Kenan Thompson caught some heat earlier this week when an interview with TV Guide came out that focused on the fact that there are no women of color on “Saturday Night Live”, which Thompson has been a cast member on for the past ten years. For many of those years, Thompson–who got his start as a child actor on the Nickelodeon variety show “All That”–has been given little choice but to play the role of any black woman needed for a sketch, from Mo’Nique to Maya Angelou and Jennifer Hudson. Now, he says he doesn’t want to do it anymore, and that the show needs to open its doors to the talented women he knows are out there.
As far as finding someone of color who can hold up to the pressure of the show, Thompson says it’s been a hard reality that none have made it past an audition.
“It’s just a tough part of the business,” Thompson says. “Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready.” And as for the new additions to the cast, who are all white? “They’re all contributing in different ways I think. They’ve been doing great job so far. They’re all very, very smart and talented, so that’s how it is. That’s the kind of people I guess that get the job.”
While it’s true that sometimes a man stepping into a pair of pumps for a sketch can add an element of comedy that would be lacking if an actual woman took the role–think Chris Farley as the Lunch Lady, or Will Ferrell as Janet Reno–the sad fact is, there have only been four black women on SNL during the 38 years it’s been on the air: Yvonne Hudson (1980-81), Danitra Vance (1985-86), Ellen Cleghorne (1991-95) and Maya Rudolph (2000-2007).
“There is a long and proud tradition of black women in standup comedy specifically, dating back to and before Moms Mabley, so women of color have long had at least a few notable women to model themselves after in the standup world,” said actress and comedian Aisha Tyler. “Not so much so in sketch and improv.” Still, she says, ” “Maybe they [SNL] could be doing a better job of recruiting women of color, which might feed the system in a more robust way. But honestly, if SNL isn’t finding funny women of color, they’re just not looking hard enough. It smacks of laziness.”