"They need to pay attention"
December 12, 2013 4:26 PM   Subscribe

Saturday Night Live, facing criticism for lacking diversity, has held 'secret' auditions for black female cast members.

One of the women, Damirra Brunson, was specifically mentioned by current cast member Jay Pharaoh as someone who should be hired.
posted by troika (79 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, while it's fantastic that SNL has more diversity, on the other hand, the criticisms of lacking diversity aimed specifically in light of how the original casting call hired only white people and mostly men should point to a systematic problem with diversity in casting practices. I feel like the ad-hoc "secret audition" in some respects misses the point of what was being cricitized in the first place, and is an easy way to hit diversity points while avoiding the difficulty of looking at the covert racist and sexist bias within SNL casting and show culture.
posted by Conspire at 5:15 PM on December 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


What alternate remedy are you seeking, Conspire? It seems to me that the way to respond to "a systemic problem with diversity in casting practices" is to cast more diverse cast members, and they seem to be moving in that direction. Yes, they're doing it only after being publicly chastised, but what's done is done, and they've taken their lumps for it. I think the right move here is to acknowledge that they're making an effort, even though that effort is woefully late, and commend them for doing so while at the same time holding their feet to the fire going forward. I think baby steps in the right direction should be acknowledged as a good thing, even if they fall short of where we think they should be. The moral arc of the universe is long, you know.
posted by tonycpsu at 5:27 PM on December 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


From the "for black female" link: [Lorne] Michaels says that as many as two performers could be hired, but he doesn't want to add too many new women to the show because the cast already has six (as opposed to its 10 dudes). Hey, there was no problem with recently hiring five new men to double the number of men on the show, but we can't have more than two black women because ... then we would have more than eight women? Seems wrong, dude.

I also wasn't crazy about this: All performers at the 30 Rock audition have been asked to perform a Michelle Obama impression. Unless all of the white guys who auditioned were also asked to perform impressions of say, John Boehner, which seems unlikely but possible I suppose.
posted by onlyconnect at 5:28 PM on December 12, 2013 [14 favorites]


I think baby steps in the right direction should be acknowledged as a good thing

I think baby steps in the right direction should be acknowledged as mere baby steps, and Lorne Michaels should not be patted on the back for this like he is saving the world when his own language acknowledges that he doesn't want as many women on the show as men.
posted by onlyconnect at 5:32 PM on December 12, 2013 [21 favorites]


The original casting call needed to reach a diverse pool of qualified applicants. They need to figure out what is blocking the pipeline for qualified minority applicants. Build better, broader partnerships. Recruit widely, but make it clear that the hiring is about ability. SNL would do well to be very transparent.
posted by childofTethys at 5:35 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


onlyconnect: " I also wasn't crazy about this: All performers at the 30 Rock audition have been asked to perform a Michelle Obama impression. Unless all of the white guys who auditioned were also asked to perform impressions of say, John Boehner, which seems unlikely but possible I suppose."

Wow, I hope I don't get labeled as a SNL management sympathizer here, but I think it's perfectly reasonable to ask black female candidates to audition for the role of a character that will obviously be called for in a lot of sketches in the next few years. The reason new white dudes wouldn't necessarily be asked to do Boehner is... that there are already a lot of white dudes, so someone probably has a passable Boehner impression in their bag.

onlyconnect: " I think baby steps in the right direction should be acknowledged as mere baby steps, and Lorne Michaels should not be patted on the back for this like he is saving the world when his own language acknowledges that he doesn't want as many women on the show as men."

I agree that Michaels' comments about women are troubling, and I complained about the male/female balance previously. But I'm not saying we pat anyone on the back, or that anyone is saving the world. It's the right thing to do. Maybe it's for the wrong reasons, but it's a move in the right direction, so I consider that a good thing worthy of some praise.
posted by tonycpsu at 5:40 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not to mention that they had a white guy playing Obama for his whole first term, I think. They shouldn't have done that even in one show. Lauren Michaels obviously has no clue.
posted by w0mbat at 5:42 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not to mention that they had a white guy playing Obama for his whole first term, I think.

Welll... that's kind of a stretch.

They shouldn't have done that even in one show.

Why?

Lauren Michaels obviously has no clue.

