The Emmys are around the corner and one of its biggest contenders is Ashley Nicole Black. Nominated for her writing on HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show and Peacock’s late-night series The Amber Ruffin Show, Black’s a force to be reckoned with in the comedy world.
Along with bringing these successful sketch and variety series to life, Black is also part of the coveted Ted Lasso writers room for its ongoing second season. Bringing real messages to funny scenarios, Black’s impact on TV over the past year is easy to see. Overcoming the challenges imposed by COVID-19 safety restrictions, Black hasn’t missed a beat.
Below, she’s opening up about acting and writing for A Black Lady Sketch Show during the pandemic, the obstacles she has faced writing for The Amber Ruffin Show, her feelings about being Emmy-nominated once again, and her experience of working on Ted Lasso in its latest chapter.
What does it mean to be nominated for both A Black Lady Sketch Show and The Amber Ruffin Show?
Ashley Nicole Black: The extra excitement is in being nominated with these groups of people, with A Black Lady Sketch Show‘s Black women writers rooms. I don’t know that that’s ever happened before, but it’s definitely historic. And then The Amber Ruffin writer’s room, those are all people that I came up with in Chicago doing shows in bars for drinks and buffalo wings, so it’s very exciting.
You’re also a part of the Season 2 writers room for Ted Lasso. What has that experience been like?
I think the experience of working on that show is just as kindhearted and warm as the experience of watching it. I’m certainly aware that’s rare and we’re really lucky to be able to work that way, especially because we did this work in quarantine at the height of the pandemic. So we were logging on to zoom and having these warm, loving conversations, both about the show, but also just as friends and supporting each other through this crazy time. It also warms my heart to see my friends who got me through the pandemic, get all of this [Emmy] attention and love.
A Black Lady Sketch Show debuted in 2019, what was it like having to adapt behind the scenes in the age of COVID?
It started out extremely nerve-wracking because we had been quarantined. I had been alone in my apartment for months, and then all of a sudden you’re on onset with a hundred people, which is such a big difference, but our crew and the rest of the cast did such an amazing job of keeping everyone safe [and] making responsible choices offset so that nobody ever got sick. It was such a gift during such a fearful time.
You had a great group of guest stars ranging from Laz Alonso and Issa Rae to Yvette Nicole Brown, what was it like getting to have them participate?
It’s always so fun to have guest stars because our set is really unique in that it really is dominated by Black women. So when people come on our set they walk into the hair and makeup trailer and they see all people who know how to do their hair and makeup and you just see their faces light up. It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the day. Actors who maybe do more drama see how silly we are on set. When Laz Alonso came on set and in the first take that we shot Gabrielle [Dennis] did a Cartwheel randomly. He was just like, “oh, is that how you guys get down here?” So it’s always so fun to have those people kind of get incorporated into our silly little world for a day.
Some of Season 2’s guest stars are also nominated for Emmys, how does that feel?
It’s so exciting. I was shocked when Yvette [Nicole Brown] said that that was her first nomination. She’s had such an amazing career and it makes no sense that she has not been recognized in that way before. The thing I like about sketch [comedy] is that it allows you to see performers in a different light. Issa Rae is so regal and so gorgeous, and she plays these weird, silly characters on our show. I think that’s why a lot of them do it because it’s fun.
You’re not a stranger to the late-night talk format having worked on Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, what was different about working on The Amber Ruffin Show especially during the pandemic?
It was a really different experience for me because on Samantha Bee, we all worked in one office together. We really would write that show like a pile of puppies on a computer. We were very close together, and that’s how the show gets written. That’s my experience of late night. So it was a really different experience writing for Amber because I was alone in my apartment in LA and the show shoots in New York.
I really was writing pieces and sending them off and not having that communal experience that I was used to. It’s tough, I learned that a lot of my motivation is making my friends laugh, and that’s the stuff that ends up on TV. And so in the absence of being in the same room together, it really became more about motivating myself and what I wanted the audience to experience. We really got to see people’s responses to the show on Twitter. I worked primarily on those “How Did We Get Here” pieces, and a lot of times those are exposing something that’s not in the news or people didn’t know. So seeing people’s responses was really rewarding.
On a more serious side, what has it been like getting to explore the dramatic elements of Ted Lasso in Season 2?
The funniest thing to me is when someone is telling a joke through tears, I think real emotion is so interesting and so funny and I love getting to explore it. I think also that’s part of what people love about the show. They’re not focused on how nice the show is. There’s such a focus on the kindness of the show, which is true, but I think the reason why that doesn’t become saccharine is because the characters have real problems, real emotion, and real drama in their lives.
A Black Lady Sketch Show, Streaming now, HBO Max
The Amber Ruffin Show, Streaming now, Peacock
Ted Lasso, Season 2, New Episodes, Fridays, Apple TV+