Truly the White House of Comedy: SNL’s Race Issue

By on November 22, 2013
Saturday Night Live -- Yeah, I'm a fan girl for SNL (Photo illustration by Gerrie Lim)

Anyone who knows the first thing about me knows I am madly, nearly to the point of psychiatrically-concerning, obsessed with Saturday Night Live.

While the late night variety show is said to be not as a golden as its Tina Fey-Sarah Palin days, SNL continues to be an NBC staple, diving into its 39th season. You might know that the National Broadcasting Company’s icon is a peacock. What you might not know, however, is the peacock was chosen to represent diversity paralleling the diversity that is characteristic to America. People of different color from ever walk of life. That’s what I was told on the NBC studio tour, anyway.

NBC is known for preferring to hire towards a more varied spectrum. Thus, one would expect the diversity network to have a cast of  color on its oldest, on-going show. So when Kerry Washington guest-hosted the November 3rd show that opened with a sketch apologizing to Ms. Washington for the multitudes of African-American women she would have to change into and portray that night because of the lack of black women on cast, two thoughts crossed my mind: 1) that’s hilarious and 2) preach it.

As of this season, the SNL cast’s demographics are a little vanilla with a hint of chocolate sprinkles; it’s  currently comprised of eight white males, six white females, and two black males. Since the departure of last season’s titans, Fred Armisen, Jason Sudeikis, and Bill Hader, SNL producer Lorne Michaels spent his summer vacation this year scrounging for new talent. Known as the “featured players” these chosen are hand-picked to vie for a permanent spot on the show’s cast. However, when these fresh faces were revealed to be five Caucasians, disappointed sighs and clicks of the remote were heard everywhere. And if you know the history of this show, this is even more disappointing because you know there have only been four black women (the last one, Maya Rudolph, left in 2007) and 1.5 Asians. (Fred Armisen was half-Japanese and repertory player Nasim Pedrad is Iranian.) This is out of 137 cast members over the years.

It’s hard not to get tired of watching the only two African-Americans, Jay Pharoah and Kenan Thompson, dress up in drag to play prominent black females. As an Asian-American, I found it a little sorry, however hilarious it was, to have Bobby Moynihan portray North Korean leader Kim Sung-Il with a faux Japanese accent last season. It’s getting redundant, to be honest.

Taken from cocoandcream.com

A picture of my biological father, SNL producer, Lorne Michaels, 68. Taken from cocoandcream.com

Lorne Michaels promised to hire a black female saying, “It’s not like it’s not a priority for us. It will happen. I’m sure it will happen.” But how long do we have to wait? Why wasn’t this a thing already? Isn’t America called the melting pot for a reason? Wasn’t America built on immigrants anyway?

Some people may argue Asians aren’t funny enough. These same people probably think we Asians sold our souls in return for incredible academic skills and perfect scores on standardized testing. While this is only half true, it doesn’t mean Asians are not a funny people. Go on YouTube right now and some of the most famous YouTubers include Ryan Higa (“nigahiga”/ Japanese), Kevin Wu (“KevJumba”/ Chinese), David So (“davidsocomedy”/ Korean), Natalie Tran (“communitychannel”/ Vietnamese), Lilly Singh (“IISuperwomanII”/ Indian), Chrinstine Gambito (“Happy Slip”/ Filipino), and Kassem G (“KassemG”/ Arab). Just to, you know, name a few. If not ordered off the Internet, why not recruit Mindy Kaling or…yeah, Mindy Kaling.

If we ever reach the promised land and an Asian does wind up on Saturday Night Live, my only inner turmoil with this brews over the idea of competence: was this person hired out due to political pressure, or are they actually good at what they do? I can argue for Asians only because I am Asian-American myself, and I want to have a comedic idol to look up to, but really, I would be happy if a person of any other color made it on to the White House of funny (pun not intended).

I’m not saying SNL should build it’s show on an Affirmative Action system, although that would make for a good sketch. I’m not saying Lorne Michaels should develop a quota per race like the Chappelle show’s Racial Draft, but they should definitely at least try to look like they’re scouting different types of people. I mean five new white kids? Come on. The only thing they have to save for themselves on this is that Tina Fey, who hosted the season opener, couldn’t tell the featured players apart. If SNL wanted to revive itself, it should catch up with the year 2013 and  the producers should focus on diversifying the cast. Through a multicultural cast, they could push the envelope with some tastefully colored jokes. A white person mocking a black person through stereotypes of fried chicken and watermelon is socially dangerous and ratings-fatal. A black person emphasizing stereotypes of fried chicken and watermelon is a “Hunger Games” sketch waiting to happen. Saturday Night Live used to be a boys club until Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and gang shook it up and proved women can be funny too. It’s only a matter of time before a new face rolls up and the sketch variety show with a much-needed push of diversity. Until then, live from New York, it’s mostly white.

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About Gerrie Lim

Like roughly 50% of everyone here at UAB, Gerrie Lim is a pre-med student. Unlike everyone here, she is a Communications Broadcasting major with a Theatre minor. On Saturday nights, you can usually find her watching the latest episode of Saturday Night Live, where she wants to work at one day. Gerrie Lim is currently a freshman at the time of quickly scribbling this little biography and enjoys writing autobiographies. She thinks it doesn't do her justice, and she thanks you for looking at whatever page you found it. Gerrie is currently a writer, photographer and, weirdly, a cartoonist for the UAB's Kaleidoscope. You can find her on Instagram at @chopstickgirl.
 
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