“We have to laugh at it before we lose our minds. Laughter is truly one of the greatest medicines ever.”
Comedy has an innate ability to uplift and provide an outlet of escape during low moments. Over the years, Black communities have consistently turned to comedic sitcoms that served as a reflection of our circumstances and a reminder of our collective potential to overcome. The Evans, The Jeffersons, The Banks, The Winslows, The Baxters and even The Prouds are Black families who have respectively reflected the holistic complexities of life through comedic forms.
Television royalty from a talented family of her own, Kim Fields is continuing in this tradition in her role as no-nonsense mother Regina Upshaw on Netflix's family comedy show The Upshaws. The matriarch and glue of her family unit, Regina Upshaw does her best to show up for her loved ones by her own means while learning each step of the way. Separately, Fields utilizes varying methods of storytelling through her work in front of the camera, behind the camera and even as an entrepreneur to magnify the scope of what life has to offer.
EBONY spoke with the veteran actress about her career, her role in the Netflix series and how comedy is a significant yet under-appreciated source of light within our community.
EBONY: You are a staple figure within our community and have brought lightheartedness and laughter into many homes for decades. Is there a secret to your career longevity?
Kim Fields: I really have been thinking about this a great deal. After seeing Janet Jackson recently, I started to hone in on the fact that we've been doing this for such a long time. There's so many of us who have but we still love it. We still have a passion for what we do and we push ourselves as artists to give a nod to what has been while also being forward thinkers. Where do we want to take you next, not just for ourselves, but for the sake of our art? With that being said, I feel like I still love what I do. I don't feel like for a moment that I've peaked. In terms of my my art or my commitment to my craft, I feel in a lot of ways, there's still so many untapped areas and that's what gets me really excited. I got into this business at age six or seven because I love the idea of creating characters and still after all this time, there's more So, yes, I've been doing this for over 45 years but I was two characters for a total of 14. There's still a lot of stories to tell and ways to tell them. I'm grateful to still be doing it and doing it well. We've got so many platforms and great storytellers and we've turned a different corner in the chapter of diversity. However it is still important to be part of that conversation so that it stops just being trendy and just simply becomes a goddamn reality.
What excites you most about The Upshaws return for a new season?
I'm excited to continue the Upshaw's journey of navigating without a blueprint in the most messy, comical and real way as possible. It's like when you play a video game for hours and hours and never get tired because there's always something new and you keep leveling up. That's a lot of what I feel about being a part of the Upshaws. Just when you think "Oh, come on, y'all can't go there—oh no, y'all went there!"
How do you think this series positively upholds the idea that Black families are not monolithic and are just like other families?
We are very intentional. Nothing is simply done just out of a gratuitous moment— from the cussing to the storylines and the plot lines. Everything is done meticulously and from a very strategic standpoint. This strategy is something that Mike, Wanda and Regina Hicks, our show's creator, really wanted to embrace and execute. It has to be so funny; it has to be real; it has to be relatable; it has to be edgy; and then circle back and repeat. It trickles down from them to our writers room, which is fire. If it's not on the page, it is not on the stage. From there, we can breathe even more life into it. Our goal is to be funny as f**k every single time.
If I zoom all the way in to micro level, that's where Kim and Regina Upshaw collide and connect. Initially, I wasn't checking to do another comedy. I've been blessed to do 14 years in total of sitcoms and comedies. I was looking for other ways to flex in my drama space and beyond—shoot, even some sci fi! Playing Regina Upshaw is so juicy and I love all the complexities that the role gives me. I get so many brushes and colors to paint with. It's been a delicious opportunity for me as an actor.
Can you speak to the comedic influences that you all embodied and channelled to take on The Upshaws?
When Mike and Wanda brought this concept to Regina, they wanted to facilitate a nod the Norman Lear style of comedies and storytelling. What if we go at it the way that Fred and Aunt Esther used to? Or, the way George Jefferson and Helen used to? We haven't seen that style in so long as people get so very sensitive the content so often has to be politically correct. However, we've gotten away with being able to not be politically correct because actors and comedians are telling each other to do it. Some of the funniest things I've ever heard is being on set where Wanda will say "Hey Mike, right here, call me a used Q-tip" and they banter back and forth about how to make the scene funnier.
Another way we take that nod is through taking the things that are really relevant but having really interesting and funny characters goes through them. For example, it was relatable for Michael Evans of Good Times to try to be this this voice for the people at age 10. Or, when Thelma was interested in her African man and wearing a dashiki. These are the cultural moments that we don't forget and that's been 50 years ago. So it may not be anything new under the sun but we make these moments new through how we are dealing with them and having to deal with the repercussions from a mama who's like a Regina Upshaw.
How does the Black comedic style evoke Black joy and ,simultaneously, how can laughter be a balm for tumultuous times within our community?
We didn't know that the COVID-19 lockdown or George Floyd, for example, was going to happen when we started The Upshaws. The first points of entry with this whole show and this idea, was that it has to be funny. Then the second level was that it has to be messy and relevant because that's so much of what people can relate to. I think where the empowerment and that balm comes in is the sense of we've been through some sh*t and we know we're gonna get to the other side so we have to laugh at it before we lose our minds. Laughter is truly one of the greatest medicines ever.
It's like comfort food. Not everybody's mac and cheese or sweet potato pie is going to make you feel good. But every now and again, you'll taste something that reminds you of what grandma used to make or will remind you of home—that's what comedy is.
If you could chose to be a part of any Black family unit throughout television history, who would it be and why?
I would have to say Diahann Carroll's Julia and her family. Julia had a cute son, they were in the 60s with all kinds of style, and, as a mother, was 'bout it with no blueprint.