Friday, October 18th, 2013

Let's Talk About SNL's Diversity Problem

Kenan Thompson has been taking a lot of heat this week for a comment he made in a TV Guide interview about SNL's lack of a black female cast member, despite the recent hiring of six white performers. Following Jay Pharoah's rather blunt remark to theGrio that "They need to pay attention" and cast a black woman like Darmirra Brunson, Thompson had a more ambiguous response:

Instead of blaming showrunner Lorne Michaels or the series, which currently only employs three actors of color out of 16 cast members (Thompson, Pharaoh and the Iranian Nasim Pedrad), Thompson blames the lack of quality black female comedians. "It's just a tough part of the business," Thompson says. "Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready."

Following the comment was a frenzy of articles, tweets, and talking heads furious over Thompson saying that there aren't any black women out there who are talented enough to be on SNL. (It should be noted that Thompson didn't say those words exactly; rather, he seemed to imply that the black comediennes who have auditioned for the show lately simply haven't made the cut, as has been the case for any number of hilarious performers over the years.) The responses were far less nuanced. Buzzfeed ran an article titled "4 Black Women SNL's Kenan Thompson Should Meet," and one of those women, Nyima Funk (a Second City veteran who has auditioned for SNL in the past) posted a video that mocked Thompson's statement by suggesting the only way she could be ready for SNL would be to transform herself into a white man.

The lack of diversity on SNL has always been a thorn in the paw for the show's progressive fan base. Since SNL premiered in 1975, only 15 black performers have been in the cast (and only two Latinos and zero Asian-Americans), and only four of those black performers have been women: Yvonne Hudson (1980-81), Danitra Vance (1985-86), Ellen Cleghorne (1991-95) and Maya Rudolph (2000-2007). Since Rudolph left, viewers have complained that SNL has no one to play zeitgeist celebrities like Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, or Beyonce — not to mention a wealth of original black female characters. In the past, Thompson donned drag to play Whoopi Goldberg and Star Jones, but he now refuses to play such roles.

SNL's casting process is notoriously secretive, leaving outsiders wondering why the show hasn't diversified its cast. Is it, as Thompson suggested, simply a matter of the SNL's producers being unable to find black women who are "ready"? How is that possible when those of us in the alternative comedy scene know hilarious black women who have auditioned, only to be mysteriously rejected? Is anyone ever "ready" for SNL?

In fairness, we can't make any accusations without knowing the gatekeepers' motives. Still, the ongoing lack of a black female in the cast continues to baffle viewers. In hopes of shedding some light on this controversial issue, we took a look at the comedy communities that feed talent to SNL, crunched some numbers, and made some interesting discoveries.

The major comedy theaters that SNL recruits from aren't very diverse, either.

Let's do some math. Currently, SNL's cast contains 16 performers: eight white men, five white women, two black men, and one Iranian-American woman*. (Nasim Pedrad's Middle Eastern ancestry technically classifies her as "white" in modern racial definitions, though because we're examining ethnic diversity, it would be to our benefit to define "white" as persons with European heritage.) This makes the cast 18.8% non-white. That number is down from 35.7% in 2004, when five of the cast's 14 performers were either black (Maya Rudolph, Kenan Thompson, Finesse Mitchell) or Latino (Horatio Sanz, Fred Armisen). What caused this drop? Perhaps we can look at the show's traditional sources for new talent.

Last March, Splitsider looked into the comedy training grounds where many SNL cast members honed their skills to see which communities tend to be the most popular feeders of talent to the show. We found that a nearly half of all cast members started at improv/sketch comedy theaters like the Second City in Chicago (as well its sister-schools, the iO Theater and the Annoyance), the Groundlings in Los Angeles, and the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) theaters in New York and LA. In the past decade, only two cast members have been hired from standup (Jay Pharoah and Brooks Wheelan), with the rest having backgrounds in improv and sketch. So with SNL relying so heavily on these communities, it's worth looking at them again… specifically, how diverse they are.

The communities and alumni bases of Second City, the Groundlings, and the UCB are so extensive that it's difficult to measure a sample group. So we narrowed our scope by examining each of the theater's current performers. For the Second City, we looked at Chicago's current Mainstage company, the ETC company, and the touring companies (US, Canada, and the cruise lines). For the Groundlings, we looked at the Main Company, the Sunday Company, and all other performers doing shows at the theater in October 2013. For the UCB, we looked at the Chelsea theater in New York and the theater in Los Angeles, tracking all the UCB performers scheduled for shows in October 2013. Note that this does not take into account these theaters' training centers or alumni, or in the UCB's case, its theater in the East Village. It does, however, give us a sense of who is representing these communities on stage in front of audiences right now. Also, (spoiler alert) the prevalence of white performers in these communities over other ethnic groups — black, Latino, Asian-American, etc. — is so huge that the results are best conveyed into categories of "white" and "non-white." This isn't meant to suggest that all non-white races are the same, but simply to show that the major improv and sketch theaters in this country are even more whitewashed than SNL is.

