Krystal Ali and Samiyyah Ali discuss “What Had Happened Was,” their new show inspired by Black sitcoms

Ever wonder what Friends or Full House would be like with a dash of melanin? This is your chance to find out!

Married improvisers Krystal and Samiyyah Ali take on the role of directors for their new show What Had Happened Was. The show mines Black sitcoms from the ’90s and ’00s to re-imagine an audience member’s favorite show. The Alis spoke to us about the inspiration of their source material and how they devised the show.


In a nutshell, what can audiences expect from your new show What Had Happened Was?

Nostalgia, realness, and of course, lots of laughter.  The cast is going to take an audience member’s favorite sitcom and re-imagine it live onstage–infusing their own perspectives, experiences, and sense of humor.  The show will remind you of the distinct things you like about your favorite sitcom, but in unexpected and unpredictable ways.


What inspired you to create this show?

Samiyyah’s soap box is the rise and decline of black sitcoms in the ’90s.  There were so many. And numerosity is important because it allows audiences to see a diversity of experience within the Black community, instead of just tokenized and caricatured characters.  The Mitchell family (Moesha) was different from the Winslow family (Family Matters), who were different from the Banks family (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air).  When there were particularly unique characters, we even got spinoffs (The Parkers, A Different World).  We don’t see that type of Black diversity on the mainstream networks.  So we decided to bring it to the improv stage instead.


What specific genre influences did you draw from in creating the show? What were your favorite classic Black sitcoms?

We watch a lot of TV in our house, so it’s hard to pinpoint a certain influence.  Krystal grew up watching Martin; Samiyyah loved The Parent ‘Hood (which should’ve had a stronger following!!!).  But we both love them all—from Fresh Prince to Sister, Sister.  We love sitcoms because of the focus on distinct characters.  When someone brings up Ashley from Fresh Prince or Maxine from Living Single, you can immediately picture them and can predict how they’ll respond in every situation.  


What are the main elements of the genre that you’ve identified and chosen to play with?

So many of them.  The thing about sitcoms, especially the ones from the ’90s and ’00s, is that they all have unique characteristics.  Whether it’s how the lead protagonist engages with the audience, where the ensemble cast always gathers, or the fact that the show is about nothing at all.  The cast will play with all those elements, but they’ll take their inspiration from the audience each night and make it their own.  So you’ll have to come see for yourself! 


Tell us about the cast of the show and how they’ve helped shape it through the rehearsal process.

We are so excited about this cast! We wanted to feature a group with varied experience levels and comedic backgrounds.  So the cast features some students and players who will be performing on the WIT mainstage for the first time, as well as a few current Harold members and WIT ensemble players from Hellcat, iMusical, Lena Dunham, Madeline, Nox!, and Uncle Gorgeous.  We’ve spent a lot of time in rehearsal talking about what sitcoms the cast members love and what they love about them; we want them to play with the things onstage that they personally find funny.  They’ve done a great job bringing themselves to each rehearsal and being authentic onstage. They’re naturals! From the first rehearsal, the format fell into place organically. 


What Had Happened Was debuts June 15 as part of the Genre Reveal Party performance series, which features riffs on different genres by WIT’s company ensembles. To catch iMusical’s fairy tale or Madeline’s after school special (and more!), check out our schedule.

The show stars Darnell Eaton, Kendall Hollimon, Richard Johnson, Al-Hassan Koroma, Jamal Newman, Chizo Nwagwu, Simonica Mendes, Arielle Rich, Tandra Turner, Francesca Washington, Simone Webster, and Eddison Wilkinson. Kourtney Ramseur serves as tech manager and Jelicia Ross serves as production manager.

June 6, 2024