What will Lorne Michaels come up with next in his effort to put the kibosh on the weekly casting embarrassment that is Saturday Night Live? This is shaping up as one of the NBC late-night show’s more fun seasons to watch, as Michaels alternately snarks and hand-wrings about the show’s cast-diversity kerfuffle, since announcing the latest crop of new performers.
Over the weekend Michaels made it tough for another black woman to guest-host the sketch comedy show this season, after using Scandal star Kerry Washington like a sock puppet to deliver his latest “nuts to you” response to critics. Too bad, because there’s no one on staff to play FLOTUS, Oprah, Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, etc. now that cast member Kenan Thompson isn’t doing drag.
The show’s lack of a black female cast member – none since 2007, and only 4 of the 137 people who have been cast since the show’s unveiling back in ’75 – became an issue at the start of this season when the latest crop of newbies was announced and a) TV critics noticed and b) two black male cast members talked. Jay Pharoah told web site The Grio he hoped the show would add a black woman, suggesting one in particular, because “she’s black, first of all… and she’s really talented,” and because “they need to follow up with it, like they said they were going to do last year” (emphasis mine). Then, Thompson dug the hole a few feet deeper, when he told TV Guide the problem is “they never find ones [black comediennes] that are ready.”
SNL and NBC insist Washington had been approached about guest hosting the show, and booked, before the newbies were announced and the scolding broke out. In this weekend’s episode, Washington played FLOTUS, Oprah, and Beyonce – all in one, cold-open sketch set at the White House. She didn’t actually deliver any FLOTUS, Oprah, or Beyonce humor – it was all about SNL itself, with Washington running on and off stage to play all those parts, because – to recap — the show once again is starting a new season without a black female cast member and Thompson is no longer doing drag. While Washington changed costumes, Voiceover Guy spoke:
“The producers at Saturday Night Live would like to apologize to Kerry Washington for the number of black women she will be asked to play tonight. We make these requests both because Ms. Washington is an actress of considerable range and talent – and also because SNL does not currently have a black woman on the cast. As for the latter reason, we agree this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the near future, unless, of course, we fall in love with another white guy first.”
And what was Al Sharpton doing, bailing SNL out at the end of the bit, with his crack that this SNL sketch had taught us nothing, as usual? Oh yeah – he’s in NBC’s employ, with an MSNBC show called PoliticsNation.
Michaels tried, unsuccessfully, to make the casting story go away with this season’s debut, when he devoted an entire sketch to the subject. Thompson played host of a game show called “New Cast Member Or Arcade Fire,” and Michaels was brought onstage to figure out which of two white guys was his new cast hire and which a member of that week’s music act. “Is it the black one?” Michaels snarked, looking at Thompson, who was given no snappy comeback line, which is a shame because we’re guessing every black comedienne watching could have handed him two or three priceless ones. Similarly, this past weekend’s sketch with harried Kerry Washington playing all the female roles ended with a slew of the cast’s white guys showing up at the Oval Office, all playing Matthew McConaughey.
Washington’s guest-hosting gig came just days after Michaels assured the Associated Press, in re the lack of black female cast member, “It’s not like it’s not a priority for us,” adding, hopefully, “It will happen. I’m sure it will happen,” as if it was up to some Secretary of Homeland TV instead of, you know, him. The article noted, of the casting process, “There are often specific needs: SNL was particularly seeking men this year because Jason Sudeikis, Fred Armisen and Bill Hader left the show, and Seth Meyers is soon to graduate to his own weekend show.” Which would seem to suggest there is no “specific need” to get a black woman on the show for the first time since 2007. Could that be because the SNL cast has become the farm team for NBC late-night shows and primetime comedies, and for feature films, and there’s no “specific need” for black women there either? And, while we’re at it, why should Michaels want to cast a black comedienne on the show? NOT having one, and trotting out a black actress to joke about it, brought SNL its biggest number so far this season — yes, bigger than the night Miley Cyrus guest-hosted and performed, in the wake of her headline-grabbing VMA twerk.
In that AP interview, Michaels explained, still on the subject of black comediennes and SNL’s lack of them, that he wants to make sure every new cast member has “some seasoning and won’t be overwhelmed by the pace and attention,” that comes with being a cast member, adding, thoughtfully, “you don’t do anyone a favor if they’re not ready.” Anybody else find that patronizing/sexist/very 1950’s?