No more wigs and heels for Kenan Thompson!
Early next year, Saturday Night Live will add someone new to its ranks — specifically, its first black female cast member since Maya Rudolph vacated in 2007. (SNL has only featured four African-American women in its entire 39-year history: Yvonne Hudson (1980-81), Danitra Vance (1985-86), Ellen Cleghorne (1991-95) and Rudolph (2000-2007).)
The news comes from straight from executive producer/SNL Czar for Life Lorne Michaels, who told the New York Times that his team has been holding special casting sessions for weeks. The search culminated in an under-the-radar audition for black female comedians held at Los Angeles’s Groundlings Theater last week, at which about a dozen performers were present.
“All told we’ve seen about 25 people,” Michaels told the Times. “A lot of the people we saw are really good. Hopefully we’ll come out of the process well.” Ultimately, he may add up to two performers to the show’s current cast — but according to the Times, “he did not want to add too many women at this time because the cast already includes five.” (The show’s current cast also includes 10 men, though one of them, head writer/Weekend Update anchor Seth Meyers, is leaving in early 2014.)
Michaels has been under fire since his show added six new cast members this past fall — five of them male, all of them white. The heat intensified in October, when longtime repertory player Kenan Thompson said in an interview that the show hadn’t had any black female cast members since Rudolph because “in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready.” For the record, Thompson’s fellow black SNL cast member Jay Pharoah didn’t agree; he complained in a different interview that he felt disappointment by the lack of diversity in Michaels’s latest cast picks.
“We’re all about talent,” Michaels said in the Times. “It doesn’t help if somebody’s not ready — and ‘ready’ is one of the charged words. But you want to be sure you give people the best possible shot.” He added that in any cast member, “versatility is what we look for” — though he also believes that it’s “100 percent good for the show to have an African-American woman” in the cast.
NBC and SNL have no additional comment.