TV’s sketch comedy boom is hip, smart and inclusive

TV’s sketch comedy boom is hip, smart and inclusive
Sherman's Showcase is a sketch comedy show on IFC.

The new IFC sketch show “Sherman’s Showcase” wasted little time in mocking preconceived notions about its expected audience.

“If you don’t watch the show, you’re racist,” co-creator Bashir Salahuddin deadpans while dressed as his alter ego Sherman McDaniel at the end of a trailer, mocking any suggestion that his and Diallo Riddle’s behind-the-scenes look at a fictional “Soul Train” or “American Bandstand” like program could only find an audience in people who looked like them.

In reality, it’s been four years since Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s Emmy-and-Peabody-winning Comedy Central show “Key & Peele” ended and TV’s sketch market is growing increasingly racially diverse.

In addition to “Sherman’s Showcase,” which premiered on July 31, this summer has also seen the premieres of HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show” (which premiered August 2) and Comedy Central’s “Alternatino with Arturo Castro” (which premiered June 18).

Other projects include Nickelodeon’s revival of its long-running “All That” with breakout stars Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell serving as executive producers and “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris’ upcoming partnership with sketch troupe the Astronomy Club for Netflix. Dave Chappelle, who reinvigorated the genre with his Comedy Central series “Chappelle’s Show,” will receive this year’s Mark Twain Prize for Humor and will soon release a new Netflix comedy special.

And, perhaps as an example of everything coming full circle, Keenen Ivory Wayans was recently made showrunner for the third season of the Peele co-created TBS comedy “The Last O.G.” The comedian is best known for Fox’s status quo challenging “In Living Color” from the early ’90s, a program that not only helped make household names out of him and siblings Damon, Kim, Marlon and Shawn — as well as performers like David Alan Greer, Jamie Foxx and Jim Carrey — but also created an alternative to stalwarts like NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”

“It’s actually super cool to me that we’re all coming out at the same time, because I feel like not since the 1990s has there been a time where you feel like you can be a show — a black show specifically — and people won’t be like, ‘Well, is there space for more than one?,'” “Sherman’s” Riddle told CNN during the show’s Television Critics Association panel in July.

He added that “I don’t think any of these sketch shows coming out are going to look the same or even, or even deliver the same kind of jokes. I think that they’re specific to the people who create them.”

He’s not wrong.

“Sherman’s” follows a pattern previously set by IFC programs like “The Spoils of Babylon” and “Documentary Now!” to mock existing tropes by fully committing to its creation of a fictitious, period-set, universe. Castro’s “Alternatino” takes equal swings at ICE raids and “woke” liberals who try too hard as much as it does at Netflix’s over-abundance of programming and drunk wedding guests.

“Black Lady” is created by Robin Thede, who is known for her work on canceled, yet appreciated, late-night series “The Rundown” on BET and “The Nightly Show” on Comedy Central. Despite this, it is not particularly political or headline-focused (unless you count the show’s attacks on the beauty industrial complex, which is really a non-partisan issue).

“We definitely didn’t want to be stereotypical,” Thede said at that show’s TCA panel last month, adding that “we just wanted to show that black women can be more than one thing and that we can be dozens and dozens and limitless numbers of things. So, you know, I mean, to do a sketch about, like, our hair just would be expected and not interesting. If there was an interesting way to do it …”

Even her show’s title is meant to fight against monoliths. While the name “A Black Lady Sketch Show” does emphasize the historical significance of this series, it was almost called the somewhat less inclusive “The Black Lady’s Sketch Show.”

Fighting stereotypes one sketch at a time …

“Alternatino with Arturo Castro” is available now on Comedy Central’s website. “Sherman’s Showcase” is currently airing on IFC and “A Black Lady Sketch Show” airs on HBO.

HBO and CNN are both part of parent company WarnerMedia.