(The numbers have been scaled to give you a sense of the ratio of white to non-white performers in these communities. So, for example, for every one non-white female Second City performer, there are five white females, and about six white males. Non-white women make up about 7.3% of the current performers in that theater community.)

While the disparity between whites and nonwhites may make some people in these communities cringe, it shouldn't come as too big a surprise. The Second City has been better than most when it comes to diversity — by practice, the theater casts companies with a balance of men and women, with few exclusively white casts. But despite the Second City's extensive community outreach and diversity program, the decisive majority of the performers in the community are white. This trend is reflected in the Groundlings — currently, both the Main Company and the Sunday Company are all-white, with black and Latino alums doing other shows at the theater. The UCB similarly has a reputation for mostly white performers, though its lower diversity rate is likely a result of its greater number of house teams and performers.

It's not exactly clear why minorities are so underrepresented in the improv and sketch communities, though it's likely the answer is less institutional than it is cultural. These theaters aren't blind. They have taken steps to diversify and have been somewhat successful. Both the Second City and the UCB training centers offer diversity programs to incentivize ethnic minorities to take classes. And although affirmative action is not an official policy at any of these theaters and comedic talent always comes first, it is clear that directors are excited to see minorities taking classes and auditioning for teams, and they try their best to assemble diverse casts. In fact, most theaters we spoke to noticed an increase in the number of minorities registering for classes over the past decade, and an increase in those performers being cast on house ensembles. Furthermore, every year, these theaters put up "showcases" for Lorne Michaels and other SNL producers, which feature a mix of the theaters' top talent — and an array of ethnic backgrounds.

And that only covers some of the major talent streams into the SNL audition process. With Brooks Wheelan getting cast this year, standup is obviously still a reliable stepping stone to an SNL audition. Most of the black performers on SNL over the years have come from standup (Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, and Jay Pharoah, as well as writers Hannibal Buress, J.B. Smoove, and Michael Che), perhaps because standup, as opposed to improv or sketch, forces a performer to hone his/her comedic voice and stand out as an individual talent, allowing black performers to better make their mark and not get lost in the crowd of a large improv/sketch community. SNL has also proven to be fairly savvy about the world of online videos — its hiring of Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett of Good Neighbor, and before them, Andy Samberg and his fellow members of Lonely Island and CollegeHumor's Sarah Schneider as a writer, tells us that SNL has its ears to the ground all over the place. Indeed, the popularity of Jay Pharoah's impressions on YouTube were a major factor in his landing a job on the show.

So yes, the pool of performers SNL looks at every year is mostly white, but with the gradually diversifying improv and sketch communities, as well as the channels for performers of color in standup and online, how is SNL not seeing any black women? And if SNL is seeing them, why doesn't the show seem to want to hire them?

SNL does not feel an overwhelming need to diversify.

SNL has weathered its share of controversy — far worse than this current "crisis." When In Living Color and MADtv hit the late night airwaves in the 1990s with colorful casts that appealed to more diverse demo groups, SNL was criticized — by both the media and its own cast — for its lack of diversity in the staff, as well as in the subject matter of its sketches. A scathing New Yorker profile in 1995 described the show's writers as predominantly white, sheltered, Ivy League-educated men — an attitude echoed by Ellen Cleghorne (an In Living Color alum and one of the four four black female cast members in SNL history):

Pale, overwhelmingly male, and raised on comic books, the main writers are very short on experience in the world beyond pop culture. The most productive young writer, David Mandel, 24, still lives at home with his family. Mandel grew up worshiping the show, collecting old SNL scripts and memorabilia at bookstores, and memorizing dozens of sketches. He went on to Harvard, where he says he devoted more time to the Lampoon than to his academic work.

“There’s only one writer who didn’t go to Harvard or Yale or Cornell or Brown,” Ellen Cleghorne says, overstating the case only slightly. “There’s no black writers on the show — this is 1995, and I feel like I’m in a really bad sci-fi movie where all the black people already got killed, and I’m next. I’m not a separatist, I’d like to be able to jam with somebody who’s had the same experiences I find funny.”

The show cleaned shop in the year that followed, with several staff members either leaving or getting fired (including Cleghorne, who left SNL to star in a short-lived WB sitcom). But SNL hired no new black writers or actors to replace them, leaving Tim Meadows as the only minority cast member until Tracy Morgan was added a year later.

SNL's answer to MADtv and In Living Color was to stay the course and further brand itself as a pop culture-driven New York sketch show with a lot of funny white people. Lorne Michaels's willfulness to ignore political correctness in racial casting bordered on stubbornness at times — he cast the half-Venezuelan Fred Armisen (under skin-darkening face makeup) as Barack Obama, and despite critics claiming the caricature amounted to blackface, Armisen played the role for four seasons, even for a year after Jay Pharoah joined the cast. Michaels explained his decision to The Washington Post in 2008:

Michaels said that the show auditioned "four to five" actors for the Obama role, including Thompson [and Donald Glover and Jordan Peele]. And the winner, he says, was based on merit. "When it came down to it, I went with the person with the cleanest comedy 'take' on" Obama," Michaels said.

