Let our next greatest achievement be realizing the dream of full equality for all of us ...

- Human Rights Campaign President, Alphonso David, as reported by Maiysha Kai -


Does Being on 'SNL' Really Matter?

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? 

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.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter