It’s the jaw-dropping 4 minute and 32 second satirical sketch no one can stop talking about or sharing on their social media pages. “The Real Housewives of Civil Rights,” created by the Los Angeles all female women of color comedy troupe Elite Delta Force 3 is an edgy parody of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” but set in the 1960s and starring Coretta Scott King, Betty Shabazz, Winnie Mandela, Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks and, in the Kim Zolciak role, Marilyn Monroe.
So, instead of NeNe Leakes strutting across the camera in the show’s opening, it’s a pearl necklace-adorned Shabazz saying, “When I walk into a room, white people want to shoot me.” (Click here to see the sketch on the EDF3 website).
Elite Delta Force 3 co-founders Nefetari Spencer and Angela Yarbrough say that pushing boundaries is part of the troupe’s mission statement.
“Funny is funny,” explains Yarbrough, who wrote the sketch after Spencer found herself sucked into a Bravo “RHOA” marathon. “It’s about taking our place in American history as African Americans and turning it completely on its head. It’s about realizing how far we’ve come and being able to make fun of that past because we’ve come so far.”
As a writer, Yarbrough says she’s attracted to African American historical figures and mashing them up in modern fish-out-of-water pop culture scenarios. Other EDF3 filmed sketches feature CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien traveling back in time for an exclusive with the first black pilgrim and Harriet Tubman as a contestant on “The Amazing Race” (Says Yarbrough: “The Underground Railroad was the quintessential amazing race of all time!”). Not to mention, Atlanta director Tyler Perry‘s great grandfather’s silent film, “Thelonius Perry’s Diary of a Mad Colored Dame.”
This summer, the EDF3 hopes to depart their improv space in Los Angeles to bring their brand of sketch comedy on a tour of U.S. cities, including Atlanta.
Spencer says a failed audition for “Saturday Night Live” with creator Lorne Michaels and the lingering “boys club” atmosphere of the Los Angeles comedy circuit helped to inspire the formation of EDF3 and the material they write for themselves.
“I would go out on auditions and get so disillusioned by what I was offered to play,” Spencer says. “It was all this degrading shuck and jive stuff. I remember thinking, ‘Why do I always have to play the prostitute?’ It’s so great to be able to perform your own material from your own perspective.”
Still, Spencer concedes that she’s usually the one in the group who routinely stops to ponder whether they’re going too far in their comedy. For example, in “The Real Housewives of Civil Rights” sketch, the women depict Parks as a drunk, Shabazz as a handgun toting freak with a “friendship contract” for Coretta to sign and comic Wayne Brady has a cameo as MLK where he calls the first lady of the movement a bitch.
“I cringed a bit at that initially,” Spencer says. “I thought, ‘Oh, how is this going to play?’ But Wayne played it in a really lighthearted way and it was very very funny. When we were shooting the scene with Betty, Coretta and the gun, I remember thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, are we really doing this? This is so wrong. But when you can’t stop laughing, you know the material is there.”
While Spencer says “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” is ripe for parody, she disagrees that the Bravo franchise’s only African American female-focused cast is embarrassing to black women. “It’s not just about making black women look bad,” she says. “The entire ‘Real Housewives’ franchise, whether it’s Atlanta or Beverly Hills or Miami, is making all women look bad.”
Seventy percent of the viewers of the comedy website Funny or Die rate the newest EDF3 sketch “funny” and the EDF3 YouTube page has attracted more than 43,000 page views and more than a few negative comments. Writes a poster identified as gahen21: “This is an absolute disgrace to make a mockery of the men and women involved in the civil rights movement. You Aunt Jemimas and Uncle Remuses involved in this travesty should be ashamed of yourselves! The KKK wouldn’t produce anything as distasteful.”
“I’m saddened that some people are outraged,” says Spencer. “But the ones who are calling us Aunt Jemimas are missing the point. We’re able to do what we do now because of the legacy that these women left for us. Being able to make fun of these things is a testament to how far we’ve come as a people because of their sacrifices.”
Adds Yarbrough: “I never set out to write a history lesson. But since this sketch has been out there, we’ve heard younger people say, ‘I didn’t even know who Betty Shabazz was.’ They’re Googling her. People are talking about the civil rights movement and having that conversation. It’s never a bad thing when you can make people laugh and think.”
What’s your take on “The Real Housewives of Civil Rights?” Is it funny or does it go too far? We welcome your response below.