On the night of March 8, 2018, five men in suits made the same joke.
It was an important data point on the timeline of our long national Trumpian nightmare and, as such, in the evolution of late comedy. After claiming she had an affair with Donald Trump, Stormy Daniels filed a lawsuit against the president, revealing that he failed to sign the confidentiality agreement that blocked her from discussing their relationship.
That night James Corden, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers and Jimmy Kimmel made the same joke about it. OK, they actually made the same joke. But really the same joke.
“This is amazing especially since this is the first time that Trump has ever put his name on anything,” Corden cracked. Referring to Trump’s steaks, vodka, water, university and many other entities that bear his name, the other four hosts made versions of the same joke.
The same night at BET, Robin Thede discussed the Daniels news in her own late-night show, The Rundown With Robin Thede. At the time, Thede was one of two women in the late night, two colored people, and the only colored woman. Would you believe her joke was different?
“Like every innocent person, Trump was banned from Stormy to stop her,” Thede said, referring to the second part of the story in which Trump threatened to prosecute Daniels for compensation for revealing their relationship. “What damage can be worse than sleeping with Trump?”
It is Thede who brings this up when we meet in a hotel room in Beverly Hills to talk about her new project, the HBO sketch comedy series A Black Lady Sketch Show. It is the first sketch show on Friday with a completely black female cast. It is also the one-year anniversary of the day that BET The Rundown broadcasted after a year.
She doesn’t throw them. In fact, she puts down the case study that was first surfaced on Twitter by The New York Times Sopan Deb before being picked up by numerous entertainment venues, with the kind of understanding of deadlines and processes in comic writer’s rooms, something she is very familiar with has worked with, in more than 20 of them over the course of her career.
But in addition to her historic hosting of The Rundown, she was also the first black woman to be the lead author of a late-night talk show in The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore. So she is also aware of the importance of perspective and viewpoints, especially, as she says, “in a comic genre that is dominated by white men, most of them Jimmy.”
“I don’t think I’m better than them” for making another joke, Thede says. “It’s just that this is what happens when you really have a different room.”
Given the joke of 8 March, it is almost unnecessary to ask: why is it important to diversify? Thede’s answer is embarrassingly clear: “It only makes your comedy more relevant.”
Thede’s career, however, is not just a summary of ‘firsts’ in terms of positions of power in comedy for black women, behind and in front of the camera. In many cases it is still ‘alone’. That is becoming increasingly ridiculous, but only changes slowly at a time when the change must be rapid.