Huh?
posted by Cosine at 5:44 PM on December 12, 2013


Well, I'm all for equitable practices, but this doesn't seem to address any of the issues that are especially evident in the "lacking" HuffPo link. Why does the show pigeonhole black women and minorities into certain stereotyped roles instead of a diverse range of characters? Why do people affiliated with the show think it's alright to make casually sexist and racist remarks - to the press, no less, which probably says something about what goes on behind doors? And when they contribute to a media environment that is completely hostile towards minorities, why do they blame the lack of minorities as some kind of talent issue as if it were it their fault rather than an entire system working to undermine their achievements and drive them out?

Just because it's a baby step forward in an intensely sexist and racist environment doesn't mean it deserves to be absolved of criticism.
posted by Conspire at 5:45 PM on December 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Conspire: " Just because it's a baby step forward in an intensely sexist and racist environment doesn't mean it deserves to be absolved of criticism."

I'm not calling for anyone to be absolved of criticism, I just think the step forward, in and of itself, should be welcomed with open arms. I wholeheartedly agree that SNL has problems, and should be criticized for those, but I'm willing to give them a chance to do the right thing.
posted by tonycpsu at 5:57 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Two people from my college became interns on Saturday Night Live in the late 70s. The guy got to room with Bill Murray. Of course, he wasn't so famous then. The gal was treated like shit. That Tina Fey was able to be successful amazes me given the toxic anti-woman structure of SNL. That any woman survives that place, that any non-white male survives that place, seems like nothing short of a miracle to me.

It's not like I'm an insider. But it's not like this stuff is exactly subtle either.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:07 PM on December 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


I think the last time I watched SNL at all, they still had Danitra Vance. And I watched largely because of - Danitra Vance.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:10 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


If there are two non-white people in the cast, the cast would more diverse than SNL's viewership.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:33 PM on December 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I also wasn't crazy about this: All performers at the 30 Rock audition have been asked to perform a Michelle Obama impression. Unless all of the white guys who auditioned were also asked to perform impressions of say, John Boehner, which seems unlikely but possible I suppose.

I remember a sketch from way back in the day which was the "auditions" for cast members to play Clinton, and Tim Meadows breaking halfway through his to just ask point-blank if this was a waste of his time.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:41 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


If there are two non-white people in the cast, the cast would more diverse than SNL's viewership.

Maybe diversity in the viewership would follow?
posted by Sys Rq at 6:42 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Two people from my college became interns on Saturday Night Live in the late 70s. The guy got to room with Bill Murray. Of course, he wasn't so famous then. The gal was treated like shit. That Tina Fey was able to be successful amazes me given the toxic anti-woman structure of SNL. That any woman survives that place, that any non-white male survives that place, seems like nothing short of a miracle to me.

You do know that Tina Fey started on SNL 20 years after "the late 70's", right? There's also a pretty serious case that SNL's recent (last 10 years) female alums have generally gone on to much bigger and better things than their male counterparts - Amy Poehler and Fey are basically cultural touchstones at this point, and Kristen Wiig is up there too, vs..who? Jimmy Fallon? Andy Samberg?
posted by downing street memo at 7:07 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Jimmy Fallon's post-SNL success is pretty undeniable.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:13 PM on December 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


This secret audition is so much more secret than SNL's usual, famously public auditions.
posted by gerryblog at 7:19 PM on December 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


What I'm wondering is why, with a few rare exceptions, Nasim Pedrad is only getting like one spoken line per show these days.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:38 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Opinions about specific performers or specific anything at all really, aside, there is the pragmatic problem that, while clearly not insurmountable --witness many many successes over the years-- is of concern to those involved in the mechanics of humor: that comedy is inherently cruel, and women are culturally disposed to be sympathized with rather than laughed at. A man slipping on a banana peel gets a guffaw. A woman slipping on the same peel elicits a low moan of concern. I'm not saying it's right or wrong; but if you're dealing with large audiences, it's something that has to be considered.
posted by umberto at 7:44 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think baby steps in the right direction should be acknowledged as a good thing

It's 2013. Fuck baby steps. They took baby steps in 1974 for Pete's sake. Have your cast represent society. Is that so hard? Think of the comedic potential you are squandering.
posted by Renoroc at 7:45 PM on December 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think it was the season before last that they had a bunch of new ladies start (Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant) and the amazing thing was they actually let them do their thing along with the other ladies who were already there, and it was the best SNL season in years. Whereas previously the women were relegated to literal back-up singer roles.

