Robin Thede on ‘A Black Lady Sketch Show’ and Hiring Black Writers

Robin Thede isn’t just a writer, producer, reality show host and actor, she is also a one-woman employment agency.

Over the past year, as many across the film and television industry have claimed they want to do better with inclusion of women and BIPOC in front of and behind the camera, Thede has found herself having many “really specific” and frank conversations about how to do so.

Although this is not something Thede only started doing this year, the demand for her attention has increased, partially due to the racial reckoning the country and the industry is experiencing.

“This year, specifically, I called a bunch of the late-night showrunners that I knew didn’t have any Black writers and I had really, really open and honest conversations with them about the need to hire Black people on their staff,” Thede says.

That is why, in addition to her ground-breaking work on HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show” and new overall deal with Warner Bros. Television Group, Thede will be honored with Variety’s Creative Change Award, presented at Mipcom.

“What I do has always been at the fore-front of pushing Black women and people of color forward. I’ve been doing that for years, and I think everyone’s catching up — not to me, but overall,” Thede says. “The good thing is, I don’t have to force any-one because they are in desperate need and they know that this is an [important] change.”

Thede notes that she focused so heavily on late night because she hap-pens to know most of those showrunners personally. But, she has not stopped there. “Grace and Frankie” showrunner Marta Kauffman previously told Variety that her company Okay Goodnight has been “broadening our pipeline for those that are historically underrepresented and marginalized through new hiring approaches, including reaching out to women writers of color” who were referred to them by Thede.

For Thede, it’s all about giving those coming up behind her “the opportunities that those in front of me helped me get.” To further aid with this, she is also “aggressively mentoring.”

“I have, like, 25 mentees — and that’s just the people I directly speak to on a regular basis,” she says. “I also take a lot of writers under my wing and they know they can contact me for anything. Once these people become producers and showrunners of their own shows, they’ll hire me, and it becomes full circle.”

As creator, writer, executive producer and actor on “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” Thede is most interested in “relatable sketches that make people feel seen.” The series centers on Black female voices both behind-the-scenes (Issa Rae is another executive producer, for example; Amber Ruffin is a writer, and Dime Davis is a co-executive producer and director) and on-screen, with a core cast consisting of Thede, Quinta Brunson, Ashley Nicole Black and Gabrielle Dennis. It picked up a coveted variety sketch series Emmy nom and a variety/sketch TCA Award win for its first season.

With “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” Thede feels she has “a unique opportunity to continue to broaden people’s opinion [and] expectations of what Black women in comedy can do, and that’s all we want. We want to tell weird and strange and hyper-normal stories — just things we haven’t been able to be in charge of in this way before.”

And she looks forward to doing more of that through her new overall deal: “I get to employ lots more people and create even more things that I’m passionate about. There’s a certain level of creative freedom that I haven’t had before.”

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