Michaels said he liked how Armisen caught the tilt of Obama's head, the rhythm of his speaking style, "the essence" of his look. "It's not about race," Michaels insisted via phone. "It's about getting a take on Obama, where it serves the comedy and the writing. . . . Believe me, when we read 40 or 50 pieces [for the show] on Wednesday, no one says, 'This is a very good way of getting our political points across.' We're simply asking ourselves: Is it fresh? Is it funny? Fred just had best take on Obama."

This quote gives us an insight into Lorne Michaels's mindset. For him, SNL isn't about diversity. It's about comedy, pure and simple. He doesn't care if his show accurately reflects the various racial groups in America, so long as it still gets laughs. And for the most part, Michaels has gotten away with this approach. All these years later, while its colorful competitors are long gone, eternally Wonder-Bread SNL is still bringing in big ratings, earning critical praise, churning out box office stars, writers, and directors that go on to dominate Hollywood, producing sketches that are among the most shared and talked about videos online, and remaining at the heart of American pop culture… all by sticking closely to Michaels's blueprint. This isn't an attempt to defend SNL's hiring practices, but simply to try to justify why Michaels isn't feeling any particular pressure to change the show's image. The diversity for diversity's sake argument doesn't apply here; for Michaels, the fact that a black woman has broken through barriers and landed an SNL audition isn't enough. She still has to be funnier than all the white people in the room.

Of course, anyone who performs comedy in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles can name dozens of black women who are as talented as anyone currently in the SNL cast. The addition of a talented black woman to the cast is a necessary move — not because sketch comedy ensembles require racial diversity to function, but because currently, SNL is limiting itself creatively by not having someone who can play certain roles, like the First Lady. That said, we're kidding ourselves if we think the casting process on SNL has ever been that simple.

This brings us back to Kenan Thompson's statement to TV Guide. It actually makes sense, when it's not being taken out of context. Yes, it was poorly-worded. (Honestly, has any new cast member — Thompson included — ever been "ready" to be on SNL?) But consider the first part of Thompson's remark: "It's just a tough part of the business." If there's one thing Thompson understands, after a lifetime of performing sketch comedy on TV, it's how much a casting decision is purely a business deal. Sometimes, a deal makes perfect sense, but then the timing's not right, or some small detail surfaces and unravels the whole arrangement. We don't know what happens when Lorne Michaels sees a black woman audition, but we do know that he sees far fewer black women than he does white men, and if he feels no urgent need to diversify his cast, he's going to make the easiest business deal possible.

It's time we all stopped viewing SNL as the counter-cultural bellwether that we somehow convinced ourselves it was supposed to be. It's a mainstream sketch comedy show with mostly-white performers, fed by mostly-white comedy training grounds, reflecting a broad, mostly-white comedy industry. Thankfully, that industry looks like it's starting to change. Just don't expect to see SNL leading the charge.

Erik Voss is a writer and performer living in Los Angeles. He has been writing about SNL for Splitsider since 2010. He hosts the Evil Blond Kid podcast and performs improv on the Harold team The Cartel at the iO West Theater.

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  • not even trying, didn't read

    white people rule, suck it

  • handgloves

    Good job showing the facts. Lorne wants the show to be about what's funny. What's the big deal about that? The show is not doing charity work. Kenan's comments got blown way out of proportion. If you want to get into show biz, you're gonna be judged on how you look, how you act, and how your voice sounds. The four black women on the Buzzfeed link: three of them are too old to be on the show. Diano is funny but her impressions aren't quite there yet. Out of Donald Glover, Jordan Peele, Kenan, and Jay, Jay is by far the best Barack impressionist. Lorne is still making the right calls. Also isn't Cecily Strong Hispanic?

    • moe2012

      lol @ "too old to be on the show." didn't realize we were dealing with racism AND ageism.

      • handgloves

        I don't think its ageism. You want young looking people on SNL. This is a good example of you're gonna be judged on how you look.

        • moe2012

          exactly how old is too old then? two of the biggest cast members in recent history, kristen wiig and fred armisen, started on the show at 32 and 36. wiig finished at 39, armisen at 45. that's pretty damn old if the rest of the cast is in their 20s, yet they managed to be in pretty much every sketch.

        • Mr. Postman

          Darrell Hammond was 39 and Phil Hartman was 38 when they started. Hammond was 53 when he left, Hartman was 46. Nice try.

          • dschubba

            To be honest, it's not like Hammond and Hartman are representative of the average SNL newbie.

          • Mr. Postman

            True but they often scout for older comedians to bring experience and authority. Colin Quinn (36), Michaela Watkins (36), and Michael McKean (45) are further examples. The point is it was silly for the above poster to say "too old to be on the show".

          • noohh

            Michael McKean was brought in because he was old. The cast and show were falling apart. They thought that by bringing him in it would add stability to the cast. Like a father figure.

          • dont you see

            Both were INCREDIBLE at impressions. A skill that is always in need at SNL. In fact the two you mention might have been the best SNL ever had at impressionists so when someone with that level of a specifically needed skill comes along, age isn't as much a factor. Although the show might try to find younger talent since the contract is 7 years, there is always an exception when someone incredible and RARE comes along in comedy.

