Brow Beat

The Rundown With Robin Thede Is Black Twitter in Late Night Form

Robin Thede

BET

Black Twitter, as the social media realm for black commentary, debate, and clapbacks is affectionately known, is a fascinating space. It’s a world where the conversation can be pointedly serious or shamelessly silly—and often both at once—but no matter what, it’s always black: Black GIFs, black song lyrics, black affirmation, black resistance.

A good percentage of Black Twitter’s effectiveness is derived from the format itself—the swiftness with which a quip or article or sound bite can turn into a long-running joke as others pile on to the fray with their thoughts—and the rest is derived from the people themselves who are driving these discussions from behind their computers or phones. And so while it doesn’t benefit from being live or particularly timely by the standards of our instant hot-takes era, it seems appropriate to consider Robin Thede’s new-ish BET series, The Rundown, which airs on Thursday nights, as Black Twitter personified within the late-night mold.

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Thede, the comedian and former head writer for Comedy Central’s sadly short-lived The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, takes from that familiar, white male–dominated genre and serves it up through a biting, unmistakably black lens. In last month’s premiere episode, for instance, she remarked upon a local news item with a joke that referenced Beyoncé’s “Love on Top” while simultaneously trashing Alicia Keys’ vocal chops. Michelle Obama’s delightful shade towards the current presidential administration was celebrated with a trap music montage of black people dancing exuberantly: on Soul Train, at the Super Bowl, on roller skates. A sketch parodying Handmaid’s Tale was littered with barbs about the care of black women’s hair. (“Blessed be the baby hair”; “We are all Carol’s daughter.”)

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Plenty of the topics Thede covers overlap with the cable news and late-night TV cycles—Kaepernick, the latest mass shooting, everything that’s wild and wrong about the Trump administration—except with more Three Six Mafia and Fresh Prince references sprinkled throughout. But like Black Twitter, The Rundown occasionally brings (renewed) attention to subjects that are getting little to no coverage elsewhere. In a recent episode, she used her main segment to focus on black Trump supporters for the  anniversary of the day democracy officially died. Starting in 1973, and working her way through the years, Thede breathlessly ticked off the many, many racist things Trump has said about black people, in hopes that she might be able to reach those black hangers-on still content with a Trump presidency. Other late night hosts, like The Daily Show and her old gig The Nightly Show, have covered the black Trump supporter, usually from a place of bewilderment and for laughs, but Thede took a more straightforward, comprehensive approach in a manner not unlike Samantha Bee or John Oliver, when they really get going on something they’re passionate about. It wasn’t funny per se, but her delivery sent the message loud and clear.

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Watching the first few episodes of The Rundown, I’ve wondered if Thede’s appeal stretches beyond the fact that she’s the only black female voice currently in the late-night sphere. For those inherently averse to the genre and its preach-the-choir nature, the show probably won’t make you a convert if you’d rather just get your dose of witty black commentary in real time on the internet. (Thede’s there, too, after all.) Still, sometimes the voice delivering the message really is what matters most. And Thede’s writing and delivery—a combination of homegirl meets cool older sister who let you stay with her at college over the weekend when you were still in high school—is frequently entertaining and worth hearing aloud. She has the confidence to do away with the desk all together (also like Bee), keeps the celebrity guest appearances at a minimum, and is constantly championing other black women doing great things.

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BET’s history of airing original late-night talk-show programming is short and checkered—The Mo’nique Show, which lasted two seasons from 2009-2011, and the straight-laced, short-lived news show Don’t Sleep! hosted by T.J. Holmes are the most recent examples that come to mind—so it’s uncertain whether it will be given a chance to really build and grow its audience. But for now, if you’re looking for a segment about the FBI’s attempts to slander the Black Lives Matter movement that features references to Jermajesty Jackson, Dru Hill, Fashion Nova models, and Tyrese’s terrible spelling, this is your show.

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