SNL and Black female comedians

I am officially entering the ring about the “Lack of Black women on SNL” debate fact.

I wasn’t going to because there are a lot of really good discussions on this already.  However, the articles running around in the mainstream media are lacking for me.

There are so many voices that are pro-hire a black woman for the SNL cast.  But there are a range of reasons for wanting this.  Let’s look at a range of arguments here:

1) We can all agree that the SNL cast is pretty White, and previously, was pretty male. We all agree that diversity is good, in larger society.  However, it is not SNL’s responsibility to proactively hire Black women, or women of colour.

2) SNL is White, diversity is good and SNL wants to hire Black women but, in casting, no Black women were “ready” for SNL.

3) SNL is White, diversity is good and Black women will make the show better/funnier the same way women made SNL better and funnier.

4) SNL is White, diversity is good and it is SNL’s responsibility to hire a cast that is reflective of America’s diversity (much like any other employer).

5) Black female roles should be played by black females, not Kenan.

6) SNL is funny. Who cares about what cast they get as long as it’s funny?

Okay, I think I’ve hit all the viewpoints out there.  Please comment below to add any I missed.  Now let me talk this out a bit… in no particular order. (The writing got a bit confused but run with it… it will work out in the end).

What a lot of people don’t realize is that you can’t just audition for SNL.  You get invited for an audition, and this is usually from the pool of the Upright Citizens Brigade or Second City.  I’m not quite sure what the demographic of that group is… but I am going to make the (educated) assumption that most of them are white. And just like how white privileged kids generally work their networks in the education system, regardless of their intelligence, so do the privileged sketch comedians that manage to get into that inner-circle of funny people that get hired.

Next, I find the argument that SNL would be funnier if they had a more racially diverse cast dubious.  There are bad black female comedians too.  I also don’t like this argument because I would venture to say that the writers do a LOT of the funny work-not the actors (but you best believe the writers are majority white).  There is some overlap between writers and actors, but apparently writers who become cast members is a very rare occurrence.  What I WILL say though, is that women of colour have a particular perspective that a white male will NEVER understand.  There are some stories that can only be told from the people that experience them. White men have the ability to write and act funny sketches, but there is also an “emerging market” for humour that white men are unlikely to tap into.  So right now, we have a good group of people shelling out white-male comedy and not all sketches are racial.  And there are also a lot of racial sketches that mostly rely on Kenan dressing up as a Black woman.

As I explained in my discussion of racial humour vs racist humour, there are VERY few comics, white AND non-white, that take racial humour beyond, “White people do this…. Black people do this… brown people do this…” (, which is really LOW level comedy that only gives permission for white people to laugh at racist stereotypes and, therefore, also enjoy racialized people’s misfortune).

SNL isn’t automatically going to get funnier because they hired a woman of colour and be “less insulting” because Kenan won’t have to dress up as women anymore.

Hiring Black females will make the cast more representative of the American demographic.  Women of colour can look at the television and recognize that those are roles they can achieve too and not just a block reserved for white men.  To HIRE black female comedians, you are going to have to try harder because women of colour are less represented in the white male comedy club from which you cherry pick.  SNL hasn’t found any black women because NOBODY in the industry is trying hard to support black female comedians (or sketch writers).

Lorne Michaels on hiring a black female comedian:

“It’s not like it’s not a priority for us,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday night. “It will happen. I’m sure it will happen.”

As a prominent show and leader in American comedy, SNL can take this opportunity to buck the white-privilege trend and allocate (their vast) resources to find qualified talent that doesn’t come in a white body.


The thing about racial humour is that just because you have a person telling the joke doesn’t make it not racist.  Yes, racialized people can be fiercely racist too.  However, maybe hiring a black woman would stop SNL from portraying the hyperbolic “big, sassy black woman,” which seems to be the ONLY type of Black woman SNL can portray at the moment.

Kerry Washington hosted SNL tonight and she was good.  They poked fun about this scandal- that SNL didn’t hire any black women.  That was a funny enough sketch.  But what I found MOST refreshing was that we got to see a black woman just act and not have to be a caricature of how a White person WRITES a Black woman.

[1] This is a slow season because SNL had a huge cast turnover.  The new cast is just not as good (and I doubt it is due to lack of experience or the unfamiliarity with the new cast); this year is weak.  But adding Kerry Washington as a host and guest-cast didn’t make it any better tonight.

PS: Read this:

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