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EXCLUSIVE: ‘Grand Crew’s’ Cast & Creator Speak On The Lack of Black Sitcoms

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Black sitcoms like Grand Crew are few and far between, and we got the cast and creator of NBC’s new show to speak on the matter.

It’s been a while since we had a Black sitcom such as Grand Crew. In the show, a group of Black friends, Noah (Echo Kellum), his sister Nicky (Nicole Byer), Wyatt (Justin Cunningham), Sherm (Carl Tart), and Anthony (Aaron Jennings), talk about the hilarious ups and downs in their life over glasses of wine at their favorite spot. When Fay (Grasie Mercedes) joins the crew, the group grows by one.

The Cast & Creator of 'Grand Crew' Speak on The Lack of Black Sitcoms

Source: Kwaku Alston / NBC

The show created and written by Insecure alum Phil Augusta Jackson is currently well into its first season, and we had the opportunity to talk with the cast, creator, and producer Dan Goor (Brooklyn Nine-Nine). We asked why Black sitcoms are sadly still rare on television? Step into our interview below.

Cassius Life: Why do you think shows such as Grand Crew are few and far between? 

Grasie Mercedes: I’m also a writer, and I’m developing some stuff, and to sell anything is hard in this town, and to sell something and actually get it on television is nearly impossible. To sell something, getting on television and it have an all-Black cast is one in a million. So I think there’s many levels to it. Hollywood has come a long way, but I think we still have a long way to go where people will look at a cast of all black people and say, “oh, that’s a black show,” but you don’t look at a cast of all white people and say, “that’s a white show”. That’s just a show. And so why is that? And so I think why Grand Crew is so important is because, yes, we are all black people, but also these topics and the subject matter that we cover is universal and human.

And we all have feelings. We all fall in love. We all have friendships, so we can all relate to it on some level. But also, yes, it’s for black people too. Of course. That’s okay too. So yeah, I think it’s super important that this show is out there, and I hope people of all colors will support it and watch it and give it a chance. But yeah, it’s hard, Hollywood’s hard. If we get a second season, that’s even another level of hardness. So hopefully, we get it. But yeah, I think it’s important, but we still have a long way to go.

Justin Cunningham: Oh, I was saying I feel like for me, I’m just going to speak from my place of truth or whatever feel is my truth. But yeah, like it’s almost like a little bit of frustration. When you do a show like this that has an all-Black cast, it feels like sometimes people put a label on it saying like, “oh, this is a black show and this way.” And it kind of doesn’t exclude people, but it just puts a label. And then people read labels.

And I think this show, yes, it is an all-Black cast, but it is a cast of people. And I think the show gets to explore that just being people who happen to be of color. And I think that’s, that’s important for people to recognize inside this show. And that it’s not just a black show with a Black agenda, because that’s the thing that people inherently will sort of feel when they see an all-Black cast. It is coming from a black perspective, but it’s also a human perspective. Which is also something that I was drawn to when I first read the script was that I felt human reading it. And I didn’t feel like the color of my skin was leading to my choice. And I think that’s a tip of the hat to Phil Jackson, the writer.

The show may get labeled in a certain sense of being a Black show or having an all-Black cast. That’s what the draw is. But I think what the draw could be is this is a very talented group of individuals coming together to do a comedy. And it’s really, really funny. And people get to play, be fun and be goofy and they happen they be Black and they explore the Blackness as well. But it’s a show that explores many different colors on different levels.

GM: And I said, diversity in our characters and the type of characters we play and the type of characters we get to play that you don’t often see being portrayed by people of color.

Grand Crew Key art and episodic stills featuring Nicole Byers, Echo Kellum, Justin Cunningham, Aaron Taylor Jennings, Carl Tart, Grasie Mercedies

Source: Elizabeth Morris / NBC Pictured: (Grasie Mercedes) and Wyatt (Justin Cunningham)

I’m also a writer, and I’m developing some stuff, and to sell anything is hard in this town, and to sell something and actually get it on television is nearly impossible. To sell something, getting on television and it have an all-Black cast is one in a million.

Echo Kellum: I mean, we could talk about the systemic issues that we deal with living in a white patriarchal world. But the thing that I like to lean into, I think, is the perspective that change can happen and that hopefully, we’re continually moving in a place where it’s less of an anomaly to have a show like this in the air, and that shows like these get a chance to breathe and find audiences. It’s just so cool to see all the shows like just Tuesday nights, like stack, with us and everything else that’s airing right now. And it’s really cool to just see so many Black faces because that’s just something I didn’t really get to see growing up, outside of a few shows or unless you’re really kicking it on Fox.

There’s so much work to do, and you know, it’s a long way to go, but I feel good about the trajectory that we’re heading in that hopefully these things won’t be the rarity, but more of the commonality of just exploring different people’s stories.

