Robin Thede Is All About Reckless Confidence

By Leziga Barikor | December 8, 2022



This feature is in the December "The Creators" Issue. Click here to subscribe.

After 13 Emmy Award nominations and three wins, HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show creator Robin Thede continues to show that she has way more creative “gas in the tank.”

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“Who’s ready?” Robin Thede asks in a chipper singsong voice.

Dancing along to Beyoncé’s Renaissance album in the background, she jokes around with the crew and compliments the photographer’s work before the first shots are even taken. Thede has been up for hours already making the 4AM call time for taping the fourth season of her hit Emmy Award-winning show, HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show.

She glides naturally in front of the camera, switching poses constantly, only breaking into laughter at the occasional surprise lyric from the clean version of “Cuff It.” There’s a high level of confidence Thede exudes with every movement, which is why it was one of the first topics I was excited to ask her about.

“Do you think it’s founded?” Thede responds laughing.

Sandro button-up shirt and shorts, us.sandro-paris.com; Lugano blue and green Toi et Moi ring and rose-cut green enamel eternity band, luganodiamonds.com; Versace boots, versace.com. Photographed by Cécile Boko // Styled by Michelle Page Collins
Sandro button-up shirt and shorts, us.sandro-paris.com; Lugano blue and green Toi et Moi ring and rose-cut green enamel eternity band, luganodiamonds.com; Versace boots, versace.com. Photographed by Cécile Boko // Styled by Michelle Page Collins

“My parents [told] me I could be anything and then I was stupid enough to believe that, and I never let go of that.” She continues, “I just feel like I didn’t grow up with sht. So I was like, ‘Well, look, I know what it’s like to not have sh-t, so might as well just try to get the things that other people have, you know, or the education that other people have or the access because, well, you don’t have anything, you don’t have anything to lose.’”

This philosophy seems to be working well for her now 13 Emmy nominations, and three wins for A Black Lady Sketch Show, which Thede not only created but writes and stars in. And it’s just the latest project she has been focused on after a stellar career résumé being the head writer for CBS’ The Queen Latifah Show and Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, as well as writer for BET’s The Rundown with Robin Thede, and the 2016 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, making history as the first Black woman to do so.

"I always felt like I deserved to be there even if they didn’t see it. It is that weird, reckless confidence though.”

“I always felt like I deserved to be in the room and I always felt like I deserved to be there even if they didn’t see it. It is that weird, reckless confidence though. I’m gonna write a book and call it Reckless Confidence probably,” Thede says.

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Custom gown, Kikiriki New York; Lugano geometric ceramic drop earrings and emerald-cut and ceramic design ring, luganodiamonds.com. Photographed by Cécile Boko // Styled by Michelle Page Collins

This “reckless confidence” also explains why she holds so many historic firsts in her career. She was the first Black woman to be a head writer for a late-night talk show while on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, and a founding member of Out Da Box, Northwestern University’s historically Black and now multicultural sketch comedy and improv group. A Black Lady Sketch Show’s editing team led by Stephanie Filo made history in 2021 being the first all-women of color team to win for Outstanding Picture Editing for Variety Programming and again in 2022 being the first all-Black person editing team to win that category. The series was also the first Black woman-led sketch show to be nominated for the Emmy in Outstanding Variety Sketch Series in 2020, and with a win by Bridget Stokes for Outstanding Directing for a Variety series making another industry first. ABLSS series alumni are already branching out to their own starring roles from Quinta Brunson’s Abbott Elementary ABC series and Ashley Nicole Black’s upcoming Apple TV+ series Bad Monkey.

“I can’t take any credit for any of their success. I was lucky enough to work with people for various seasons of various shows,” Thede says. “I’m just lucky to be on their borrowed time. People were like, ‘Oh, how do you feel you created—’ and I’m like, ‘I did not create anything. I gave some people platforms, and they ran with it.’”

When it comes to her proudest moment with her current hit series, it all comes back down to seeing a dream turn into reality.

“I think when I saw the first episode, Season 1, I was like, ‘Oh, holy crap, like we really did it,’” Thede says. “Like we really made the show, you know, because [you’ve] just been seeing it in your mind and trying to communicate that vision to 150 people, from writers to directors, to actors to set designers. And when you see it and you go, ‘They heard me. They heard that vision,’ it’s really cool.”

“I think this season is going to show people that we’ve got way more gas in the tank and we’re ready to go forever and ever and ever.”

With all the success and buzz going into this fourth season, Thede feels even more excited about what’s to come.


