Lorne Michaels & Co. went for the elephant in the room with Kerry Washington hosting amidst Saturday Night Live‘s recent diversity firestorm. Giving the Scandal actress a workout playing Michelle Obama, Oprah, and (offstage) Beyonce in her cold open, the show skewered the fact that when it comes to black female characters SNL‘s limitations are self-imposed (“Kenan won’t…?” Washington asks in one of many meta moments). It acknowledged what castmates Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah have criticized in interviews: “[SNL] does not have a black woman in the cast… we agree this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it… unless, of course, we fall in love with another white guy first.” So the SNL gang is listening to critics even if Michaels has yet to put his money where his mouth is. Did it help to have a cameoing Reverend Al Sharpton on their side?
Saturday Night Live has spent a considerable amount of energy lately explaining away its lack of cast diversity, since announcing the latest crop of white performers to be added to the show. In the recent season debut, they devoted a whole sketch to the subject. Kenan Thompson played host of a game show called “New Cast Member Or Arcade Fire,” and Tina Fey played a contestant 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, SNL exec producer Lorne Michaels was brought onstage to deliver the punchline/message: Unable to pinpoint which was his new hire, he looked at Thompson and snarked, “Is it the black one?” The show writers forgot to write Thompson some snappy comeback line — instead making a 90-degree turn in which Fey delivered the line, “Do I win anything?” and Thompson replied, like he meant it to sting, “Don’t you have enough?”
Today, poor Thompson got dragged back into the debate — he’s the guy elected to tell TV Guide it’s the shortcoming of black comediennes that’s to blame for SNL’s cast non-diversity. Yes, it’s the show’s sixth consecutive year without a black female cast member. But, turns out, there are just no black female comics out there who are qualified for the gig. “It’s just a tough part of the business,” Thompson says. “Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready.” Asked how the show plans to handle any spoofs of black female celebrities, or, say, a FLOTUS gag this season, Thompson responded, “I don’t know. We just haven’t done them. That’s what I’m saying. Maybe [Jay Pharoah] will do it or something, but even he doesn’t really want to do it.”
Funny, him bringing up Pharoah, who appears to have a different take on the root of the problem. He recently was quoted saying SNL should add Darmirra Brunson to the cast “because she’s black first of all, and she’s really talented…amazing,” and because “they need to follow up with it, like they said they were going to do last year” (emphasis mine). Brunson can be seen playing Drew in Tyler Perry’s OWN comedy Love Thy Neighbor, and a quick Google search reveals her list of celebrity impressions includes Beyonce, Kerry Washington, Lil’ Kim, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, Oprah, Rihanna, and Wendy Williams.