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)

KLD: I think deep down he wants there to be black women on the show. He’s even said he doesn’t want to play women all the time. So, no, I don’t think he was just trying to throw us under the bus. I think he really thinks there is a problem. SNL goes to the Groundlings and to the UCBs  [Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre] of the world to find talent. And I think perhaps in addition to the issue of casting on SNL, these comedy schools don’t have the diversity there in the first place. When you go, what you see is young white dudes. So it’s no surprise that Lorne is coming out with five new white guys.

TR: Are black female comedians somehow not prepared enough?

KLD: I think right now the style of comedy that’s being represented on SNL is like this alternative style of comedy. It’s not what we were raised on. You know the three camera-style shows — Martin, the Cosby Show, Girlfriends. Comedy has changed. It’s more subdued. It’s not as in-your-face. Perhaps the women they were bringing in weren’t ready. But if the casting directors at SNL saw their tapes, there had to be something that brought them in.

If you bring an actress of color in the room, we’ll take notes like any other actress, we’ll make adjustments. If any of us are given the opportunity to go in and read for SNL, we’re going to be ready. And if not, we’re going to get ready. Again, I don’t know how many of us they brought in. Nobody knows how many of us they’re bringing in.

TR: Web series and YouTube have somehow democratized the business. Are women of color actively trying to get on SNL?

KLD: Absolutely, we’re still trying to get on the show. It’s still the crème de la crème of sketch comedy. It’s what the whole country watches. I mean it’s SNL, and it has been SNL my entire life. Anybody who’s given the opportunity would jump at it.

TR: Do you know fellow black comedians who’ve gone in to audition?

KLD: I know a few female comedians who’ve sent in a tape, but they haven’t gotten called in.

TR: Why is it allegedly so hard to find funny black women?

KLD: The funny black women who are on YouTube aren’t necessarily the same women who are on UCB and Groundlings. Unless SNL is seeking to find these women, they may not come across them in the traditional ways they’re used to going about finding talent.

We can’t just submit names to SNL and hope they see them and then get pissed off when they don’t. SNL, as much as anyone of us would want to be on, isn’t the only avenue. We have to turn that anger into action so that we can get more shows like Key and Peele. Best believe if you turn yourself into a Key and Peele, that will get you noticed.

TR: Have you submitted a tape for SNL?

KLD: I submitted a tape a couple of years ago. The way it works is your agent will send the tape over to them, and if they’re interested in your characters, then they’ll call you. After they call you in, then they fly you out to New York and then you’ll meet with Lorne. But I haven’t submitted a tape in a while.

TR: Why?

KLD: Last year I may have missed a deadline, and the year before that I was shooting a movie out of state. But I’ll be submitting a tape very soon.

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.

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