Sketch show to add a black woman to cast next year, but is that enough?
NBC's Saturday Night Live received considerable flak this fall when its new class of comedians looked more like a good old boys' club than a melting pot. Of the six new players added to the cast, all are white and just one is a woman.
The homogeneous casting choices brought to light SNL's abysmal diversity track record. The show doesn't employ any black actresses and hasn't had one in its cast in six years. In fact, in the show's 38-year history, only four black female comedians have been part of the cast.
When asked to comment on the sketch show's diversity problem, NBC Universal's Chief Diversity Officer Craig Robinson declined to participate in this story, but SNL creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels did tell The New York Times last week that he's committed to hiring a black woman to join the cast of the iconic sketch show next month.
In fact, Michaels held an audition Dec. 9 for seven or eight potential hires, the Times reports.
"All told we've seen about 25 people," Michaels tells the Times of the current round of auditioning sessions. "A lot of the people we saw are really good. Hopefully we'll come out of the process well."
Comments this fall from one of the sketch show's two black stars didn't go over so well, however.
"It's just a tough part of the business," cast member Kenan Thompson told TV Guide in an October interview . "Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready."
Comedian and actress Retta, who is one of two black actresses on the NBC comedy Parks and Recreation, says she thinks Thompson was commenting not on talent, but rather black female comedians' interest in sketch comedy.
"Just like they say girls aren't encouraged to do math and science, black girls aren't encouraged to do sketch," says Retta, who got her start doing stand-up. "It's never been the course of study for anyone that I know — except people who have already been on SNL. I don't know any people (whose) end goal is sketch."
That doesn't mean the talent isn't out there waiting just to be plucked for prime time.
D.C.-based stand-up comedian Erin Jackson says there's more to SNL than sketching, and that well-rounded black female comic talent is readily available.
"I don't know who has auditioned and who hasn't made it. But, if we're going to talk about black women that are hilarious and great writers, then I can name you a ton," Jackson says. "Issa (Rae) — I think that she's amazing. There's Franchesca Ramsey, there's Abbi Crutchfield. There's so many people in that actual arena that are great at what they do, not to mention stand-ups. So, it sparks a where-are-you-looking (question). I have no idea."