          • Mr. Postman

            I gave other examples of cast members who maybe weren't as great as those two. Here's more: Garrett Morris was 39 in the first season. Michael O'Donoghue was three months shy of 36. Brian Doyle-Murray was 36 when he rejoined in 1981.

      • lazzzer


    • eavoss

      Cecily Strong is white. There were rumors online that she is Hispanic, but an interview with the Chicago Tribune proves otherwise: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-06-14/entertainment/chi-interview-cecily-strong-20130613_1_box-office-second-city-aidy-bryant

    • dschubba

      Jay's gotten better, but I think Jordan Peele is still winning the Fake Obama race.

      • lazzzer

        they tried to hire Jordan Peele, but he was tied up with MadTV.

    • MilaXX

      Too old? They cast Billy Crystal after he had been in the biz for at least 10 -15 years. He did the movie Rabbit Test & the tv show SOAP in the 70's yet joined SNL in the mid 80's.

  • http://thekyleidoscope.tumblr.com/ Kylie

    Great article! People who aren't bloggers scrambling desperately for content totally care about this too!

  • Marcus Camby

    When's the piece about Splitsider's lack of diversity going up?

    • eavoss

      My editors also brought in Donald Glover and Jordan Peele to write the article, but when it came down to it, they thought I had the cleanest "take" on the issue.

      • ?!?

        So even though there were two African American writers that had articles, they went with the white guy because his article was better? That is some SNL reasoning bs right there!

    • Matt Visconage

      We also all went to Harvard together

  • Grey Mouse

    It's my understanding-could be wrong- that Ms. Strong is polish.
    What about Noel Wells? She's half tunisian and half hispanic.
    Also-why are so many comedic performers puerto rican? never understood that.
    yea George Lopez is famous, but he's horrible.

    • Momma

      G.L is Mexican…but you know, whatevs…

  • Diversity Hire

    It's easy to blame Lorne Michaels but the average crowd/performers of the UCB looks like an audition for a Wes Anderson film. Hollywood is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in one of the most diverse cities in the world, but that little stretch of Franklin is such a bubble.

    • Easily Irked

      Hey, I don't think the Wes Anderson snipe is very fair. Just do a couple of surface watches and you'll see there's often a pretty diverse cast. I think Marvel Films or even Edgar Wright flicks are a better comparison.

  • Tanouye

    How did you account for mixed race people in the numbers for comedy theaters?

    • handgloves

      "So we narrowed our scope by examining each of the theater's current performers. For the Second City, we looked at Chicago's current Mainstage company, the ETC company, and the touring companies (US, Canada, and the cruise lines). For the Groundlings, we looked at the Main Company, the Sunday Company, and all other performers doing shows at the theater in October 2013. For the UCB, we looked at the Chelsea theater in New York and the theater in Los Angeles, tracking all the UCB performers scheduled for shows in October 2013. Note that this does not take into account these theaters' training centers or alumni, or in the UCB's case, its theater in the East Village. "

    • eavoss

      In general, for people of mixed race, I considered them "non-white" in my tally. I researched a few people online (which felt pretty weird, to be honest), and if I still wasn't sure, I would put them down as "non-white." I guess my reasoning was that we're less focused on people who "look different" as people who bring in a different ethnic background to their community, even if it's from one of their parents.

  • Not Matt Besser

    "Of course, anyone who performs comedy in New York, Chicago, or Los
    Angeles can name dozens of black women who are as talented as anyone
    currently in the SNL cast."


    • handgloves

      Exactly what I was thinking. I'm in LA and can name maybe 2 black women who I would deem worthy to be on SNL. (To be fair I can only name like 5 white guys).

      • devo13

        The bar must be pretty low then…SNL has been bashed as being unfunny for quite a while now and although I've hung in there and given it a chance, I'm not so sure anymore.

    • eavoss

      An exaggeration, sure. I can name 3 or 4. But the point is that coming up with these lists is a futile exercise anyway.

      • punchy mcdumb

        You're full of shit, or else you'd have named them. You can't defend the statements you make in your work? How much of your writing would you say is empty bloviation? Would you say all of this article?

  • CaraSimon

    They also did an SNL showcase at iO West, in which 3 performers were black females, 2 of them being the girls mentioned in the Buzzfeed article going around. So….yeah, they DID search through those girls and still rejected them.

  • rogerbix

    Another theory: the $$$ needed for classes which are required to progress in troupes like UCB, Second City and Groundlings are more of a barrier to minorities than any presumed racism within those troupes

    • Brian Sullivan

      Yes. These classes require a kind-of a safety net (ie helpful parents). If you don't have the security of a reasonable fall back plan it's just not doable. As such the programs attract mainly middle class and up people who are disproportionately white for reasons far beyond the control of these training centers. Also this lack of diversity is probably somewhat of a vicious cycle with minority performers not feeling comfortable taking classes at a place where no one looks like them.