Nicole Byer: I mean, just to echo Echo, I feel like there’s a lot of Black shows in the nineties that did really well, but they weren’t allowed time to grow. Now we live in a world where we have streaming. We have, network. We have just so many different places that you can see things that people aren’t letting things grow. They’re like, “oh, we didn’t get the numbers.” It’s like, “well, you didn’t put it on Hulu, or you didn’t put it on Netflix” or whatever. So then things get canceled. And then they’re just like, “oh, well that black show didn’t work. X, Y, and Z. Well let’s,” and it’s like, “well, you didn’t let it have time.”

And then it’s like, well, some white shows work, and some white shows do not work. Are you going to stop making white shows? I don’t think so. So maybe it’s like, we think in terms of shows are shows, some work, some don’t. Also, people at the top need to be trans, people of color, differently-abled people, or disabled people. I can’t remember what I was to say. But it needs to be diverse and inclusive if you want to affect change. Because people tend to like what they know. And if you just a bunch of white people, eight white people making choices, of course, you’re going to be like, “well, I like these white people. They’re nice. They were my men”. Change up top can change… That kind of trickle-down economics works.

Grand Crew Key art and episodic stills featuring Nicole Byers, Echo Kellum, Justin Cunningham, Aaron Taylor Jennings, Carl Tart, Grasie Mercedies

Source: Elizabeth Morris / NBC Pictured: Noah (Echo Kellum) and Nicky (Nicole Byer)

The simple answer is that there’s not a ton of black showrunners. I think that’s what it is. I think that’s why they’re few and far between. I, as a producer, would love to elevate more black voices and more voices of color. But I think that’s the simple explanation there.

Carl Tart: I think it’s because people judge a book by its cover. They look at it, and they go, “oh, I can’t relate to that.” And so you got those same people get jobs that pick shows like that. And they get scared that, “oh, if somebody sees this, they’re not going to relate to it.” As a comedian, I’m taught to play to the height of the audience’s intelligence. So like play to the top of their intelligence. They can identify with stuff that they didn’t think that they would like. I’ve definitely seen commercials pop up during the football game, and I’ll go on Twitter and see something. And people are like. I actually watch that show. It’s actually pretty good. People that you would never think when you read the rest of their tweet, you’d be like, oh damn. But they like that show, you know what I’m saying?

You just got to play to the top people’s intelligence. And I think that that gets lost in the show-making process at times. And that’s no disrespect to anybody because I need my job. But I wish there could be more, but like I’m just happy to have this one now, and hopefully that this helps change the trend. We’ve been seeing it over the years. Hopefully, we are getting back in. There’s some good shows on right now that are black-driven specifically and minority-driven specifically. And I think hopefully that tide is changing as the world changes.

Aaron Jennings: Yeah. And I think sort of the powers that be, see these as black stories, as opposed to just human stories. We’re, we’re fixated on race as opposed to just the humanity. And if it’s a human story, then anyone can connect to it, which I think Grand Crew does a really great job of. We infuse a lot of humor in the humanity as well as just heart. And so there’s a little bit of something for everybody. Yeah. I think that would be my answer to that one.

Grand Crew Key art and episodic stills featuring Nicole Byers, Echo Kellum, Justin Cunningham, Aaron Taylor Jennings, Carl Tart, Grasie Mercedies

Source: Elizabeth Morris / NBC Pictured: Anthony (Aaron Jennings) and Sherm (Carl Tart)

I think it’s because people judge a book by its cover. They look at it, and they go, “oh, I can’t relate to that.” And so you got those same people get jobs that pick shows like that. And they get scared that, “oh, if somebody sees this, they’re not going to relate to it.”

Phil Augusta Jackson: The simple answer is that there’s not a ton of black showrunners. I think that’s what it is. I think that’s why they’re few and far between. I, as a producer, would love to elevate more black voices and more voices of color. But I think that’s the simple explanation there. I’m very fortunate to have this opportunity, and I’m super thankful that I got to kind of put my vision and my voice out there. And my hope is that this unlocks a little bit more potential for more people that look like me to be in charge and to kind of get their vision across, as well. But that’s a simple answer, I think to me.

Dan Goor:  Hopefully it’s more and more that there’ll be shows like this. This show has an unbelievable writing staff. I think the dream is that every person on that writing staff goes off and makes their a show. Hopefully, that’s how it works.

Points were made.

During our time with the cast, we also spoke asked if the cast members experienced the same situations their characters did in the show and why Garrett Morris doesn’t narrate all of the episodes. You can catch new episodes of Grand Crew on NBC Tuesdays at 8:30 pm and on the network’s streaming service Peacock.

You can peep the entire interview above.

Photo: Elizabeth Morris / NBC