Although located in a large and multicultural city, Saturday Night Live is severely lacking in the diversity department.
This isn't a huge secret. For all of its history, though purporting to be culturally relevant and fresh, SNL has been a principally white and male institution in its cast members and in its writers. Now, five of the six newest cast members are white guys, and that doesn't help at all.
Many have criticized the lack of comedians of color on the show, and last week, Keenan Thompson — of "Keenan and Kel" fame — gave his thoughts on the issue, saying why he thinks black women are a rarity on the show.
"It's just a tough part of the business," Thompson said. "Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready."
This just doesn't make much sense to me. So you're telling me that since Maya Rudolph left in 2007, there has not been one black woman — or Asian, or Latina, for that matter—who would have made a good addition to the cast?
I find that hard to believe.
I'm not saying SNL should hire a minority woman on sole merit of her race and sex, but the implication here is that there is no worthy talent available from that demographic, which simply is not true.
YouTube comedians Azie Mira Dungey and Amani Starnes teamed up in a video to illuminate some of the barriers that women, particularly black women, face in the world of comedy. Often, a black woman is pigeonholed into a particular stereotypical trope. We've all seen it before — the loud, sassy, angry, etc. woman with a huge attitude.
I get pigeonholed into that trope in real life. I cannot keep up with how many times a (usually) white person has tried to speak to me in Ebonics or has snapped their fingers in a 'Z' formation in a supposed imitation of me.
I'm not trying to become a comedian, so I don't even want to imagine what life must be like for a minority woman who is.
Additionally, there is a paucity of forerunners to help pave the way. Of course, if things keep up the way they are now, there won't be any anytime soon.
Most important, I think, is the lack of diversity in the pools from which SNL selects. Places like Upstanding Citizens Brigade and Second City Players are very homogenous. I think that if SNL truly wanted to expand, they'd know to cast their hooks into more diverse sources.
"Totally Biased," host W. Kamau Bell said in September, "People who complain that the pool of minority comedians in America is too small are 'looking at the country club pool. They're not going to the public pool.'"
Perhaps the lack of color on SNL is simply a symptom of the elitist "Old Boy Network" that is still in place in many facets of society, including the entertainment industry.
Thompson's statement is problematic because it is representative of what many institutions, especially in the realm of entertainment, offer up as an excuse when called out about their lack of diversity. It usually goes something like, "We just couldn't find one who'd make the cut."
SNL's problem leads into a broader issue in the entertainment industry. Next week I could ask "Why are there so few lead roles in mainstream films for Asians, Latinos and African-Americans?"
I have before touched upon some of the deleterious effects of a dearth of minority representation, but I think that for SNL, the most prominent effect will be a lack of cultural relevance.
SNL often parodies others in the entertainment industry, as well as political figures. Who will be Beyoncé or Rihanna? Who will act as Michelle Obama?
Hopefully not Thompson, whose long history of cross-dressing to portray black women in sketches is troublesome, if not a bit insulting.
Andrea Richardson is a sophomore in anthropology. She can be reached at email@example.com.