Live from New York, it’s a show look­ing for racial diver­sity

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By David Bauder

NEW YORK — Kerry Wash­ing­ton’s turn as host of Satur­day Night Live this week gives that tele­vi­sion in­sti­tu­tion some­thing it hasn’t seen much lately: a black woman on­stage try­ing to make peo­ple laugh. The show’s diver­sity has be­come an is­sue, pushed to the fore­front by com­ments from the two black male cast mem­bers. No black women are among the 16 reper­tory or fea­tured play­ers cur­rently on the show. While Ed­die Mur­phy, Chris Rock, Tim Mead­ows, Tracy Mor­gan and cur­rent cast mem­bers Ke­nan Thomp­son and Jay Pharoah have been ma­jor SNL play­ers, the 137 peo­ple who have been cast mem­bers since the show started on NBC in 1975 in­clude four black women. The most re­cent, and most prom­i­nent, was bira­cial Maya Ru­dolph, who left in 2007. Found­ing pro­ducer Lorne Michaels, who is still the show’s top ex­ec­u­tive and gen­er­ally keeps the cast­ing process mys­te­ri­ous, said he’s well aware of the is­sue and is on the look­out for black women as po­ten­tial cast mem­bers.

“It’s not like it’s not a pri­or­ity for us,” he said in an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press on Thurs­day. “It will hap­pen. I’m sure it will hap­pen.” Pharoah told the web­site The Grio re­cently he hoped the show would have a black woman in its cast, and he had a sug­ges­tion: Darmirra Brun­son. “Why do I think she should be on the show?” he said. “Be­cause she’s black... and she’s re­ally ta­lented.” It’s not clear whether she was ever con­sid­ered, al­though it’s cur­rently a moot point. Brun­son is a cast mem­ber on Tyler Perry’s show, Love Thy Neigh­bor, on Oprah Win­frey’s OWN net­work. Thomp­son, who Michaels said is as good as any­one who’s been on the show, blamed a lack of qual­ity black come­di­ennes. “It’s just a tough part of the busi­ness, like in au­di­tions,” he told TV Guide. 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 and 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 standup. He also wants to make sure a new cast mem­ber has some sea­son­ing and won’t be over­whelmed by the pace and at­ten­tion. “You don’t do any­one a favour if they’re not ready,” he said.

MATT SAYLES / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Thomp­son blames a lack of qual­ity black come­di­ennes.

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