Lorne Michaels officially doesn't get a cookie until whoever he casts gets some air time.
posted by bleep at 7:46 PM on December 12, 2013


that comedy is inherently cruel, and women are culturally disposed to be sympathized with rather than laughed at.
No.
A man slipping on a banana peel gets a guffaw.
No.
A woman slipping on the same peel elicits a low moan of concern.
Because that's the appropriate response.
posted by bleep at 7:47 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It seems wrong to commend a half measure when we are (aren't we?) long past the time when half measures are adequate.

I think it's perfectly reasonable to ask black female candidates to audition for the role of a character that will obviously be called for in a lot of sketches in the next few years. The reason new white dudes wouldn't necessarily be asked to do Boehner is... that there are already a lot of white dudes, so someone probably has a passable Boehner impression in their bag.

But that means black women are still being held to some higher standard to perform on SNL. You can't just be funny, like the white dudes are, you have to be funny AND be able to impersonate the first lady, even if you have absolutely no interest in impersonating her, even if as a comedian that is totally not your thing. White men make it in on merit (as judged by a largely white decisionmaking body btw), and black women get judged on merit plus something else.

I mean, it just seems wrong, and it seems also wrong to justify that the same standards don't apply to white men because there are SO MANY white men in the cast that someone is bound to be qualified to pick up the slack.

I have a lot of respect for the cast members who criticized SNL for its lack of diversity, though, because it takes guts to criticize the people who sign your paycheck.
posted by onlyconnect at 7:49 PM on December 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


These writers are just not funny though and it's almost as if they are blaming the lack of diversity for their poor performance. I am just tired of what seems to be the level of 4th grader jokes.
posted by OhSusannah at 8:01 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


comedy is inherently cruel, and women are culturally disposed to be sympathized with rather than laughed at. A man slipping on a banana peel gets a guffaw. A woman slipping on the same peel elicits a low moan of concern.

You say this like it's true. And yet it's a bunch of counter-evidentiary stuff that you kind of made up. Heh.

There's no air left in this show. It's been dead for years, kept on life support by a few bright talents despite the worst management and writing imaginable. It's done. Over. And that is entirely due to the old-fashioned, limited imagination of its old-boy impresario.
posted by Miko at 8:08 PM on December 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


But that means black women are still being held to some higher standard to perform on SNL. You can't just be funny, like the white dudes are, you have to be funny AND be able to impersonate the first lady, even if you have absolutely no interest in impersonating her, even if as a comedian that is totally not your thing. White men make it in on merit (as judged by a largely white decisionmaking body btw), and black women get judged on merit plus something else.

It's casting. This is one of the roles they need to fill. There's a lot to discuss here about the history of (a lack of) diversity on SNL and in tv in general, but following standard audition processes in order to vill a need they know they have and will have in the future is not one of them.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:12 PM on December 12, 2013


Bill Hader just wasn't capable of keeping the ship afloat by himself.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:23 PM on December 12, 2013


Okay, if they really wanted to do better, this was the perfect opportunity to have done so.

They could have told the public that they were aware that this was a systematic issue and were going to overhaul their casting procedure to be more equitable by including more diversity on the decisions committee or reaching out towards actors of color or whatever, so that they don't run into the same issue with a 100% white cast the next time they have a casting call again.

They could have acknowledged that visibility was only one aspect of diversity, and worked to get more diversity on their white-male dominated writing staff and board of directors, because otherwise you end up with a bunch of caricatures parroting what white men think PoC look and sound like.

They could give opportunities for their cast members of color to play roles that specify no race instead of assuming these to all be default as white, instead of pigeonholing them into only roles and stereotypes that are supposed to have brown skin.

Instead, they're doing the very bare minimum to get a PoC on the cast as an exceptional ad-hoc case; and then they expect us to be grateful while they pat themselves on the back and bask in the PR glow? I mean, at this stage in media representation, you're going to need to stop tossing bones at PoC and expect them to be happy and maybe stop treating them like dogs in the first place.
posted by Conspire at 8:24 PM on December 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


What I'm wondering is why, with a few rare exceptions, Nasim Pedrad is only getting like one spoken line per show these days.

