"I think the more balls, the better," Thede says of the recurring sketch. "Which is a quote that I will live to regret for the rest of my life, I'm sure."
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A Black Lady Sketch Show (TV Series)

With its latest haul of five Emmy nominations — including Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, as well as noms for directing and writing — A Black Lady Sketch Show is up to lucky number 13, with one win from last year.

"I'm really excited for our director, Bridget Stokes, who [got] her first nomination and for our editors again, who won last year, and our production design team," series creator and star Robin Thede tells EW. "All these women of color getting nominated, it just feels really good. And the writers, of course."

The series, just renewed for a fourth season, takes a whacky, satirical look at Black life. And in its latest season, Black death. EW chatted with Thede, who just scored a three-year overall deal with HBO (to create for the premium network plus HBO Max and Warner Bros. Television), about one of ABLSS' most raucous and beloved sketches this year, the Funeral Ball.

Bob the Drag Queen plays a mourner turned emcee who livens up a moribund funeral with a dash of ballroom extravaganza via Pose and Legendary realness. Category is: snatching trophies and burying bodies.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Taking a morbid concept and making it hilarious I think is a real testament to the power of comedy. Where did the sketch came from, how did it come together, and what were your favorite parts of creating it?

ROBIN THEDE: Ashley Nicole Black created the Basic Ball first season. It is iconic. Of course, Bob the Drag Queen came in and just, I mean, made it epic. So second season, Shenovia Large, one of our writers, wrote Funeral Ball, but we couldn't do it because of COVID, because we couldn't have all those dancers in the same space. So then we were finally able to do it in season 3 and we had been waiting and Bob had been waiting and we were all so excited. It was the first sketch we shot during our production window because we were just so excited to do it.

It's pure joy when we're shooting it and I know that translates on screen, but it is interesting — Black people, we don't call funerals "funerals." We say a "homegoing service" or a "celebration of life" because from deep in our traditions, — not only from Africa, but Creole traditions in Louisiana — we have a rich history of celebrating life when someone passes on, knowing that they're not gone, they've just transitioned to a better place.

So I think in our own way, in our own comedic way, that's what we kind of wanted to celebrate. Then, of course, dealing with all the archetypes that you find at Black funerals, right? Like the widow who has the will, but the girlfriend who shows up; the mistress, the kids we didn't know he had; the people that just came there for the repast, people just come to get the macaroni and cheese; the people that come trying to have a solo, like it's a concert. So those things are very specifically Black, but I think the sketch is pretty universal in its hilarity and then the over-the-topness of everything.

It was so fun. And Bob, I was just like, "Let me have him with the jokes." We give him a ton of jokes already in the script, but he always has so many more to add. He's so great. So it's just really fun to collaborate with him as well, because there's just no end to the comedy between the writing and what Bob brings to every one of these sketches.

Do you remember any jokes that may have not made the final cut?

Yes. He said something to me as the grandmother, like a long string of jokes about how I was going to die or did I just have a stroke? So we were playing with that, but that got a little too morbid, so we cut that out. But definitely, we took some of those jokes to very inappropriate places — which, we're HBO, we leave a lot of them in. I mean, there was a joke about doing a drive-by at the funeral that we left in. I think at a certain point, you're kind of like, "Okay, we already have 12 jokes on the grandma. I think we're good."

And was there a very challenging part about doing the sketch or filming it, just the logistics of it?

Yeah. Our director, Bridget Murphy Stokes, wanted to go from that really serene church environment right into the ball. And because we shoot on location, we just don't have a lot of time. So we've got to get in and out the same day and our production design team — also Emmy-nominated, along with our director — had to figure out how to get the colors of the rainbow that we wanted to work into the church, but not give away that it was about to be the Funeral Ball.

Which is very obviously celebratory of the LGBTQ community. But we wanted to make sure that you didn't tip it before Bob got up. So I thought they did a really good job of changing the scenery behind Skye as she's giving the eulogy. Then right when the cameras turn around, we're right into the Funeral Ball. So that was actually a brilliant transition that they carried off in about 45 minutes, changing that set over, which is insane. So yeah, it was really a testament to the production design and our director for making that happen. But it wasn't easy.

A Black Lady Sketch Show 'Funeral Ball
Bob the Drag Queen emceeing the Funeral Ball on 'A Black Lady Sketch Show'
| Credit: HBO

Now that we have had two balls, is there a third to complete the trifecta, the trilogy?

Listen, we'll have to see. I think the more balls, the better. Which is a quote that I will live to regret for the rest of my life, I'm sure. But no, I think there's always room. I think there's always room for more balls. Who has just two balls? You can't just do that. No, I think there's always room for this. I think there's so many things in the Black community that can be celebrated in this way.

The thing about our show is that we want to celebrate our idiosyncrasies and celebrate our silliness. We don't want to punch down and make it seem … because, we could do just a plain Black funeral sketch that could be pretty wild, but I think in this way it still feels joyful and it feels like a celebration as opposed to making fun of us.

That's the great thing about the sketch and that's what's so genius about Ashley's original concept. Yes, it was a parody of Pose, but at the same time, it was more just a celebration of Black culture. Which is what ballroom culture is in so many ways. So, we're just borrowing from the legends of ballroom and being able to take that into a comedic space and celebrate all these facets of Black culture. So honestly there could be endless iterations of the sketch, which I really love.

Is there anything else that you want the fans to know about this particular sketch? Any Easter eggs or anything?

So the funniest thing was, I didn't shoot the grandma part until the very end of the day, but I had already gotten ready way too early for some reason. So I was in the grandma outfit, but just a wig cap most of the day, just walking around telling people what to do, which is utterly ridiculous, but I had the age lines and all the grandma stuff on. Everything except for my wig and my hat. Honestly, I don't know any other environment where that could be the case because they'd be like, "Who is this crazy person talking to me?" But yeah, I think it takes a lot of people to come in and really create that sketch. Right?

All of our dancers, we have all these incredible dancers from Jamari from the House of Balmain. We have all these amazing dancers who came from Legendary, who came from the ball scene. It's really important for us that it's a legit inclusion of the community because otherwise, we're just stealing. So for us, it is a celebration of not only ballroom community, but of the Black community as a whole and bringing all of that together so that we don't see them as separate. It's all part of our culture. So that's really important to us.

A Black Lady Sketch Show 'Funeral Ball
Dancers paying their final respect (?) during the Funeral Ball on 'A Black Lady Sketch Show'
| Credit: HBO

It's important to us that we have dancers who represent the scope in the LGBTQ community, even though you wouldn't know that at home, but we invite folks to play who would legit be in this world because it's important to us for authenticity, but also for opportunity. I think too many times on television, it's like, "No, we represented that community by talking about it." And it's like, "Wow, well, you didn't cast people from that community." I know it's just a silly sketch, but all that stuff matters to us.

Check out more from EW's The Awardistfeaturing exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best in TV.

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A Black Lady Sketch Show (TV Series)
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  • Fridays at 08:00 PM
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