Download: Director Bridget Stokes Reveals How They Pulled Off 'Product Purge' In 'A Black Lady Sketch Show'
Awards Daily talks to A Black Lady Sketch Show director Bridget Stokes, who’s nominated for Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series, about the challenges of putting together this genre-spanning sketch comedy series.
Director Bridget Stokes was a fan of HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show when she stepped into directing all six episodes for Season 3.
“It was just a dream come true to get the meeting,” says Stokes. “It was really exactly what I was looking to do and jump into.”
Good thing Stokes was up for a challenge, because ABLSS isn’t your typical sketch comedy series.
“It’s very different from my experience directing feature film or episodic where you have one story you’re going to tell for a certain amount of time,” Stokes laughs. “Here you have 30-plus stories you’re going to tell, and you have interstitials that you want to weave in and also link to seasons one and two. One of the most fun things about this show is that you have recurring characters, you have sketches that build upon things that happened in seasons one and two, and then you have entirely new, fresh sketches. You have to make sure that when you’re building a world from scratch that we really gave it its due. We treat it the same way we’d treat an episode of television or film, and when we were doing recurring characters or sketches, that we expand upon the world that’s already built.”
It’s hard to keep track of how many genres the series tackles, but some highlights include a parody of The Purge, a coming-of-age ’90s nostalgia trip, and a medical drama—and that’s just in one episode.
“That’s what I’m really proud of. We were able to get so many different genres in. We really wanted to show black women in lead roles as the heroes in all the genres that they don’t necessarily get featured in. We got to do action sci-fi, sports documentary—it was just such a thrill.”
While the show is very structured with its scripts and stories, it also has an environment that really supports improvisation, something that both Stokes and showrunner Robin Thede were really keen on.
“Robin really has set the tone and continues to set the tone every time she shows up. You don’t get funny stuff when people are under great duress or work super, super long hours or it’s a negative environment. What was really important to both of us was to create a very creative, supportive environment. I would like to think the supporting cast and guest actors all felt very supported. All the crew, creators, and writers made it a priority to make everybody feel welcome and supported. If you’re coming into that environment, it becomes an easy jump to go, ‘Okay, I’m ready to play. Let’s get into the improv.'”
Highlights from Her Emmy-Nominated Episode: ‘Save My Edges—I’m A Donor’
Stokes says that “Product Purge” was the rare—and only—sketch where they had the luxury to shoot it in a day and a half rather than getting it all done in one day or a half day.
“We took over a neighborhood on day one. We had a crane, three cameras, 100 background actors, seven stunts. All of our cast was in it and several guest actors were in it. It was everything we try to do but on a grand scale. Everyone was exhausted at the end of that day, but our guiding light for the show is that we want to make people laugh.”
The sketch follows a group of women who are given one day to return all of the hair product they’ve purchased that never worked out. (If only this were a real thing!)
“We treated it like a battle, like we’re going to war. It’s relatable and hilarious—that’s what we’re trying to do!”
Look for Emmy-nominated actress Michaela Jae Rodriguez as the clerk, who proves that her comedic acting chops are just as strong as her dramatic ones from Pose.
Stokes says that Product Purge is one of her favorite sketches she directed in her nominated episode “Save My Edges—I’m a Donor!” (which is the sketch the episode gets its title from).
“That first episode is so strong. I think another one of my favorite ones to shoot was the Dr. Haddassah sketch. We got to do present day, we got to do 1990s, we got to see a young Dr. Haddassah, we finally meet her love interest, and their connection is so deliciously awkward.”
Stokes praises the cast and crew for their hard work on Season 3.
“They worked so tirelessly and joyfully to make something good and just treated it like it was the most important thing, knowing you can’t have an off day because each day is a new sketch.”
A Black Lady Sketch Show is streaming on HBO Max.