She and John Mulaney are trying to get a sitcom on the air, so I wouldn't be surprised if the writers have basically stopped writing for her.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:30 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


She and John Mulaney are trying to get a sitcom on the air

Oh this makes me happy.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:31 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


onlyconnect: " I mean, it just seems wrong, and it seems also wrong to justify that the same standards don't apply to white men because there are SO MANY white men in the cast that someone is bound to be qualified to pick up the slack."

Right, but I'm not justifying it at all, and between this your insinuation that I was saying that Michaels should "patted on the back for this like he is saving the world", I feel like you really just want to burn straw men instead of engage what I'm actually saying. I'm happy to talk about this if you'll show me the courtesy of taking my statements at face value instead of making shit up that I'm not saying.

What I was trying to do was contextualize the fact that a cast that's already mostly white and has a lot of dudes has the "generic white male politician" thing covered, but they have nobody who can credibly play the First Lady. This is not me justifying the current cast having no African-American women! I'm simply stating the fact that the show can't go back in time to make the current cast more diverse, so if they were to hire a black female cast member or two (which we both agree they should do) it would be helpful for at least one of them to be able to do a decent Michelle Obama.

It doesn't have to be perfect -- the SNL archives are littered with players who did a merely average or even below-average impression of various Presidents -- but not having anyone who can pull off a Mrs. Obama impression is a liability for a show that does so much political humor.

Look, I think the racial/gender makeup of the SNL cast should represent the diversity of America, but considering they tend to employ around 10 regular cast members and a handful of featured players, the math doesn't make it easy to do that and have a deep bench of minority players. If you project America's demographic breakdown onto a cast of 16 cast members (current cast size, which is actually unusually high for the show), you get (roughly):

5 white women
5 white men
1 black woman
1 black man
1 latina
1 latino
1 Asian woman OR man
1 "wild card"

Obviously this equation will change over time, and there's nothing at all wrong with over-representing minorities, especially given the over-representation of white dudes for many decades, but if the default state is "looks like America does", then your candidates of color have to be pretty damned versatile. If SNL employed a cast of 30, this wouldn't be a problem, but again, I'm talking about the way things are now instead of assuming we can right the wrongs of the past with a properly souped-up deLorean.

So by all means, let's get more people of color on the show, but don't tell me I'm "excusing" or defending the status quo by simply acknowledging that the status quo exists.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:35 PM on December 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Conspire: "and then they expect us to be grateful while they pat themselves on the back and bask in the PR glow?"

Did I miss a link or something that shows the SNL honchos demanding this kind of response? Seems to me they'd just want the issue of the racial makeup of the show out of the spotlight entirely.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:40 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Miko: " There's no air left in this show. It's been dead for years, kept on life support by a few bright talents despite the worst management and writing imaginable. It's done. Over. And that is entirely due to the old-fashioned, limited imagination of its old-boy impresario."

Have you watched the show much recently? There were a couple of absolutely dreadful years in there, but there have been some very good episodes this year. It's still the kind of thing my wife and I fast-forward through at least a skit each week, but that's much better than when we would fast-forward through all but a skit or two each week.

I'd much rather watch Key & Peele, Portlandia, The Birthday Boys, or even The Kroll Show, but SNL does have its moments, and has gotten much better this season.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:43 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Have you watched the show much recently

About once a year I'll record an episode, give it a try, get through maybe the first three skits, think "That's as good as it's going to get?" and forget about it until next time.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:47 PM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


any way to do this without the shame parade?
posted by Ironmouth at 9:32 PM on December 12, 2013


Inb4 Sasheer Zamata
posted by meadowlark lime at 10:12 PM on December 12, 2013


But that means black women are still being held to some higher standard to perform on SNL.

To clarify:

It is well known that people auditioning for SNL need two important things.

1. They need to bring characters that they've independently developed.

2. They need to be able to do impersonations of important media/cultural/global figures.

This is not by any means new. It has never been enough just to be "funny". Hell, in ANY comedy audition, it's not enough just to be garden variety "funny". Anytime you're up for something like this, the people hiring you are wondering, "Do they have experience in a sketch format? What's their scene work like? Do they have improv experience? Are they good at impersonations? Are they edgy?" Etc.

