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Saturday Night Live’s New Cast: The Whitest Yet?

By Albert Lin

The cast of Saturday Night Live lacks diversity, with no Blacks joining an increasingly white cast.One aspect of the new season of Saturday Night Live is no laughing matter: the lack of representation in the cast.

Following the departure of longtime stalwarts Andy Samberg, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis and Bill Hader during the summer, executive producer Lorne Michaels had a chance to remake the show. Instead, he added more of the same: Five of its six new cast members are white men. The only exception is Noël Wells, who reportedly is of Hispanic and Tunisian descent.

That means that out of 16 cast members, only two are Black: Jay Pharoah and Kenan Thompson. (Iran-born Nasim Pedrad and Wells are among SNL’s six women.)

This doesn’t sit well with many, including comedian W. Kamau Bell, host of the FX show Totally Biased, who told Salon that people who claim that the pool of Black candidates is too small “are looking at the country club pool. They’re not going to the public pool.”

Michaels, who has not commented on the backlash, seemed to take a shot at his numerous critics in this sketch featuring Thompson and guest host Tina Fey. (Scroll to the 4:12 mark.)

Thompson started another round of debate this week when he defended his boss, telling TVGuide.com in a story that posted last week that the reason the show doesn’t have any Black women in particular is that “in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready.” That comment drew its own jeers, such as the tweet below:

 

Coincidentally, NBC announced two days later that Scandal star Kerry Washington will be hosting the show on Nov. 2. According to BuzzFeed, Washington will be only the ninth Black woman to host SNL  in its 39 seasons.

A Longtime Problem

Of course, SNL’s lack of representation is nothing new. During its first 38 seasons, Saturday Night Live featured only 13 Black cast members, despite two of its most iconic alums (Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock) being Black. Producers have an astoundingly low rate of casting Black women, having hired only four Black women in nearly four decades, despite multiple openings almost every year. The most recent Black woman on the cast, Rudolph, left the show in 2007. (Rudolph’s mother was late singer Minnie Riperton of “Lovin’ You” fame.)

If Michaels is looking for suggestions, he only has to walk down the hallway at 30 Rock. Pharoah, who plays President Obama on the show—a role that in 2008 was controversially given to Fred Armisen, who is of German, Japanese and Venezuelan descent—told TheGrio.com that he has the perfect candidate. “They need to pay attention,” Pharoah said. “Her name is Darmirra Brunson. … Why do I think she should be on the show? Because she’s Black first of all, and she’s really talented. She’s amazing. She needs to be on SNL. I said it.” Brunson currently stars on the OWN show Tyler Perry’s Love Thy Neighbor.

Of course, SNL does no better with other underrepresented groups. As The Washington Post points out, Wells is only the third person of Latino descent on the show, after Horatio Sanz and Armisen. Armisen also checked the show’s Asian box, as he and Rob Schneider (who is one-quarter Filipino) are the only performers of East Asian or South Asian descent to have been cast members. That’s led to disjointed sketches such as this one, with Armisen playing Obama and Hader playing Chinese President Hu Jintao.

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8 Comments

  • Larry Kaplan

    I have been noticing this for many years, and always asked myself what the hell are Lorne Michaels, NBC and the show’s producers thinking? It’s another indication that the entertainment industry needs to get with the program. And as bad as it is in FRONT of the camera, it’s worse BEHIND the camera—which explains why it’s so white in front! The problem is that the entertainment industry is a big family business—you need the familial and social connections to break in or you are toast.

  • I’m a longtime fan of SNL because of its sharp-edged, comtemporary comedy, but I gave up on expecting SNL powers that be (make that POWER that be) to be more diverse or inclusive with respect to casting long, long ago. SNL’s continued refusal to open up is one reason shows like “In Living Color” were so popular – African Americans (for one) could finally see their own reflection in sketch comedy! As Loren Michaels has proven over and over again, he has no interest in changing. That said, I challenge both female and male African American, Latino, Hispanic, Asian, Japanese, Indian, Arabic and other diverse comedic entertainers to pool their resouces to bring on the (colorful) competition! (That goes for other genre programming on
    big AND little screens too; maybe then the one black guy won’t be killed off mid-movie.)

    • Flo, thank you for remembering that not everyone in America is white, black or Latino. When have you seen any Asians on SNL?

  • Footnote: Kenan Thompson’s no fool. I doubt he will put his job in jeopardy by putting his boss on blast.

  • Missy Mary

    I eagerly awaited seeing the new cast. I was sorely disappointed… Maybe the new cast are funny as all get out but frankly, I want to look at something/someone different. Like some people of color! I watched SNL for decades. I wish that MADTV were back on.

    I am reduced to finding stand-up online and going to my local comedy clubs if I want some comedy on Saturday Night… I am going to have to say buh-bye to SNL. The new cast was the final straw…

  • …..shouldn’t matter now should it ?

    Tyler Perry may want to consider an ensemble-type comedy show…he could make it so funny with all non-whites that they’d have to cancel SNL.

    Try it.

  • Not sure why this is such a big deal. Generally speaking I’ve found that black and white people have different senses of humor, so if the humor that Lorne is trying to achieve is bias towards a white audience and white cast, then again, why is it such a big deal? Tyler Perry comedies are underrepresented by white cast members, and countless comedy clubs that have primarily black audiences favor black comedians, so where’s the beef?

  • To Matt:

    Makes sense.

    Dif strokes…Dif folks !

    All is good.

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