HBO has renewed “Insecure” for a fourth season and fellow comedy series “Ballers” for a fifth season.
The renewals come nearly a month after the two series returned for new seasons Aug. 12 on HBO and its digital platforms.
Created by Issa Rae and Larry Wilmore, “Insecure” follows the friendship of two women dealing with their own real-life flaws while attempting to navigate different worlds and cope with an endless series of uncomfortable everyday experiences. Issa Rae, Yvonne Orji, Lisa Joyce, Natasha Rothwell, Amanda Seales and Y’lan Noel star. Executive producers are Rae, Prentice Penny, Melina Matsoukas, Michael Rotenberg, Dave Becky, Jonathan Berry, Jim Kleverweis and Dayna Lynne North.
Starring Dwayne Johnson and created by Stephen Levinson, “Ballers” explores the world of pro football through a group of past and present players striving to stay in the game. Johnson plays ex-superstar Spencer Strasmore, who has reinvented himself as a financial manager for today’s players. Other cast members include John David Washington, Rob Corddry, Omar Benson Miller, Donovan Carter, Troy Garity, London Brown and Brittany S. Hall. Levinson, Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia, Peter Berg, Rob Weiss, Denis Biggs, Karyn McCarthy and Julian Farino serve as executive producers for the series.
Making it in Hollywood is no easy feat, and doing so as a woman is even more difficult. If that woman is black — or Latina or Asian or otherwise nonwhite — the odds just aren’t in her favor. But with the release of “Girls Trip,” four black women — Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall and Tiffany Haddish — attempt a takeover of the buddy comedy, possibly the first time black women have led such a picture.
One reason as to why? The number of black women thought to be able to carry a studio-backed film is slim, and there hasn’t been a bona-fide black female comedic superstar since Whoopi Goldberg. We spoke to 18 funny black women about their industry experiences. Below are their thoughts:
Tracee Ellis Ross
While most probably know Tracee Ellis Ross as Rainbow on the hit “black-ish,” others see Joan Clayton of “Girlfriends,” the early 2000s show almost no one would argue about rebooting.
While most probably know Tracee Ellis Ross as Rainbow on the hit “Black-ish,” others see Joan Clayton of “Girlfriends” — the early 2000s show fans would love to see earn the revival or reunion treatment.
Regardless of her career experiences, Ross is just beginning to get her due recognition. In addition to nabbing a Golden Globe earlier this year, she’s earned her second consecutive Emmy nomination. Some might say she has all the makings of a comedic superstar.
But when she takes a moment to ponder other black women who fit the bill she’s forced to think hard.
“Regina Hall … Issa Rae … Jessica Williams,” she said after a moment, “but I shouldn’t have to search to come up with those names. The difficulty is, and I think what happens is, you might see somebody in a role and you’re like, ‘Holy …! She is so funny.’ Then she doesn’t get another opportunity, but she needs those roles because they help you build a career so everybody knows your name and knows what you’re capable of.
“And it’s not just black comedic women. There are, I’m sure, a lot of very funny Asian women and Latina women, and we know some of them, but it’s not because the talent doesn’t exist. The other thing is, the talent exists, but [performers] need the experience to keep getting better and have more depth.”
Ross is encouraged, however, by the likes of Rae.
“I think Issa is a beautiful example of ‘You’re not going to give me any real estate? Fine. I’m going to make it,’” she said. “There is revolution going on.”
How did you settle into comedic acting?
I loved making people laugh when I was younger. It was frowned upon during dinner time but I thought it was hilarious to make my sister laugh. It was often the thing that got me kicked out of class because I was always silly. It was one of the ways my shyness manifested and the way I protected myself and kept people at bay. And I’ve always been a very physical person so when I experience a feeling, I experience it in my entire body.
As I look back, it was a natural progression into the physical comedy and the ways I use my body. In terms of my career, I don’t know that it was a conscious choice that I moved into comedy, but it was an authentic choice. I don’t consider myself funny. I consider myself silly. I just tell the truth and my truth comes out in a way that makes people laugh. My goal isn’t to make people laugh, but I enjoy that exchange.