It is somewhat unusual that the production team is specifying who they want these comedians to be able to impersonate. But I don't think that has anything to do with holding black female comedians up to an impossible standard. They are likely thinking pragmatically -- "Well, if we're casting a black woman or two, can it be someone who has a mean Michelle Obama impression?" It's sort of like saying, "Well if we're going to the store, can we pick up some ice cream while we're there?"
posted by Sara C. at 10:21 PM on December 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Proof. We seek to demonstrate that the casting of First Lady Michele Obama on the sketch comedy show "Saturday Night Live" will always be problematic. Problematic is a difficult term to define, but for simplicity's sake, we will define a problematic action as one that may - even inadvertently - offend a particular identity group directly, and/or reinforce out-group stereotypes in a socially-harmful way.

"Saturday Night Live" (hereafter, SNL) is a sketch comedy show. Historically, it has been known for its parodies of current events, often relating to American politics.

Michele Obama, a black woman, is the wife of the most prominent politician in America, and a politically powerful individual in her own right. In those capacities, the probability that she will be featured in an SNL sketch almost surely approaches 1.

By the law of complements, there are two possibilities for the SNL cast member that plays Michele Obama:

1) Black woman
2) Not black woman

Further, by the law of partitions, "Not black woman" can again be divided into:

1) Black man
2) Not black man, Not black woman

However, each of these three choices - black woman, black man, not black man or woman - is inherently problematic.

The casting of a black woman for the role seems natural enough. But it raises questions of tokenism; was the woman cast merely because her racial background matches that of the First Lady? As an artist, will she be forced to play the First Lady at the expense of developing characters of her own, that potentially match her interest more? One cannot be sure, and so this choice is problematic.

The casting of a black man in the role is perhaps a bit better, but questions remain. First, the performer will have to play the First Lady in drag - in other words, he will have to wear women's clothing, as Michele Obama is a woman. Drag is strongly associated with multiple gay male subcultures; if the black male performer himself is not gay, his performance may be problematic for reasons of appropriation, or inappropriate taking, of gay culture. Further, the casting of a man to play the role of a black woman may reinforce negative stereotypes of black women as "rough" and less "ladylike" than their counterparts of other races. For these reasons and certainly others, this choice is problematic.

But the casting of a non-black performer in the role is particularly problematic. The subset of non-black performers we call white performers is clearly out of bounds; white performers would be forced to don blackface, a kind of dark makeup with origins in the racist minstrel shows of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in order to resemble the First Lady. Non-white, non-black male performers are problematic for reasons similar to the ones given for black male performers above; in addition, there is a reasonable chance that these performers will need to wear blackface to be recognized as Michele Obama, as well.

This leaves us with non-white, non-black female performers. This is perhaps the least problematic subset of performers, but still, questions remain. First, as above, the phenotypical range of these performers - their skin tone, in particular - may force them to wear dark makeup, an inherently problematic constriction. Further, the unique social experience of black women - perhaps the least-powerful demographic group in America - gives any interested observer pause at the notion of any non-black female performer in the role of a black woman.

For these reasons, we must conclude that whatever the choice of cast member, the casting of Michele Obama will always be problematic. QED.
posted by downing street memo at 11:14 PM on December 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


downing street memo: but if they are casting TWO black women, as is hoped, it at least becomes much less problematic, yes?
posted by Navelgazer at 11:23 PM on December 12, 2013


From what I understand of the entertainment business, you need to be of a fairly affluent family to be able to compete for roles. Someone needs to support you while you're doing it, for the most part.

It doesn't seem like SNL has institutionalized racism, but is rather a reflection of it.

Which is easy to ignore from the inside. And one doesn't generally argue, from a successful position, that the playing field was tilted in one's favor from the outset.

I suspect they're doing the bare minimum because the bare minimum is all the system allows them to do. You would have to go pretty far afield to find a black woman produced by that system.
That and that's about as far as the scope of their thinking allows. It's essentially selling products and getting eyeballs isn't it? So who's the audience mostly?

I think it's a lot to ask of SNL to make a great change *in spite* of the system that feeds them talent. Is there some way to change that system, such that it isn't such a struggle to get diverse talent onto t.v., and be palatable (for having been vetted by that process) to the folks who buy the crap on late night network television?

