Kenan Thompson on SNL Diversity Woes: Is Lack of 'Ready' Black Female Comics the Problem?
Kenan Thompson‘s days of dressing in drag on Saturday Night Live are apparently over, but that’s not the only reason you won’t see impersonations of Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Beyoncé — or even a timely Sleepy Hollow or Scandal spoof — on NBC’s long-running sketch comedy series.
The actor tells TVGuide.com that finding funny black female sketch comics is “just a tough part of the business. Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready.”
Insert sound of needle scratching across the record here. And if you’re wondering, the record in question is Janis Joplin’s “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder).” Because clearly, that’s what SNL needs to do when it comes to casting new and diverse talent. Lest we forget, the show brought in six new featured players for its recently launched 39th season — five white men and one white woman. Even more egregiously, the underwhelming Tim Robinson was allowed to stick around for all of Season 38, so it’s not like Lorne Michaels & Co. couldn’t afford to take a gamble and test out an up-and-coming black female (or two) in the interest of broadening their comedic horizons. (If nothing else, the ability to bring the First Lady into the show’s wretched political coverage would make such a risk entirely worthwhile.)
Even more puzzling, SNL‘s problem with African-American ladies seems to extend to its hosting invites, too. Of the 90 episodes the show has aired since Season 35, only two black women (and four women of color in total) have hosted: Gabourey Sidibe (April 2010) and Maya Rudolph (February 2012), along with Latina A-listers Jennifer Lopez and Sofia Vergara. And yet during this period, Miley Cyrus has hosted twice, as have January Jones, Taylor Lautner and Eli Manning. (Spoiler alert: None of the people in the preceding sentence are remotely funny!)
Thompson went on to tell TVGuide that because he and fellow African-American cast member Jay Pharaoh aren’t interested in portraying female characters, the show has simply declined to dive into potentially rich scenarios involving black women.
But dude’s logic seems entirely flawed, just a slight variation on the “there are no funny women” theme that’s been dead and buried (but continues to occasionally stick its claw out from the grave) for years now.
There may not be an easy answer to SNL‘s diversity problem — not if Lorne Michaels and the show’s producing team refuse to see it, or more importantly, refuse to remedy it. And that’s a damn shame — not so much for a generation of funny black females locked out of Studio 8H, but for audiences that deserve more consistent, more robust laughs for their loyalty.
What do you think? Is there validity in Thompson’s comment about a lack of black female comics? Or do you believe the show isn’t trying hard enough to cast a wider net? Do you enjoy SNL as-is, or does the lack of black, female characters truly hurt the show? Hit the comments with your thoughts!