I think the difficulty for actors of any kind is when you get stuck with what other people assume is who you are. We’re actors and we can do anything.
— Tracee Ellis Ross
Who are some of your comedic inspirations?
I was a Carol Burnett, Lucy [Ball], Lily Tomlin type of girl. They were the three women that etched it in for me. I remember looking back and seeing Goldie Hawn in “Private Benjamin.” I was drawn to all of that growing up. Those were the women that defined freedom and courage [for me]. From there so many funny women like Julia Louis-Dreyfus — I don’t even understand [how she does it].
And then Whoopi Goldberg did the Moms Mabley documentary, and I was so grateful that she did that because it really showed me that Moms Mabley is specifically one of the reasons I can do what I do. She carved something out and did something so consciously that allows me to be a black woman in comedy.
Tiffany Haddish is legitimately having a moment. As a star of “Girls Trip,” opposite industry vets Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Regina Hall. Based on her performance, and with an upcoming Showtime comedy special, she’s on her way to household-name status.
But what else would you expect from “the last black unicorn?”
How did you get into comedy?
My social worker. [laughs] I was living in South Central L.A. and was being bused to Woodland Hills. I was getting in trouble because I was not sure how to make friends. So I made this imaginary friend up because I thought I was at the Nickelodeon Awards — I had never been around this many white people. I thought I was at the Nickelodeon Awards every day so I thought I needed to be all creative and entertaining because I thought white people lived in TV — my concept of people was really messed up.
I remember going to court and seeing the judge. I thought he was the judge from “People’s Court.” [laughs] By the time I got to 10th grade, it was bothering my social worker that she was getting called to the school every week. I was getting sent to the dean’s office for being racist because I had this bird named Cracker. It was this imaginary bird, and I would be like, “Cracker want a Polly?” And I would take actual crackers and break them up on my shoulder. Kids would laugh and stuff. We’d be taking a test and I would be like, “What’s the answer to number seven Cracker?” And they’d be like, “Go to the dean’s office!”
So my social worker was like, “You have two choices this time. You can go to Laugh Factory Academy Camp or you can go to psychiatric therapy. Which one you want to do this summer?” I was like, “Which one got drugs?” and I went to comedy camp. It was the first time a man ever told me I was beautiful and I didn’t feel like I was going to be hurt in some kind of way. They taught me confidence, communication skills, how to write, how to have stage presence.
Issa Rae is bringing her misadventures to HBO. Insecure, the YouTube star’s comedy pilot, has been picked up to series at the pay cabler. The half-hour comedy examines the friendship of two modern-day African-American women and their uncomfortable experiences and racy tribulations.
Rae stars as Issa Dee opposite Yvonne Orji (Love That Girl!), who will play Issa’s best friend, Molly. Although she is very successful professionally in the corporate world, Molly is not so successful in her love life.
Jay Ellis (The Game) also stars as Lawrence, Issa’s depressed and unemployed boyfriend who has been trying to get his act together for the past four years. Lisa Joyce (Boardwalk Empire) rounds out the ensemble as Frieda, Issa’s liberal and empathetic co-worker at an educational non-profit firm.
Prentice Penny (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) will serve as showrunner on the series, exec producing with Michael Rotenberg, Dave Becky and Jonathan Berry. Rae and Larry Wilmore co-created the project and the wrote the pilot together. She will co-executive produce, while he will serve as a consultant. Wilmore is now behind the desk on Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show, which came after Insecure was put in development at HBO in 2013.
Melina Matsoukas directed the pilot. Rae is known for her award-winning web series, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, which has helped her amass 200,000 subscribers and 20 million views on YouTube. She is repped by UTA, 3 Arts Entertainment and John V. Meigs Jr.
Insecure‘s series pickup comes as part of television’s continued efforts to increase diversity, which have proved successful for networks like Fox (Empire) and ABC (Black-ish).
Insecure joins HBO’s expanding comedy slate that includes Girls, Veep, Silicon Valley, Togetherness, Ballers, The Brink, Doll & Em, the upcoming final season of Getting On and the TV movie finale of Looking.