UPDATED: SNL producer Lorne Michaels has now confirmed the news that the show is indeed adding a black comedienne come next month. Check out more over at the New York Times.
And with that, fans of Saturday Night Live can dial down their ire ‐ or at least start to. The long-running NBC sketch comedy show has recently come under fire for its lack of a black female cast member, or rather its continued lack of a black female cast member. The situation steadily spiraled out during the fall, with offhand comments by cast members and other related people eventually culminating in a big nod to the perceived diversity problem on a November episode hosted by Kerry Washington. Even then, SNL’s acknowledgment of the issue grated ‐ as I wrote back then, “Simply acknowledging the issue is, admittedly, a step. But it’s a step that’s already happened off screen, thanks to both Kenan Thompson’s comments on the subject initially stirring up anger and founding producer Lorne Michaels weighing in on the issue just last week. The team at SNL knows what the problem is, they’ve acknowledged it, and using that as fodder for a sketch that’s both kind of funny and vaguely offensive isn’t helping anyone.
So what was the next (and best) step? Well, how about actually hiring a female black cast member for the show? As I mused in November, “adding in a new hire to the cast [would] look like an obviously calculated move at this point, [and] it would also be damn hard to do, considering the show’s bloated cast of sixteen (one of the biggest casts ever). While it’s not traditional practice for Saturday Night Live to hire new cast members mid-season, it has happened in the past.” And it just might be happening again.
Over at The Jasmine BRAND (via Gothamist), actress Bresha Webb (who you can see in the picture up top, she’s at the bottom left, wearing glasses) shares that Saturday Night Live held a “secret” audition for black comediennes last week at Los Angeles’ Groundlings theater.
Webb shares that “the audition came about from an inside source from SNL. I don’t think any of us had a clue about the showcase until two days prior. It was an awesome opportunity even though it was such a short notice but, if you stay ready you ain’t gotta get ready and we were READY!” Hopefully, Webb and her comrades’ readiness served them well, because she also confessed that, “we all entered the Groundlings Theater backstage having no idea what to expect. I had no clue who was apart [sic] of the showcase. Of course my Comedianne [sic] friends (Tiffany Haddish, Beth Payne & Gabrielle Dennis) were there. And some talented ladies in sketch comedy were there that I had never met. We were all very supportive of each other and there was no sense of competition or pettiness. We were just happy that some new black women in comedy were being considered and given a shot.”
But despite the bad buzz around the show and its lack of diversity, Webb also explained that this was not the first time she was picked to audition for the show, telling the outlet, “I found out that I was on a list of funny women in the industry and there was an opportunity for me to audition for SNL last summer but, I was filming Love that Girl and now the opportunity has represented itself.”
Of the black comediennes so far identified from the showcase, Webb is currently starring on the sitcom Love That Girl!, while her friends Haddish, Payne, and Dennis are known for a wide variety of stuff, including standup work, feature film roles, and television appearances. Haddish has performed at both The Comedy Store and The Improv, while Payne is a regular at The Comedy Union, and Dennis appeared on Damon Wayans’ sketch comedy show The Underground.
Other ladies who reportedly auditioned include Simone Shepherd, Nicole Byer, Amber Ruffin, Damirra Brunson, Misty Monroe, Lakendra Tookes, and Azie Dungey. Shepherd is a multi-hyphenate who has recently taken to Vine to make short comedy videos. Byer is a well-known performer who can often be seen at the UCB Theatre. Ruffin is a comedienne who indentifies both improvisation and sketch comedy as her specialties, and she is best known for her work on both RobotDown and Key & Peele. Brunson is a cast member on Love Thy Neighbor, and she also has her own YouTube series. Monroe is a part of the Sunday Company at Groundlings, and has appeared on big sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother and 2 Broke Girls. Tookes is a reporter and a self-professed “funny girl.” Dungey is well-known for her web series Ask A Slave.
Should SNL cast one of these funny ladies, they have quite a depth of talent to draw from ‐ all of the auditionees have quite varied resumes, with skillsets that include celebrity impressions, sketch writing, and production, ensuring that the show can fill whatever role they want (besides, well, the black comedienne role).
The show has two more episodes left this year, before breaking briefly for the holidays. If we’re getting a new lady in the cast, expect to hear about them sometime in January. We’ll keep you posted ‐ and, yes, we’re very excited about all these possibilities.
You can get a better look at some of the ladies who auditioned for the show over at Gothamist. Do you recognize any of them? Do you have a favorite we should know about?