For decades, there was a standard path to sitcom stardom: Start out in standup, get spotted by a network or studio scout, land a development deal and then hopefully star in a hit comedy based on your routine. That pipeline peaked in the 90s, when comedians like Bill Cosby, Martin Lawrence, Mo’Nique, Steve Harvey and others were examples of how that pattern worked. Until it didn’t.
As streaming entered the scene, standup specials became a quick way to build a library of content featuring established, top-tier talent.
A such standup successfully alternating between the live stage and the TV screen is Wanda Sykes, whose scripted comedy “The Upshaws” has just been renewed for a third season, BLAC has learned. Regina Hicks created and runs “The Upshaws” with Sykes, who also stars opposite Mike Epps and Kim Fields. The show, which premiered its Season 2 in June, will return in early 2023.
Netflix is encouraging its stars do it all, Ccomedian Dave Chappelle, for example, is juggling multiple projects at once at the streamer, like his new Untitled documentary, and headlining the Netflix is a Joke Festival, and his stand up specials. Mo’Nique has a standup special on the streamer. Katt Williams has had multiple stand-up specials including his most recent ‘World War III,” and ‘Pimp Chronicles Pt. 1’. Chris Rock and Kevin Hart were stars who have had multiple specials on Netflix.
“The Upshaws” is a multi-camera comedy, which in some ways is indeed reminiscent of the shows that standups starred on in the 1990s.
Sykes credits the streamers, including Netflix, for the new boom in standups being showcased in a variety of ways. “It used to be only a handful of the top comics would get hour specials, but since that number has dramatically increased, more comics get an opportunity, and some of them you probably won’t know,” she says. “The landscape has changed and everyone is looking for content.”
Epps, Page Hurwitz and Niles Kirchner are also EPs on “The Upshaws.” Besides Epps and Fields as Bernie and Regina Upshaw, and Sykes as Lucretia Turner, the show also stars Page Kennedy (Duck), Diamond Lyons (Kelvin Upshaw), Khali Daniya-Renee Spraggins (Aaliyah Upshaw), Jermelle Simon (Bernard Upshaw), Gabrielle Dennis (Tasha Lewis) and Journey Christine (Maya Upshaw).
Bennie Upshaw (Mike Epps), the head of a Black working class family in Indianapolis, is a charming, well-intentioned mechanic and lifelong mess just trying his best to step up and care for his family — wife Regina (Kim Fields), their two young daughters (Khali Spraggins, Journey Christine) and firstborn son (Jermelle Simon), the teenage son (Diamond Lyons) he fathered with another woman (Gabrielle Dennis) — and tolerate his sardonic sister-in-law (Wanda Sykes), all without a blueprint for success. But the Upshaws are determined to make it work, and make it to the next level, together. In season 2 part 1, the Upshaws continue to ride life’s ups and downs, including new loves, old flames, big dreams, life changes and the love and drama that comes with family.