‘SNL’ Diversity: Kenan Thompson Defends Casting, Says Black Female Comedians “Aren’t Ready”
Diversity questions have presented themselves among ‘SNL”s 39-year history on multiple occasions, most recently as black cast member Jay Pharoah criticized the current cast’s lacking female performers of color. Cast veteran Kenan Thompson has a different opinion however, believing most of the black female performers that have auditioned to join the cast simply weren’t “ready.”
Speaking to TVGuide, Thompson deflected blame for the show’s predominantly white cast onto the industry, identifying the lack of black women among the cast as “just a tough part of the business. Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready.” Among the three cast members of color currently among the roster, including Thompson, Pharoah and Nasim Pedrad, Pharoah had recently spoken out to theGrio to say that Tyler Perry’s ‘Love They Neighbor’ star Darmirra Brunson should be considered for an audition, saying:
They need to pay attention. Why do I think she should be on the show? Because she’s black first of all, and she’s really talented. She’s amazing. She needs to be on SNL. I said it. And I believe they need to follow up with it like they said they were going to do last year.
Thompson also noted within his interview that ‘SNL’ had recently begun to shy away from incorporating famous black women into its sketches, celebrities and otherwise, as neither he nor Pharoah were interested in continually resorting to drag where a female black cast member would seem more appropriate. “Maybe [Jay Pharaoh] will do it or something, but even he doesn’t really want to do it.”
Complicating matters in the current debate are the recent all-white cast additions of season 39 , including Brooks Wheelan, Mike O’Brien, John Milhiser, actress Noël Wells, and “Good Neighbor” performers Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett, whose own lacking noteworthiness was spoofed by Tina Fey and Thompson himself in season premiere sketch “New Cast Member or Arcade Fire?” There, ‘SNL’ head honcho Lorne Michaels even jokingly mistook “the black one” (Thompson) for someone new to the cast.
Of the new additions, Thompson said “They’re all contributing in different ways I think. They’ve been doing great job so far. They’re all very, very smart and talented, so that’s how it is. That’s the kind of people I guess that get the job.”
It’s hard to say for sure where the true problem lies in casting female black comedians, or performers of color in general, but Thompson’s words certainly succeed in at least raising awareness of a notable issue with ‘SNL”s current relevance. What say you? Do you think Kenan’s defense of the casting process provides some cover for ‘SNL,’ or does the long-running NBC sketch comedy series need to take much stronger strides?