Sandro buttonup shirt and shorts, us.sandroparis.com; Lugano blue and green Toi et Moi ring and rose-cut green enamel eternity band, lugano diamonds.com;
Versace boots, versace.com. Photographed by Cécile Boko // Styled by Michelle Page Collins
Sandro button-up shirt and shorts, us.sandroparis.com; Lugano blue and green Toi et Moi ring and rose-cut green enamel eternity band, lugano diamonds.com; Versace boots, versace.com. Photographed by Cécile Boko // Styled by Michelle Page Collins

“I think the audience can expect a lot of their faves, but also a lot of new characters back this year, and that the new cast is really going to shine and bring some things we haven’t seen yet. She continues, “The last thing we want to do is stagnate. And I think this season is going to show people that we’ve got way more gas in the tank and we’re ready to go forever and ever and ever.”

Although Thede grew up loving comedy and making her friends and family laugh, it wasn’t until college that she began to understand that it was a career path. It’s when she and her friend started their comedy improv group, which opened new doors and created new connections that have only grown stronger through the years. Such is the case with her makeup artist Jenn Bennett.

“Jenn and I have known each other since she was 15 years old, and her sister Erica is one of my best friends from college,” Thede says. “And so Jenn used to come party with us when she was a trifling teenager of a kid. But me, her and her sister definitely clown all the time and have been doing that for decades.”

Et Ochs dress and blazer, etochs.com; Lugano marquise-cut enamel drop earrings,
lugano.com. Photographed by Cécile Boko // Styled by Michelle Page Collins
Et Ochs dress and blazer, etochs.com; Lugano marquise-cut enamel drop earrings, lugano.com. Photographed by Cécile Boko // Styled by Michelle Page Collins

Bennett worked on the series early on setting the tone of the sketch characters’ various looks and now has branched out with fellow series alum Quinta Brunson on Abbott Elementary but still works with Thede on occasion, including this cover shoot. The two roasted each other back and forth throughout the day.

“Jenn doing my makeup mediocrely,” Thede self-narrates in a deadpan voice for our behind-the-scenes team.

“On a mediocre face,” Bennett claps back, causing the pair to break down in laughter.

Thede is highly mindful when it comes to diversity behind the camera as much as in front of it.

“I intentionally create [these] spaces because I know what it’s like not to be in them,” Thede says. “So with the first day of A Black Lady Sketch Show, it was like mind-blowing for all of us, and I knew that I had hired all these Black women, but once we all got in the room together, it was something entirely different.”

“I think that’s where Ashley Nicole Black got the idea for Black Lady Courtroom.” Thede adds, “We want people to feel this feeling of what that is.”

In many ways Thede says having those “first” moments is fun but they are also challenging when you don’t have anyone to ask for advice.

“I’m hoping that I can either hire the second or see the second or third and fourth and so on.”

Custom gown, Kikiriki New York; Lugano geometric ceramic drop earrings and emerald-cut and ceramic design ring, luganodiamonds.com. Photographed by Cécile Boko // Styled by Michelle Page Collins
Custom gown, Kikiriki New York; Lugano geometric ceramic drop earrings and emerald-cut and ceramic design ring, luganodiamonds.com. Photographed by Cécile Boko // Styled by Michelle Page Collins

Another member of her team she praises highly is their hair stylist Shavonne Brown who makes sure that they never repeat a hairstyle in a season, giving all their sketch characters their own unique look, including guest stars, for roughly 200 to 300 characters a season.

“It’s incredible! It’s the magic of Black women. It’s the magic of Black hair. It’s the magic of Black artistry, and Shavonne Brown is a master at that,” says Thede.

“Our costume designer Michelle [Page] Collins, especially in Season 4, she has brought the costumes to a level where we’re like, ‘Are we on America’s Next Top Model or are we making a sketch show?’ but in a way that elevates the comedy and in a way that continues the tradition of fun.”

“Just do what you do best and we’ll see you. Because we’re looking.”

When it comes to advice for aspiring creators, Thede says the best thing they can do is start honing their skills and becoming masters in their craft.

Et Ochs dress and blazer, etochs.com; Wolford tights, wolfordshop.com; Lugano marquisecut enamel drop earrings, lugano.com; Balenciaga heels, balenciaga.com. Photo Assistant: Joyce Charat Hair: Shavonne Brown Makeup: Jenn
Bennett Photographed by Cécile Boko // Styled by Michelle Page Collins
Et Ochs dress and blazer, etochs.com; Wolford tights, wolfordshop.com; Lugano marquise-cut enamel drop earrings, lugano.com; Balenciaga heels, balenciaga.com. Photo Assistant: Joyce Charat Hair: Shavonne Brown Makeup: Jenn Bennett Photographed by Cécile Boko // Styled by Michelle Page Collins

“Just do what you do best and we’ll see you. Because we’re looking. That’s the thing: It’s like for so long, so many of us have not been seen. We can be right in front of most of Hollywood and they don’t see us.”

“Get really good, and I’ll find you,” Thede adds. “And the world at large will find you.”

Photography by: Photographed by C├ęcile Boko; Styled by Michelle Page Collins