselves up on set, looking at each other’s makeup, hair, and mutton chops and mustaches. Also, being in that sketch made me realize how often it’s done the other way. We see a lot of men play women, but we don’t often see women play men, so that was one of the most fun days shooting that sketch because it was silly and my voice is super deep.
AD: I loved it. That’s when I knew I loved the show. The Pose sketch (in Episode 2) might have my favorite line of the series. “Eeyore in Dior!” Are you guys all big fans of Pose? I thought that sketch was brilliant.
BM: Yes, everyone is a fan of Pose. The writers, the cast, the crew. It’s an amazing show. I enjoyed that one so much because I haven’t seen it covered anywhere else. Part of that is due to our director Dime [Davis] who created such cinematography for each of these sketches that made sketches like the Pose one possible. Without that cinematic eye, we would not have been able to create that. It’s a sketch that would not have landed as well in a three-camera set-up.
AD: You land some talented special guests in your first season, including Angela Bassett, Laverne Cox, and Gina Torres. What was it like working with them?
BM: It was amazing. My favorite part of working with all of those people is that they have the opportunity to be funny, because a lot of them haven’t had the opportunity. While a lot of them are veterans of funny, like Deon Cole and Loretta Devine, it was really cool to see people like Angela Bassett and Khandi Alexander, who are known for drama, be so excited to come and get to be funny. These are not people who have been asked to host SNL. It was crazy and nice to see their enthusiasm about being part of a fun project.
A Black Lady Sketch Show airs Fridays at 11 p.m. ET on HBO, starting Friday, August 2.