      • Matt

        Yeah that's not necessarily true. I work a full time job and save up to be able to take the classes that I want to. I'm not even what people would call "successful" in my career. But I manage to scrounge enough together. That said, if I weren't crazy enough to care about this so much, the money would definitely matter more.

        Edit: Also I think it's fair to note that many theaters address this issue head on by providing diversity scholarships.

  • Cleghorne

    There's another non-considered angle here: who "buys" comedy. What's the SNL audience like? Are they playing to a demo of young, white, male and so reflecting accordingly? And how often/much are writers matched to performers? I don't know, but I'd like to.

    Also–I bet the number of women now going into comedy theater programs is a direct result of the Fey/Poehler axis. If SNL'd put the cart before the horse a little, good results would happen on the feeder side and strengthen things overall.

    Plus, get women in exec roles and good things happen too.

  • jahphotogal

    Lorne Michaels said: " We're simply asking ourselves: Is it fresh? Is it funny?" Ellen Cleghorne said:" I’d like to be able to jam with somebody who’s had the same experiences I find funny." Therein lies the problem with anyone trying to "justify" Michaels' casting decisions. He is a white man, of a certain generation. He is going to find things funny that he relates to. And if his writers are mostly white males, and they're helping choose what gets on teh show at the end of the week, that cmopounds the problem. Maybe he should see what young and diverse crowds are laughing at, even if he's not laughing himself, and bring that on the show.

  • MilaXX

    It's funny how when it comes to women of color they have to be "ready" but Lorne found Tracy Morgan when he was a ballpark vendor and groomed him. Jimmy Fallon was AWFUL on SNL, breaking character nearly every time he was on screen , yet was groomed and went on to successfully host Late Night and will soon take over the much coveted Tonight Show hosting gig. Why are no WOC seen as suitable for such grooming?

    • jortreport

      To be fair, Tracy had tons of experience doing stand up and had worked on a sketch comedy show before SNL. Fallon also had tons of stand up experience. They had put in a lot of work to get the chance to do SNL.

      • MilaXX

        So do many of the black female celebs out there. Seriously so many people are talking about this there are several easily googlable list out there. However my point still stands neither was in the big leagues prior to SNL and neither were that great during their tenure on the show. Fallon was especially terrible. Yet they were given the chance by Lorne who has a history of running an all boys mostly white club. If Lorne is finding black females comedians, it's because he isn't looking.

  • Carson

    A couple things: When was Ellen Cleghorne on In Living Color?? I do not remember that at all. Here are the SNL castmembers that DID spend time on In Living Color: Damon Wayans, Chris Rock, Molly Shannon, Colin Quinn.
    Also, it has to be noted that this recent influx of white guys was in response to the departures of Armisen, hader, Sudeikis and the impending departure of Meyers. They over stock to cover the bet, as it were. If anything, SNL could be accused of being to tied to a "type" quota.

  • Mr. Postman

    Besides UCB, I'm seeing that 15-20% of the comedy theaters are non-white. And half of those are women. I think that's a pretty fair representation but that is not being represented on SNL. I think this also underscores how little Nasim Pedrad is used on the show. Being a non-white woman, she could probably get away with playing Beyonce or Rihanna or maybe even Michelle. She looks more like them than Maya ever did. So even though there is a non-white woman there, she's just there.

  • RawhideC

    SNL is mainly recruiting from the comedy theaters you mentioned, but where do they recruit from? College or high school drama programs? But where do they recruit from? I really have no idea but the US population is probably the lowest common denominator. And according to the US Census, 78% of Americans are white. Gasssp! I think we have a bigger diversity problem on our hands.

    You wouldn't hire a black athlete to an NBA team just to fill a diversity quota but because they have the talent the team needs. That's not to say the 'non-white' performers auditioning don't have talent or aren't funny, but that they don't fit the teams needs or aren't as funny to the producers/decision makers on the show(Lorne). Which is clearly a matter of opinion and it is his/their decision to make. I'd guess In Living Color was predominately comprised of black performers for the same reason.

    • gghhhh

      I wouldn't say Second City, Groundlings, UCB really recruit. They are well enough known that if you want to take a class, you sign up.

  • PapayaSF

    He doesn't care if his show accurately reflects the various racial groups in America, so long as it still gets laughs. And for the most part, Michaels has gotten away with this approach.

    As well he should! That is his job. It's hard enough finding people who are funny enough for the show without worrying about racial quotas. Once again, political correctness is the enemy of comedy.

  • J Mooney

    White people, and white males specifically, own/dominate a lot of different industries that developed in America over the past 150 years (deservingly so, albeit with some oppression and crude power plays) Comedy being one of those fields. Hell, white people actually used to dominate the NBA even (that has since ceased but white guys still own the teams).

    Being a minority in this country, you gotta understand the cards. You don't demand equality because – how can you? You're just in a completely different situation – and you don't have much leverage other than the guilt of the powerful and an increasingly liberal culture. Plus internally within minority communities, with African Americans being the one exception, your parents culture is absolutely NOT going to support the idea of you becoming a comedian. Thus the cycle perpetuates itself.