S'weird is what it is. I mean, you have oodles of light skinned black women with frizzy hair selling all kinds of technology. But on a late night comedy show? Nah.

Most of the people I've met from that world have been pretty self-important and - this is the nifty trick - culturally sensitive without relinquishing the cultural advantage or moral high ground and so also self-congratulatory.

Which, I dunno if it's worse than just being a racist/mysogynist prick. I mean at least that's honest. Saying something like "screw those broads" in a stereotypical 1950's smokey bar setting vs. "oh, we'll get one of you right on the show. We didn't quite realize it was a problem" from atop this massive juggernaut geared to roll right past.


"A woman slipping on the same peel elicits a low moan of concern."


I saw John Candy belt Catherine O'Hara with a can of dog food for shoplifting and laughed my head off. And I think in the 70s they were aware of how women were treated in media.

The problem is nothing has changed. The reason they want someone who can do Michelle Obama is that their focus is on what the media reflects and what the media reflects is the power structure.
SCTV was always the more raw of the two. IDKWTF "Edgy" means outside of the context of making people uncomfortable. But look at Colbert hitting Bush and the administration.
Those were some serious satirical chops. SNL never had that. They do parody mostly. They don't throw down. Where possible they try to balance, and that can get surreal. Like when we had our little adventure in Bosnia. I remember waking up in this funk from sleeping all day because I'd gone about 72 hours (month after the siege of Sarajevo) and catching an SNL.
It was weird. I'm looking at the T.V. and there's Steve Forbes looking at me like he's a robot and he somehow knows I'm there. And suddenly there's all this shouting. I didn't know it was SNL, you know how they use that "just a stage" backdrop for realism.
Then, and I'll never forget this, I might forget everything that happened but this is indelibly etched on my mind as the icon of absolute surreal weirdness that action was, then Steve F'ing FORBES says: "Ladies and gentlemen, Rage against the Machine." And they play "Bulls on Parade."
I sat there stunned through the entire performance. Unbelieving.
This is before I learned the SNL crew had taken down the inverted American flags from the RATM set. Before hearing they'd stormed Forbes' dressing room. All that (in fact until just now I'd forgotten that).
It's a burned out American serviceman sitting in his drawers watching a billionaire introduce pre-packaged rebellion on a network owned by the same people who have been managing public opinion in order to keep making your equipment.*

And that, in a nutshell, is the Michelle Obama problem.

Because who else could a black woman be in America except someone integrated into the existing social order?
Michelle Obama, or at least her image, is manageable.

*Funny, at the time I was behind on reading my comics and was in the midst of Frank Miller's "Give Me Liberty"
posted by Smedleyman at 11:34 PM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Navelgazer: Who says either wants to play the first lady? Less probability of problematic, yes. Zero probability, no.

(I think in reality, any comic would be eager for the challenge, but who knows. Really, I don't.)
posted by downing street memo at 11:35 PM on December 12, 2013


As a former writer on SNL, and a friend of one of the women who auditioned last week, I can only say: It's about time.

I approve that the producers are doing anything to rectify this. Yes, it comes after public complaint. But is change after protest invalidated? I don't think so. Actually think it's kinda amazing that a show that hasn't given a shit about POC in the past would do so after it was pointed out to the management.
posted by Faithless327 at 11:43 PM on December 12, 2013 [14 favorites]


he doesn't want to add too many new women to the show because the cast already has six (as opposed to its 10 dudes)

This is just so crazypants it made my head spin.
posted by tigrrrlily at 1:00 AM on December 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Comedy By Network Committee. What did anyone expect?

Keenen and Damon Wayans didn't have any problems with casting, IIRC...
posted by mikelieman at 4:52 AM on December 13, 2013


I think it’s the best temporary measure they could have taken to improve the situation *right now.* The next time they’re doing a big, regular audition cycle, they can make a big effort to overtly recruit more POC in the industry to go through the process alongside their white colleagues.

