Why The Saturday Night Live Diversity Issue Is Really Complicated

By Jessica Rawden 2013-10-16 21:46:10 discussion comments
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Yesterday, a report came out over at TV Guide in which Saturday Night Live cast member Kenan Thompson was grilled about the fact that there is a lack of diversity in the SNL cast, including no female African American players at the present time. When asked why he thinks this happens over and over, Thompson was put on the spot and responded with the following quotation.
"It's just a tough part of the business. Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready."

While thatís probably not the most eloquent quotation Iíve ever heard from someone in show business (or any business), the Internet has been abuzz for the last day and a half pointing fingers at SNL for lacking in diversity and pointing fingers at Thompson for saying black women arenít funny. Upon further review, however, Thompson never said thereís a lack of overall minority talent out there, and many of the supposed solutions people have since come up with to solve the problem are wild and unreasonable.

Letís tackle that first statement first. While it may be true that SNL isnít looking for talent in a wide variety of places, that doesnít mean the late night sketch series isnít giving people of color a shot. What we do know for sure is that SNL mostly pools talent from a few specific communities in the United States, communities that include the Upright Citizens Brigade, Second City Players and the Groundlings. These places definitely have some minority contributors, but itís a limited number thatís already being chosen from a very limited number. We have no idea how well all of the auditions went. All we can learn from Thompsonís statement is that some black women are getting auditions and havenít worked out. Thompsonís certainly not saying he thinks all African American women arenít funny, as a few attention-grabbing headlines have noted (like this, this and this).

More to the point, however, Iíve heard a lot of people talk about how SNL would be funnier if they could just hire someone like Aisha Tyler or Retta to perform on the show. TV Line was a terrible offender of this today, but apparently SNL cast member Jay Pharoah told The Grio that he thinks more women of color should be on the show, noting that he thinks Love Thy Neighbor actress Darmirra Brunson should get the gig.

The problem with all of these suggestions is that they make no sense whatsoever. Tylerís an established actress with her hands in a ton of projects at once, including starring in FXís Archer and hosting the brand new season of Whose Line Is It Anyway?. Retta is also an established actress who worked a ton of guest stints before landing an awesome gig on NBCís Parks and Recreation. Brunsonís acting career is really just getting off the ground, but sheís currently starring in OWNís Love Thy Neighbor, a show that both gives her a foot in the door in the Tyler Perry universe and also happens to bring more African American viewers in on Wednesday nights than any other series. SNLís a show for comedians who are just starting out and havenít gotten their foot in the door somewhere. These women are in their prime right now. They donít need SNL, and if I were them, I wouldnít want to live in the office and work the twenty hours a day schedule that SNL requires.

Saturday Night Live started out as one of the edgiest, ballsy, and most culturally relevant programs on television. Over itís nearly 40-year span, the late night sketch show has had to change and broaden its viewpoint to survive through decades of different NBC corporate heads, as well as changing generations of audiences. Because of this, the show may not be as diverse or edgy as factions of fans want it to be. I do know one thing, though: Lorne Michaels is an expert at changing with the times and keeping his baby on the air.

SNL airs on Saturday nights at 11:30 p.m. ET.
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