F&S: Why Black-ish, and why now?
KB: The easiest answer is “why not?” (laughs) I think timing is everything, You look at Scandal, you look at President Obama. As a [black] culture, we’ve stepped up and shown our part of what America is, what America is in a bigger way than before. We made a push [with Black-ish] to be a part of that slice. That’s an honor.
F&S: Where do you see Black-ish in the family tree of prime-time black family comedies like The Bernie Mac Show, Cosby, Good Times, and Sanford & Son? Which of those shows did you grow up feeling more attuned to?
KB: I guess a little bit of all of them, and little bit of none of them. I think the Cosby show [is important to me] for obvious reasons. Mr. Cosby did an amazing trade. But The Cosby Show, yes, a lot of it. Bernie Mac because he was my partner who I did the pilot with after I wrote creative for Bernie Mac. Bernie Mac did great comedy, but our comedy is a little bit different. I definitely feel we are trying to be our own show. Shows are sort of like kids: you start them off thinking you know what they are going to be when they grow up, but they have a way of taking on a life of their own.
F&S: What is the message of Black-ish? What makes it different from those other shows?
KB: I think the other shows didn’t necessarily look to talk so much about culture and identity and society in general: they were strictly about a particular family. I think the difference with our show is that our show is a comedy, but it’s definitely trying to have something to say. This is a black family that we’re using as a lens to show a picture to America about culture and identity, and to look at how there are generational differences within a black family in the modern world that aren’t necessarily what we’re used to.
F&S: Will the show tackle controversial topics like the Adrienne Peterson scandal, raising kids, and that kind of thing? Or will you keep it light?
KB: Yeah! We actually have an episode on spanking we did that I am very proud of.
F&S: Wow! That’s great. You have Larry Wilmore as one of your Executive Producers. What does he bring to the mix?
KB: Experience, know how point of view, brotherhood, everything and more. Larry is a huge part of what we do, and I’m very happy to be able to learn from him. (Update: Hours after this interview, Wilmore left the production team of Black-ish to pursue a new opportunity as the host of the new late night show, The Minority Report with Larry Wilmore, to fill the spot once occupied by the popular The Colbert Report.]
F&S: Naming your characters, you have Rainbow, Dre -- like Dr. Dre, Jack and Diane named after a song by John Cougar Mellencamp: tell us about the choice of names for your characters.
KB: Rainbow is actually my wife’s name. The wife in the show names the twins Jack and Diane much to [her husband’s] dismay because that was her favorite song growing up, and because she grew up in a different environment than he did. Dre is short for Andre, and I felt that worked for us because it was close to Anthony and definitely spoke to a traditionally pretty black name in America. We liked the other names… If we (Barris and his wife) had another kid we would name her Zoey, maybe! [Editor’s Note: The older daughter on the show is named “Zoey”.]
F&S: Were the name choices for easy laughs?
KB: They just sort of fit the characters. We felt like those would be the names these people would name their kids.
F&S: Andy tries to convince his Dad to celebrate his birthday the Jewish way. Is that going to be a regular part of the show? Talking about faith, religion, values, black culture and how the new generations are moving away from their traditional religious beliefs?
KB: No… It was just that episode: it was about a bigger kid who was caught up into a moment. We definitely feel like at some point and time we would like to get into a better relationship to the family’s faith, but that’s a very sensitive topic that we would want to do correctly and have something to say in a funny way -- but in a real way as well.
F&S: Do you see the show in any way as an answer to people who say we live in a post-racial society? Race still counts...
KB: Absolutely, but this show is not just about race.