    And so we're here in 2013…SNL in NYC…as overwhelmingly white in cast, content, and power.

  • seriously.

    So, if I were a minority who wanted to be in comedy or on SNL or in entertainment in GENERAL, I would RUN to the UCB, Groundlings, and/or Second City and get the training and experience needed. If money is an issue – many of these schools have work/trade programs, and the NETWORKS hold many diversity showcases often with a prize of a class scholarship to one of these schools. On that note many of the networks have their own diversity programs with showcases that ALL OF THE CASTING COMMUNITY COMES OUT TO SEE. Everyone needs to start looking at what opportunities there are, instead of sitting at home complaining that no one seems to have "found" you yet.

    Also, its not the comedy schools fault that more people of color don't engage in their programs. Maybe it means a lot of people of color have no interest in sketch and improv classes? I don't know – but this is all getting RIDICULOUS. These programs are NOT expensive. If you want to be in show business there are SO MANY ways "in". And I would take from all of this hoopla, that if I were a person of color and super talented/funny, getting involved in one of these KNOWN COMEDY VENUES seems like a real easy way to get noticed! SNL doesn't scout these places because they have WHITE performers, SNL scouts these places because the talent there has been trained and is experience in SKETCH AND IMPROV. Nuff said.

    And I went to some of the showcases and there WERE people of color on the shows I saw, and guess what, they weren't the best! SNL looks for strong and relevant impressions, as well as good writers. Because on that show you have to generate a lot of your own content. So you can't just hire a strong black actress who can act, they need to be able to write as well and do characters.

    Also, re other actors that

    And re: AGE. So many of the performers people are talking about are simply too old for the show. SNL is a 7 year contract. They are not going to hire someone who is 40 or close to 40. Get over it.

    Everyone who comments on this subject SERIOUSLY doesn't know what really goes into casting ANYTHING. For SNL there is a certain skill set you need to have. GO GET THAT SKILL SET and see if you too can get a shot!

    • eavoss

      You make some fair points, but I think the issue for a lot of black comediennes is that they HAVE received training in these improv/sketch schools — in some cases, risen to the top of those communities — and SNL still hasn't hired them. So if we're simply looking for reasons why SNL hasn't hired any black women, it's a combination of two factors: 1) there are simply fewer black women in the overall pool, yes, but also 2) SNL doesn't seem in any rush to hire a black woman. I think it's the second factor that more people are unhappy about.

      Also, I don't know what your cash flow situation is, but in LA at least, quality improv and sketch training is very expensive. UCB classes raised from $350 to $400 in the past year. At 4 levels, that means you have to shell out at least $1600 before you can audition to be on a Harold team (though probably more, because usually the people who get on teams have been those who take several advanced study classes as well). 2 levels of sketch classes means $800 before you can be considered for a sketch team. Now, you can work as an intern at the theater to get classes for free, but the wait list for internships is extremely long. Thankfully, UCB does offer a diversity program/scholarship for minority students to apply to get free classes. That was a good decision, because otherwise, as the UCB has clearly realized, if we're trying to diversify our communities, the high cost of comedy training is indeed an obstacle.

    • Mr. Postman

      All of the names who have been brought up have had such training. Nyima Funk, in particular, is a big name in the improv community (Second City, Groundlings, Whose Line, Wild N Out) and auditioned for SNL. I find it hard to believe that she somehow crumbled during her audition AND so did every other improv-trained black woman who auditioned. Also, I've pointed out that Darrell Hammond, Michaela Watkins, Phil Hartman, Colin Quinn, and others were in their late 30's when they were hired. Black people have excelled in comedy and theater… but they somehow can't excel in comedy theater?

      • lazzzer

        but I could give you a list of 100 white guys who are trained and are not on SNL to every trained female african-american sketch comedy performer. This comes down to a numbers game. Just because you have "training" doesn't mean you're poised to be on the show. Do you know how many people audition for SNL and are rejected? Imagine if every woman was claiming she was rejected because she was a woman… or every guy claiming he was rejected because of affirmative action. Maybe there are very good reasons for the rejection. Maybe the person isn't a good fit. It's not a denial of someone's talent or what they can accomplish. People's career paths go in different directions and THAT'S OKAY!

  • Top_Jimmy

    For a group that only makes up 13 percent of the population, 3 out of 16 cast members is outside the expected ratio. Can we get a number that is acceptable for black America? What about pervian Americans? How do we account for their .0003 demo

    • Not Jennifer Gibbs

      I think that Chris Parnell adequately represented the Pervy-American demographic.

  • Sanfordia113

    African-Americans comprise a mere 12% of the American population, so at 18% of the SNL cast, they are vastly over-represented on SNL. Try adding more Asians & Hispanics & foreign-born before calling for AfricanAmericanAffirmativeAction!

    • eavoss

      You're misreading the information. As mentioned above, the cast has only TWO African Americans (Thompson and Pharoah), with the other "non-white" cast member being Nasim Pedrad, who is Iranian. That makes the SNL cast 12.5% black, and even then, saying that perfectly represents the American black population is assuming there are no black WOMEN in the country, which is obviously crazy.