I'd love to see what Jessica Williams could do on SNL, but that would mean losing her on The Daily Show, and I'm not ready for that! Her Santa Claus piece last night was hilarious.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:30 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised nobody's making the obvious "binders full of women" joke yet. Or, this being Saturday Night Live, making the obvious joke and then beating it into the ground for five minutes, each more excruciating than the last.
posted by roystgnr at 6:52 AM on December 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


And then doing it again the next week. And the next.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:16 AM on December 13, 2013


Keenen and Damon Wayans didn't have any problems with casting, IIRC...

Funny you should mention them.

A lot of the reason In Living Color came into existence is because of how miserably Damon Wayans was treated during his very brief run on SNL. After firing him, SNL went half a decade before hiring anyone who wasn't white, and seemingly only finally did in direct response to the success of In Living Color. If that round of hires -- Chris Rock, Tim Meadows, and Ellen Cleghorne -- hadn't been the powerhouse it was, SNL would probably still be an all-white show.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:22 AM on December 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


I would love to see an all-female SNL show.

It would be a juggernaut, and allow folks like Aidy Bryant to maybe play someone who isn't addicted to food or ugly.

Major bonus points for having the women write all the sketches also.

Please, please, please make this happen.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:44 AM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


There is only one Black woman worth impersonating on SNL?
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:09 AM on December 13, 2013


Well, Michelle Obama's just the one that's sure to be in almost every episode.

I think what they're really looking for is someone who can play both Beyoncé and Sherri Shepherd. To which I say: Good luck with that.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:57 AM on December 13, 2013


Also probably Oprah.
posted by Sara C. at 8:59 AM on December 13, 2013


(Also: This decision to hire a black woman is very likely related to Kenan Thompson's decision to no longer play in drag on SNL. Kudos, Kenan!)
posted by Sys Rq at 9:00 AM on December 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think what they're really looking for is someone who can play both Beyoncé and Sherri Shepherd. To which I say: Good luck with that.

And they may be hoping to luck into another Maya Rudolph, who could play either black or white convincingly without makeup that risks being offensive.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:06 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not to mention that they had a white guy playing Obama for his whole first term, I think.

Not to be a pedant, but Fred Armisen is of Venezuelan/German/Japanese descent. He isn't black, but he is of mixed ethnicity, not unlike the president himself. Your overall point about how having a not-so-diverse cast makes for odd (and occasionally uncomfortable) casting when doing impressions of famous people of color still holds, though.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:28 AM on December 13, 2013


(Also: This decision to hire a black woman is very likely related to Kenan Thompson's decision to no longer play in drag on SNL. Kudos, Kenan!)

Didn't he also say they were unable to cast an African-American woman because they "never ones ones that are ready"? That seemingly claims there is a lack of qualified, talented black comedic actresses available, which is clearly crap.

So I don't know that he deserves much more than partial credit.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:32 AM on December 13, 2013


I don't know that he deserves much more than partial credit.

Well, yeah, no, obviously. Right. I don't know anything about that quote, but even without it, it's not like he never displaced black women by playing them; it's just that he's stopping. But, hey, that's something, and I'll give him credit for it.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:59 AM on December 13, 2013


I haven't been able to watch SNL since the early 90s.
I'd like to see a black woman and some older cast memebers. Last time I watched it seemed like bunch of good-looking white 26 year olds.
posted by KogeLiz at 10:26 AM on December 13, 2013


SNL really didn't grasp what they lost with Maya Rudolph. She is ridiculously talented, and paired up with Armisen was greater than the sum of its parts.
posted by Sphinx at 10:32 AM on December 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Didn't he also say they were unable to cast an African-American woman because they "never ones ones that are ready"? That seemingly claims there is a lack of qualified, talented black comedic actresses available, which is clearly crap.

Terry Gross asked Key and Peele to comment on this controversy when she had them on last month, and I really liked what they said:
On the over Saturday Night Live's lack of African-American women, and cast member Kenan Thompson's comment that "in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready"

Peele: For Keegan and I, we know so many hilarious African-American women. We mostly [came] up through the sketch comedy and improv scene. Sketch and improv is a world that is dominated by white performers, that is true. But to say that there's not African-American women who are "ready" is just wrong.

Key: That question might've snuck up on Kenan [Thompson], and I think Kenan does a job on a show that has a very specific skill set. And so I think if that's the answer coming out of his mouth, I can understand that answer. ... But right now, I can think of three women who would murder on Saturday Night Live, either as writers or performers.

