‘The Upshaws’ is a multi-camera sitcom on Netflix that follows a working-class African American family in Indiana. The show is created by Regina Y. Hicks and comedy veteran Wanda Sykes, who also stars and executive produces along with funnyman Mike Epps. The eponymous family sees Bennie (Epps) as the well-meaning head of the household who just can’t seem to get things right, much to the chagrin of his longtime partner and wife Regina (Kim Fields).
The show gets its laughs from Bennie attempting to juggle the garage that he runs along with his four kids and a sister-in-law (Sykes) that can’t wait for him to screw up. The complicated family shares the stage with a host of colorful characters, including their freshly religious ex-con friend Duck and Bennie’s “baby mama” Tasha. As they grapple with everyday issues, one can’t help but empathize with the characters and feel connected to the family. So are ‘The Upshaws’ based on a real family or their story based on a true one? Let’s find out!
Is The Upshaws Based on a True Story?
No, ‘The Upshaws’ is not based on a true story. The relatability towards the show’s namesake family comes from the creators’ focus on recreating an African American family that portrays how most middle-class families in America actually live. Talking about the dearth of middle-class, everyday Black families portrayed on television, co-showrunner Wanda Sykes told Essence “It feels great to do this type of show because it always seems like either we’re super rich or we’re slaves or there’s a lot of Black pain going on. So it’s nice to show a working class family who loves each other but it’s messy.”
Wanda added, “I think it represents how most of us are living right now.” The idea for the show originated between Sykes and Epps when the latter shared an idea for a sitcom based on a working-class Black family in the midwest. The two found common ground in the kind of sitcoms they liked, especially ones by Norman Lear who is famously known as the person behind such iconic shows as ‘All in the Family,’ ‘One Day at a Time,’ ‘The Jeffersons,’ and ‘Good Times.’
Soon after, Sykes was struck by the realization that there was a distinct lack of middle-class Black families on television and decided to pen the series along with Regina Y. Hicks. With Sykes claiming that the show is about representation, its writers work hard at keeping the characters extremely relatable. Epps has mentioned that he relates to his character Bennie partly because they both share some qualities, and also because the character is written so that he is relatable to a wide audience. Sykes has even mentioned that her character, Lucretia, reminds her of some of her own aunts.
Additionally, Epps is also from Indianapolis, which is one of the reasons why the show is based there. Excited about portraying life in Indiana, Epps said “The little middle of America rural areas — we never get to hear the jokes about it.” But despite the constant stream of jokes from the family’s antics, the show remains faithful to portraying a family that in essence feels realistic and is always relatable instead of being typecast or stereotypical.
In an interview with AARP, Sykes talked about making a sitcom that is also realistic: “We do try to keep it grounded. Every episode is not going to be a happy ending and tied up in a nice little bow because that’s not how life works. If we think something comes from a real place, we’re going to go for it.” The show also has deep banks of comedy to draw from, with both Sykes and Epps coming with years of experience with making people laugh. Their characters on the show share a dynamic driven by mutual disdain, resulting in a blazing rapport between the two of hurling creative abuses at each other.
Often, the dialogues between Epps and Sykes were thought up at the spur of the moment, leading to scenarios like Sykes telling Epps to call her character “a used Q-tip,” which left the entire cast and crew in splits. With multiple sources to draw comedy from and a writing team focused on making the show relatable, ‘The Upshaws’ manages to present characters and situations that seem real but are also hilarious.
Read More: Where is The Upshaws Filmed?