Niagara Gazette

Night & Day

November 1, 2013

Lack of black women becomes 'SNL' issue

(Continued)

Niagara Gazette — That didn't go over well in the comedy community, with several people coming forth with suggestions for Thompson. "It was kind of an unfortunate, unthinking thing to say," said Miriam Petty, a Northwestern University communications professor and expert on black popular culture.

Sketch comedy troupes like Second City, the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and the Groundlings are fertile ground for future cast members. Current players pass along recommendations, like when Tina Fey touted Amy Poehler. 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 weeknight show.

Michaels said "SNL" is particularly interested in sketch comedy experience, a different skill than stand-up. He also wants to make sure that a new cast member has some seasoning and won't be overwhelmed by the pace and attention.

"You don't do anyone a favor if they're not ready," he said.

Two of the black women who were on the show — Danitra Vance and Yvonne Hudson — lasted only one season each during the 1980s, although Michaels said that wasn't necessarily an indication they weren't ready. The third black woman cast member, Ellen Cleghorne, was on from 1991 to 1995.

There has often been criticism through the years that late-night comedy in general is a boy's club, particularly a white boy's club (There aren't any Asians or Hispanics on the show either, male or female, though cast member Nasim Pedrad is Iranian-American).

Petty said she didn't think there was a conscious effort to be exclusionary on "Saturday Night Live." ''But when most of the people in the boardroom (making casting decisions) are white men, that's going to happen," she said.

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