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Saturday Night Live has been known for breaking lots of television barriers over its nearly 45 seasons, but one thing that has been fairly slow to come to the sketch comedy is variety in the cast. It was just a few seasons ago when it became a bit of an issue that the show had rarely had any African-American females in the cast, with Maya Rudolph being the only one with a high profile and long standing in the cast. While that was remedied when Sasheer Zamada and Leslie Jones (now both gone) were hired, SNL has now added an Asian-American cast member to continue broadening the scope of its performers.
The premiere of Saturday Night Live Season 45 is around the corner, and the show has just announced that Bowen Yang will be a featured player when it hits NBC later this month. Yang actually joined SNL as a staff writer last season, so he's clearly made a big enough impression on Lorne Michaels that he feels Yang should be seen on screen on a regular basis when things kick off this fall.
Bowen Yang, who is also co-host of the Las Culturistas podcast, has actually been on camera for SNL before. He appeared in a skit as Kim Jong-un when Sandra Oh hosted last season, and while he wasn't the main focus of the sequence by any means, he did a pretty good job. Take a look:
See? Bowen Yang made his mark on that sketch, no problem.
Now, before you SNL historians get on my case and say that there have been cast members with Asian heritage before, believe me, I know. Rob Schneider, who graced the SNL stage as a performer from 1990-1994, is a quarter Filipino, while Fred Armisen, who impersonated people like Prince and Barack Obama from 2002-2013, is one third Korean. But, they appear to be the only two, and Bowen Yang will be the sole Asian-American in the current cast.
Saturday Night Live has always had a partial focus on topical comedy, and, to be quite honest, it can be tricky to portray real-life events and / or people when your cast is mostly white. You know, sometimes people with other backgrounds become pop culture phenoms or make the news, and if you've only got white people hanging around, well, you have to do what SNL did last season and maybe bring up a writer to portray a North Korean. Luckily for Bowen Yang, that did end up turning out well for him.
Bowen Yang won't be alone during his first season as a featured player on Saturday Night Live, either. He'll be joined by Chloe Fineman, a Groundling performer who was also a New Face at the 2018 Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal, and Shane Gillis, who was a New Face at this year's festival.