UPDATED: 4:30 PM: Saturday Night Live exec producer Lorne Michaels says he’s bringing seven or eight female African-American comediennes to New York to audition for the show on Monday — one of whom will be added to the cast in January.
As many as two could “potentially be considered” but he does not want to add too many women at this time because the cast already has five of them, Michaels told The New York Times, in an interview given in the wake of a news report he’d tried out about a dozen black female comediennes in Los Angeles on December 1. Three paragraphs later, the reporter reminded readers that when criticism of the show’s new cast members broke out before the start of the new season, Michaels had said his process for selecting cast members “was driven purely by talent considerations.” Michaels this afternoon told the NYT he had seen two black women performers in Chicago when he was hiring for the show this fall, but they didn’t pan out when brought to New York for their final auditions. “Then when the deck got reshuffled and as we premiered we realized, it looks a different way.” (That would also be about the time the press started shellacking Michaels because the list included no black women and the late night program had not had a black female cast member for six years.)
A couple paragraphs later, the NYT reported Michaels “did not attribute the surge of interest in securing a black female directly to the criticism the show had faced,” but acknowledged that it was “100 percent good for the show to have an African-American woman” in the cast.
PREVIOUS: 11:58 AM: NBC‘s Saturday Night Live held a tryout for black comediennes this month at The Groundlings in Los Angele. SNL holds showcase/auditions for potential new talent with some regularity in various locations. But this one attracted more media attention than usual because it was set up for black female hopefuls — one of whom posted a photo on Instagram of the group of hopefuls backstage. And, of course, the auditions took place a few months after the NBC late night series announced its lineup of newbies, and TV critics began hammering the show because the list included no black women, again. Two black male cast members poured a little lighter fluid on the flame – Jay Pharoah, when he told website The Grio he hoped the show would add a black woman, “like they said they were going to do last year, ” and Kenan Thompson, when he told TV Guide the problem is “they never find ones [black comediennes] that are ready.”
The auditioner who posted the photo, Bresha Webb told blogger Jasmine Brand she’d had the opportunity to audition for SNL last summer, but it conflicted with her schedule on TV One’s Love That Girl. “We were just happy that some new black women in comedy were being considered and given a shot. We even held hands, prayed after the showcase,” she is quoted as saying; her Instagram photo showed about a dozen black women together backstage. SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels, who declined to comment., last month told the Associated Press of the casting controversy: “It’s not like it’s not a priority”; the auditions are part of a push to get a black female cast member added to the show this season.
Michaels addressed the controversy when Kerry Washington guest hosted this season, having her play FLOTUS, Oprah, and Beyonce – all in one, cold-open sketch set at the White House, though she didn’t actually deliver any FLOTUS, Oprah, or Beyonce humor – it was all about SNL itself, with Washington running on- and offstage to play all those parts.
“The producers at Saturday Night Live would like to apologize to Kerry Washington for the number of black women she will be asked to play tonight,” Voiceover Guy said as Washington ran on and off stage changing costumes. “We make these requests both because Ms. Washington is an actress of considerable range and talent – and also because SNL does not currently have a black woman on the cast. As for the latter reason, we agree this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the near future, unless, of course, we fall in love with another white guy first.”
Earlier this season, SNL’s season debut devoted an entire sketch to the subject, in which Thompson played host of a game show called New Cast Member or Arcade Fire, with that week’s guest host, Tina Fey playing a competitor trying to guess, for every couple trotted out, which was the new SNL cast member and which was a member of that week’s musical act. When the last couple stumped her, Michaels was brought onstage and, unable to pinpoint which was his new hire, he looked pointedly at Thompson and picked him, snarking, “Is it the black one?”– to which Thompson made no response.