Does Being on ‘SNL’ Really Matter?

Actress Kimrie Lewis Davis on why Saturday Night Live is still the pinnacle of the comedy world.

Screenshot of Kenan Thompson at SNL; Kimrie Lewis Davis (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
Screenshot of Kenan Thompson at SNL; Kimrie Lewis Davis (Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Maybe Lorne Michaels doesn’t have Facebook. That would explain how the eternal executive producer of Saturday Night Live, the launching pad of enviable comedy careers since 1975, is having trouble finding black comedians to star on his show. Because — let the Internet tell it — there are tons of black female comics waiting on deck.

Ever since SNL‘s sole black cast members, Jay Pharaoh and Kenan Thompson, kick-started an old debate about the lack of black female talent, folks have jumped at the chance to tick off lists of potential players. It’s as if critics of the show’s homogeneity walk around with colorful fantasy-league lineups burning a hole in their collective pockets.

Just five minutes after asking for recommendations, my Facebook wall was inundated with fan favorites and links to more. Jezebel, Buzzfeed and Gawker have all canonized their top black comedians.

Funny thing is that a lot of those lists overlap, as a friend of mine pointed out recently. Recurring names include MTV’s Nicole Byer; VH1’s Michelle Buteau; Tiffany Haddish, who stars on BET’s Real Husbands of Hollywood; creator of Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl Issa Rae; and YouTube’s Franchesca Ramsey, whose “Things White Girls Say to Black Girls” video went beyond viral.

I’m sure Lorne Michaels and company read. They know who’s out there. They know what’s hot. R&B queen Janelle Monae is performing on the show for the first time Oct. 26, and pop culture juggernaut Kerry Washington is hosting her first show Nov. 2. Too bad neither one will be trading jokes with another woman of color.

We all know there are hilarious black women hitting the comedy pavement, but what most of us don’t know is how they feel about SNL‘s hiring practices and the obstacles they might face. Because if talent isn’t the problem, then what is?

As the Internet spends the next week or so becoming enraged on behalf of these women, I figured actually talking to one might help shed light on the subject. Tuesday, I spotted my hometown friend, Kimrie Lewis Davis, playing a bored government employee on one of my favorite comedies, Fox’s New Girl. Next for her is a guest turn as a legal reporter on ABC’s Scandal. So I corralled my Kimrie into a conversation with The Root about comedy, Kenan and how to make it in a business that’s notoriously tough for everyone.

The Root: What was your first reaction when Kenan Thompson said that the black comedians auditioning for Saturday Night Live “weren’t ready”?

Kimrie Lewis Davis: “Ya’ll need to call me in!” That was my first reaction. But I think — and I don’t know if he did this intentionally or not — but I think what his comments did was draw attention to the much bigger problem.

TR: Which is?

KLD: There hasn’t been a black woman on the show in like five or six years. Maya [Rudolph] had the longest stint. So I hope this is not going to be just a passing thing. Not something where we’re like, “See, look what we did! We brought attention to it!” And then we put it to bed until the next black president and first lady are in office.

TR: Do you think Thompson’s comments “threw black women under the bus,” as some people are suggesting?