Late last year, SNL—and its executive producer, Lorne Michaels—got accused of having a diversity problem. There hasn’t been a black woman on the show since Maya Rudolph left in 2007, and in the history of the show, they’ve only had four black women total, and in the whole history of SNL, there have only been fifteen black performers and two Latinos. That’s seventeen non-white performers (eighteen counting current cast member Nasim Pedrad, who is of Iranian descent) in THIRTY-NINE YEARS. To say that SNL has a diversity problem is an understatement. They have a full-blown diversity blind spot.
And now they’re dealing with the problem, kind of. In December, Michaels conducted a talent search (holding “secret” auditions, which is kind of gross—just admit you have a problem and deal with it without making it any more creepy and weird than it already is), auditioning female black comedians for SNL. And despite Keenan Thompson saying that black comediennes are never “ready” for SNL, they have indeed found at least one who passes muster: Sasheer Zamata, a veteran of New York City’s Upright Citizens Brigade.
Other NYC comics speak highly of Zamata, which in such a competitive industry is no small matter. She’s poised and gracious—and smart—and she performs not only sketch but stand-up, and can write, too, which means she can write material for herself if push comes to shove (and given that the writers’ room has the same basic demographics as the performing cast, push probably will come to shove). “She has the best shot out of anyone of surviving,” said a comedian friend of mine, who was really, genuinely, excited for Zamata to get this break.
I don’t want to downplay Zamata’s inclusion in the SNL cast. They have a problem, and they’ve done something to fix it. But I’m not sure it’s really enough. SNL is almost forty years old. Consider how much the world has changed in the last forty years, and how SNL looks pretty much the same. SNL has had the word “irrelevant” thrown at it a lot over the last decade, and I think that’s largely tied to the diversity issue. How relevant can it really be when it doesn’t accurately reflect our post-millennial world? Hiring Zamata is a step in the right direction, but this is not a one-step journey. This should be seen as an on-going process, an effort to make SNL more inclusive and diverse, not as a one-and-done Band-Aid to placate the masses. Or else we’ll end up having this exact same conversation in a few years.
Click here to visit Sasheer Zamata’s website.