      No one is calling for affirmative action on SNL, however, as I think arguing that a sketch comedy cast has to perfectly reflect the racial diversity of America is equally crazy. What IS reasonable is to question why the show doesn't feel the need to address some obviously funny topics that would require a black female cast member to do so, and why the talent pools SNL draws from lack diversity.

      • Sanfordia113

        As Hollywood and American Professional Sports have a history of actively discriminating against Asians (Jeremy Lin, virtually all Asian stereotyped portrayals on film), this discrepancy deserves much more attention.

        • eavoss

          If diversity on SNL is something you're passionate about, then yes, the lack of Asian Americans, as well as Latinos, on the show deserves at least as much attention as the lack of black women. I think the reason why SNL seems in no rush to hire the other two ethnic groups is because they have been able to "get away" with having white actors play Asians and Latinos, but they would never be able to get away with having a white person play a black person. Not that that's any better, of course… just trying to explain the state of things.

          • Oliver Phonglehorn

            It wasn't that long ago that Darrell Hammond was playing Jesse Jackson on the show…

  • RadioGirl89

    MADTv nor In Living Color ever had a problem finding a diverse group of comics. Which is why the shows were successful because they drawed in a broader audience. But hey, what do I know…

    • eavoss

      Yes, those shows were fairly successful, perhaps by having diverse casts that drew in a broader audience (though I would say primarily by being funny first), but not nearly as successful as SNL has been by sticking to its guns. Both ended their runs without ever coming close to SNL in the ratings. Whatever you think is fair or right here, Lorne Michaels has the numbers on his side, and he has behaved exactly as any sensible businessman would.

    • jkooli

      If they were successful, they would still be on the air. And out of those two programs, the most famous person to come out of it was Jim Carrey, a white guy.

  • Butch McSnutch

    Diversity is myth. There is plenty of diversity on the show, different heights, weights, eye colors, beliefs etc. The entire notion of racial diversity is baseless appeal to white guilt. There is no proven merit to this disingenuous concept.

  • John Long

    SNL definitely needs a Black women, they missed out on a great sketch this weekend about Tiona Rodriguez.

  • Matthew Peters

    It bothers me that Keenan's being taken to task for something he never said. Just because he didn't mirror the outrage of some, he was targeted as the aggressor that's holding women of color back. He's not the one that makes the call. His job is to show up and be funny.

  • jgkojak

    The other missed piece is economic diversity. Seth Myers seems like a good guy – but his dad's a stockbroker. Sudekis grew up in about the most upper middle-class place you can grow up, Overland Park, KS. It would not hurt them if they brought in some people who had experienced some hardship — we might see some broadening of SNLs very MOR/mainstream political perspective.

  • Remy Schrader

    Here's video of an improv performance with friends I was part of with a team from Monkey Butler Comedy in L.A.
    8 total. 4 Caucasians: 2 men (including myself) and 2 women (one quite short and another more than tall), 2 blacks (1 women and 1 man — both very funny) and 2 Americans of Indian descent.
    What's the differential?
    All of the Improv Houses you cited in your study charge hundreds of dollars for training.
    MonkeyButlerComedy.com offers Improv training every week for free.
    As an MB instructor, I can tell you that my weekly classes look nothing like the break-down that you have described in this article.
    Draw your own conclusions on the role of Economics of Entertainment.

  • D.j. West

    More like UCB's diversity problem…

  • Darby O' Gill

    SNL is terrible, so fuck it.

  • strangeroneuk

    I was surprised there were so many more men considering how many successful woman SNL has let go in the past 5 years Casey Wilson, Jenny Slate, Michaela Watkins, Abby Elliott etc

  • CrashDavis81

    "to him, it's not about diversity. it's about comedy, plain and simple."
    Oh, what a ridiculous mindset for a comedy show producer to have.

  • Stoic Atheist

    (preface necessary for context: I'm a 46 year-old Black male)

    Life is not a Benneton ad. Life should be a meritocracy, but sadly it's a PoliticallyCorrect-ocracy. Now if this was a similar situation as that the NFL had about two decades ago, where potential Black coaches couldn't even get interviews with teams looking for a head coach, then some remedial action was necessary.

    I don't think this was the case with SNL, who has a history of having hired Black-female comedians. And I'm sure if their audition process was suspect, THAT would be the story, not the lack of Black female representation on the cast.

    I would think that now, with a Black First Lady, they'd have ants in their pants to find a black female comedian to play her.

    But if the auditions are open and the judging is fair and arbitrated, then I don't see why it should be expected that every race be represented in ANY group effort or endeavor. I want the best players…PERIOD.

    Why are there so few (if any) White wide-outs in the NFL?…there USED to be a ton…what hapened? I don't see white guys complaining about their lack of representation at the wide-out position. They got "skilled-out" is why. Sports is the ultimate meritocracy–at least at the on-the-field performance level.

