'Black-ish' Mixes Comedy With Controversy to Give Viewers a Good Laugh and Something to Relate to

ABC sitcom has covered serious topics such as police brutality and the "n-word."

ByABC News
February 22, 2016, 8:53 PM

— -- The fictional Johnson family on “Black-ish” has left viewers in stitches with their take on being black and successful in America, but the ABC sit-com, now in its second season, isn’t afraid to take on controversy -- after all, race is front and center here.

Anthony Anderson stars as high-level ad executive Andre “Dre” Johnson who worries his privileged kids are out of touch with their roots and only “Black-ish.”

The Johnson family dynamic played out on the TV show is familiar to Anderson, who serves as an executive producer on the show.

“My son came to me at 12 years old and said he didn't feel black,” Anderson told “Nightline” “And he and I had to have a conversation about his blackness and I understood where he was coming from.

“My family is still living in Compton and in Watts,” he continued. “And him seeing how they live and juxtaposed to how he's living his lifestyle and what he sees going on with young black men around this country and that's not his experience.”

On the show, Dre struggles to keep it real in his household along with his wife Rainbow “Bow” Johnson, played by actress Tracee Ellis Ross, who brings a different background.

“I bring all of myself to Bow, but Bow's circumstances and experiences are not the same as mine,” she said.

Kenya Barris created “Black-ish” in part to fill a void on television.

“I think that's sort of the hard thing that we're finding with this show is that because there are so few examples of people of color on TV a lot of times the few examples that are become the voice piece of America. We're not a people who have one way of thinking,” Barris said.

This sitcom vows to go where few comedies have gone – in the way it tackles politically incorrect subjects, which began with the show’s title. And Anderson isn’t fazed if some viewers find some of the topics on the show uncomfortable.

“It doesn't bother me that some people may find some of the stuff uncomfortable,” he said. “That means we're in our groove. That means we're doing what we set out to do. Anytime that you're trying to say something of relevance and importance, it's going to make people uneasy.”

At first, Ross said she was worried about the show being called “Black-ish” but now, she said, “I can’t think of it being called anything else.”

“What can it be called? What're you going to call it? ‘The Johnsons?’ My reaction to it is exactly what our show does,” she said.

“That was the big difference between us and ‘The Cosby Show,’” Barris added. “That's why I stuck to the name ‘Black-ish,’ … that family was about a family that happened to be black and this was about a family that was absolutely black.”

And it’s not just the show’s title that’s controversial. The show has tackled the “n-word” and this week, there will be a hot button episode entitled “Hope” that deals with police brutality and how to discuss it with your kids.

Anderson said he has talked to his own kids about the police and race.

“I said to my son, ‘one day it's going to be thrown in your face how black you really are, and hopefully I've prepared you with the tools to deal with that when that happens,’” he said.

It’s something he said he has learned from personal experience.