Peele: Keegan and my race has really played to our advantage in the improv/sketch world. It's also a bit of a special power. We can do characters that other people would feel uncomfortable doing. We can play black characters and explore the comedy of black characters. There's a whole world of characters and impressions that black women can do that other people — just on the social level, disregarding the practice and skill that goes into perfecting these things, but just on the social level — people would feel uncomfortable doing. They should hire some black women. Not a black woman — black women.
I think they named about a dozen women who could be cast on SNL. I'm curious to know if SNL will hire a black woman to add to the writing staff as well as the on-screen cast.
posted by gladly at 11:17 AM on December 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I also think it's interesting that this is Keenan Thompson saying this. He's been doing sketch comedy since he was a tween. He probably doesn't think anybody is "ready" to be on SNL.
posted by Sara C. at 11:34 AM on December 13, 2013


We can play black characters and explore the comedy of black characters. There's a whole world of characters and impressions that black women can do that other people — just on the social level, disregarding the practice and skill that goes into perfecting these things, but just on the social level — people would feel uncomfortable doing.

One of the best things about Key and Peele is that they not only take on 'stereotypical' black characters, but also mine the unexplored world of black nerds, black eccentrics, and a whole range of stuff that SNL, even if they do diversify their cast, will never bother to approach.
posted by cell divide at 12:01 PM on December 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


Second City is a huge feeder for SNL and if you look at their cast page you will notice that black people are not represented very well relative to the population percentage. So you get the under-representation in the talent feeder channels coupling with the multiplier of lost network effects and bam!.....people can't think of black women who are 'ready'
posted by srboisvert at 12:34 PM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


"The Not Ready for Prime Time Players"

Just sayin'.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:39 PM on December 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Entertainment Weekly has gathered some material from each of the 11 women who auditioned.
posted by troika at 1:57 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ooh, if they hired Azie Mira Dungey, "Ask a Slave" would make a great Weekend Update feature.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:23 PM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ready for what, exactly? To perform badly written, under-rehearsed and unambitious sketches on a show that we watch only grudgingly, mostly out of nostalgia for when it had a little more cultural relevance?
posted by Miko at 7:29 PM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Watching the reels from troika's link. Amber Ruffin's reel was great. Nicole Byer's was the first to make me laugh out loud. Some of the others were a little too "TV" for me in their reels, so it's hard to judge their sketch comedy abilities. Azie Myra Dungey is a genius in my book. If anybody in the world is "ready," Beth Payne is. Look how she just changes up her intro and owns the entire stage from the moment she is introduced, fearlessly going with what's thrown at her.
posted by Miko at 7:53 PM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Related: Azie & Amani on Black Women in Comedy. Azie Dungey and Amani Stames discuss the SNL/Kenan/black female cast members kerfuffle.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:06 PM on December 13, 2013


That was pretty insightful.

"The layers of the way our world is structured on every level, even on something as seemingly simple and superficial as making people laugh -- mindblowing."

Part 2
posted by Miko at 8:18 PM on December 13, 2013


Sidebar: the Mulaney/Padrad show has been ordered by Fox.
posted by getawaysticks at 8:09 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Man, somebody at Fox is smart as fuck about poaching NBC people away.
posted by Sara C. at 9:14 AM on December 16, 2013


Lipstick Thespian: "I would love to see an all-female SNL show. ... It would be a juggernaut, and allow folks like Aidy Bryant to maybe play someone who isn't addicted to food or ugly. "

So, it wasn't an entire show, but I thought the ladies of SNL did a good job on this sketch during last night's Christmas episode. The rest of the episode was uneven, but mostly entertaining.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:05 AM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


SNL has hired Sasheer Zamata, her first episode will be January 18th!
posted by troika at 1:35 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Called it. What do I win?
posted by meadowlark lime at 2:03 PM on January 6


Thought I'd seen her somewhere before.
posted by DynamiteToast at 2:19 PM on January 6


I wanted to watch that video so bad last night, but could not remember enough to Google it. I ended up finding it by searching Greg Nog's activity for the word vest.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:31 AM on January 7


Wow, more good news: SNL hired two African-American female writers, along with Sasheer Zamata, LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones.
posted by gladly at 1:16 PM on January 8 [2 favorites]


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