    Oh and by the way…The NBA and MLB used to be all White. Hmmmmmm…I wonder what happened? Black racism? Probably not.

    If when given the opportunity to prove your worth, you FAIL, the GO GET BETTER

  • Dilly

    39 million african-americans / 318 million americans = 12.2%
    3 african-americans / 16 total cast members on SNL = 18.75%

    That's a 50% more african-americans on SNL than in the US.

    Qualitatively speaking, SNL is over-represented when it comes to african-americans.

    Although, quantitatively speaking, the humor is ALL "white"-humor, meaning, there's little to no actually "black"-american humor.

    Of course, that is another TOTALLY DIFFERENT debate in and of itself.

    Kenan Thompson = Disney, and as "white" as it gets, although I do think he's funny.
    The other black guy is just solely there for impressions

  • Adam Nolander

    This article has given me more insight on this whole diversity issue. As a minority looking to pursue a career in comedy, I wonder how difficult it would be for me to even audition for SNL (for me, its stand-up over improv comedy). I don't think I would survive in improv comedy to be honest, what with its whiteness, despite trying to bring minorities into the game. I look at all the black cast members on SNL and only 3 have came from the improv world (Tim Meadows, Jerry Minor and Maya Rudolph). Which makes me realize, black comedians alongside comedians who are minorities have been subjected to making success on their own terms, because they feel rejected by these institutions that breed future SNL cast members.

    When I was a kid, I use to watch the child friendly sketch comedy All That, which, coincidentally, Thompson made his mark on as one of the original cast members. Sure a majority of the cast members were white, but they weren't afraid of hiring black actors and actresses, well mostly because its a kids show, and kids show are all about diversity right? Which makes me wonder, Does SNL need a lesson from All That. Apart from all the black cast members on All That, they never hired an Asian cast member, and they only ever had one Latino cast member (Gabriel Iglesias who is now a funny stand-up comedian). Sure it may not be that diverse, but its a start. Then again, the cast members on that show are kids, not stand-ups and improv comedians that build SNL's cast. Basically i'm saying that as a minority who loves all sorts of comedy, its probably going to get worse in terms of diversity for SNL and the institutions that train potential cast, not to say these white men and women (and few minorities) on the show make me laugh, they do they really do, I just feel that people shouldn't be so shocked and be so anal and PC about this diversity issue. What did you expect? Its a white show meant for a mostly white audience, but this doesn't have to be the case, we can change this and make things more diverse.

    I'm looking to develop a comedy club that houses and trains improv comedians, stand-up comics, and other comics alike and bring them together to create comic gold and stomp this bitching about diversity (you can be a tranny from Mars, and i'll still accept you). The comic gold I talk about will be in the form of a live show performed at the club that will consist of bits of sketch comedy, some pre-recorded bits, and stand ups who are either regulars at the club, or up and comers and established names that happened to be in town. Okay, basically its like any other sketch show, but i'm including musical acts and/or stand-up performances (depending on the episode). You can call it the sketch show that blends sketch comedy and talk shows together and gives us diverse comedic talent (stand-up/imrpov/miscellaneous) that are both starting out and established. It can be a safe haven for different comedic acts, a comedic Jerusalem if you will. Though that's just an idea.

    If SNL doesn't diversify soon then i'll…. well i'll still watch but i'll wonder why comedic skill matters more than diversity, try to find some middle ground. And no, hiring one black female won't change anything, that's just wasteful pandering, why not hire her alongside with a cast member of each ethnicity (excluding white people, sorry but that's the whole issue of this matter).

  • KITH

    this is why Kids In The Hall is better in ever single way

  • Macus Walker

    Show has blown for over 20+ years. Their liberal, normalphobic, democRATic love fest is sickening. That aside, to run a story of such ridiculousness is why their is so much racism, and not from whites, these days. The liberals want to keep their puppets in line and under their control, so they keep racism alive and well. Take away liberals and democRATS, and you eliminate racism for the most part. This is just ANOTHER NON STORY.

  • WhiteLatina

    It blows me away that you are smart enough to say "Nasim Pedrad's Middle Eastern ancestry technically classifies her as "white" in modern racial definitions, though because we're examining ethnic diversity, it would be to our benefit to define "white" as persons with European heritage." and then turn around and talk about "Latinos" as if they are a separate race. Where do Latinos come from? Latin America right? Um…who were the native people there? Indians (yes, in Latin America we still say "indio" not Native American…and umm…who are the people who came and conquered these lands? Oh, yea, EUROPEANS; Spanish, Portuguese, English, Dutch, French and later Italians, Germans, Swiss etc etc etc And then some countries had the addition of slavery…but not all of Latin America. My point is that Latino means you can be a mix of any and all the races (African, Caucasian, Asian, Native American) or…NOT. So…if you are talking "color" then specify which color you are talking about; (black, white, yellow or red) cuz not all of us Latinos are the same color. Please stop assuming that we all look like the Indian Mexicans that saturate LA or the tri-racially mixed Newyoricans… stop grouping us into one race…cuz were not!!!

  • Not an idiot

    What a stupid article. Merit is all that should matter.