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'SNL's Leslie Jones and the Problem with Misplaced Outrage

Forty years ago, Saturday Night Live aired a sketch wherein Chevy Chase interviewed Richard Pryor for a job. It became instantly infamous because of a word association game the two comedians engaged in that culminated with Richard Pryor calling Chase a "dead honkey" after Chase offered up the word "nigger." Paul Mooney, the legendary comedian who penned the sketch, said he based it on his experience being overly interviewed by network executives as to whether or not he was qualified to be one of Pryor's writers for the episode. Forty years later, it is arguably one of the greatest sketches the show has ever aired.

This past Saturday, newcomer Leslie Jones took to the Weekend Update desk with a bit in response to Academy Award nominated actress Lupita Nyong'o being named People magazine's most beautiful woman of 2014. During her appearance, Jones suggested Nyong'o's being named the magazine's most beautiful woman made her question the standard of beauty mainstream America has regarding black women. This question led her to entertain the idea that a black woman of her own type might have been better off a slave. What followed was an absolute maelstrom of critical backlash.

Now, I'm not here to defend her joke. Since the episode aired on Saturday, comedians such as W. Kamau Bell and Leslie Jones herself have offered up more interesting, better worded, and more appropriate defenses than anything a middling comedy scenester like myself could provide. What I'm interested in is what was it about that joke that made it the target of outrage when there were other jokes in the same episode that were potentially more offensive. READ MORE