Depending on whom you believe whether they were real or fake, auditions were held in L.A. recently to search for a female African-American cast member for Saturday Night Live. This “opportunity” or “publicity stunt” comes amongst the controversy following the remarks from the only two African-American cast members in SNL‘s current cast, Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah. Kenan believes that there hasn’t been a woman of pigment that has been able to make it through the auditions yet. While Jay believes that there are African-American women that are qualified to be part of the cast. Unless they want to keep having Kerry Washington on as a host for multiple episodes or exclude all the news stories about Michelle Obama, Beyonce Knowles, Rihanna, and Oprah Winfrey from becoming sketches, they need a woman of color and fast because in the same interview, Kenan announced that he is done portraying women on the show. Hopefully, the show’s creator, Lorne Michaels, is not just trying to fill a quota or shut down potential boycotts/controversy and realizes that the show can greatly benefit from this addition. For those that don’t believe a certain type of new cast member will benefit from the show, if they think she will will only experience being scrutinized and labeled a token aren’t thinking about the larger outcome for her or Black comedic actresses.
The legendary sketch show, Saturday Night Live, has been on air since 1975. In that 38 year span, there have only been four female African-Americans listed as cast members. Yvonne Hudson (1980-1981), Danitra Vance (1985-86), Ellen Cleghorn (1991-95), and the most recognizable name of the quartet, Maya Rudolph (2000-2007) are the only women of color to appear in front of the camera for NBC’s long running series. While I am a fan of Ms. Rudolph, I couldn’t help but think of how often I did watch the show during her appearances. I watched Saturday Night Live for her, Ana Gasteyer, Rachel Dratch, Will Ferrell, Tracy Morgan, Cheri Oteri, Tim Meadows, Molly Shannon, Chris Kattan, Tina Fey, and sometimes Jimmy Fallon, but ultimately, I would always chose to watch MADtv more.
During my childhood in the nineties, there were two sketch shows that I watched on a regular basis. All That was the acceptable choice for the kids, like all Nickelodeon productions back then and today, while MADtv was the mature option like Family Guy or The Boondocks today. The first episode aired on October 14, 1995 and every Saturday at eleven after killing time by switching from Showtime at the Apollo and Saturday Night Live, I would be watching faithfully. SNL is a show I can watch now that I’m in my twenties, but back then I didn’t catch all of the jokes and appreciate it because of its subtlety. For instance, Debra Wilson’s impression of Whitney Houston was over the top, because it needed to be for the person she was imitating while Maya Rudolph’s impression didn’t feature anything else besides some occasional yelling while speaking. Remember their spoof of MTV’s Icon show honoring Ms. Houston? Even though the last season was horrible and there was no finale sendoff, MADtv produced many memorable sketches and characters over the course of fourteen seasons on Fox, but it was missing one great element for all of its past cast members.
There are also memorable sketches and characters throughout SNL‘s history, some of them became movies, but the only thing worthwhile about being apart of Lorne Michael’s vehicle is the legacy and post career. Countless former cast members go on to successful film and television careers. Besides Orlando Jones high and low moments of his film career, (One minute he’s in Drumline, the next minute he’s in that movie switching places with Eddie Griffin. The film’s title is not worth a Google search.) Nicole Sullivan’s sitcom appearances, Phil Lamar and Alex Borstein’s extensive voiceover work, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are the most visible of the MADtv alumni. In the last two years alone, Jason Sudeikis, Kristin Wiig, Andy Samberg, Fred Armisen, and Bill Hader have left their Saturday night jobs and remained recognizable names and faces in entertainment, which makes me wonder if the campaign for an African-American actress is based on this fact alone. Kevin Hart hosted SNL earlier this year, but if a Black female comedian was considered to host, who would the choices be? There is not a single Black female comedian that has mainstream appeal. Mo’Nique, Kym Whitley, and countless other female comedians can play the comedic relief in a Black romantic comedy, but they can’t star in their own movies. Maybe that can change with the new cast member of SNL.
I’ve been wondering if the same online activists that have been complaining about the lack of diversity for SNL have been watching the last few years or if they’ll start watching more. Honestly, the show has its moments when it’s funny and then there’s the 4th quarter of the show after the 2nd musical performance where they’re just filling out their time slot. Everyone wants to be represented and I think the cast should be a reflection of society, but more importantly, funny. I want the 5th African-American female cast member to be as big as Tina Fey or Amy Poehler. Actually, I hope she’s as big as the countless former male cast members(i.e. Myers, Murphy, Rock, Sandler), but it’s not going to happen unless she’s capable of making it out of the audition, passes the criticism of being the token Black girl, and becomes a worthwhile element of the show.