While I love Saturday Night Live, it has gone slightly downhill over the past few years.
The departures of comedic heavyweights like Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Jason Sudekis at the end of Season 38, as well as the losses of Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg in 2012 to the film industry, caused the show to truly lack in a lot of talent. Not to say that its cast right now isn’t talented–it’s just, well, different.
For the current season, series creator and producer Lorne Michaels spent a great deal of time searching across the country for new featured players to aid in the much smaller cast. In mid-September, The New York Times released the list of the six—that’s right, six—featured players: YouTube stars Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney, former writer Mike O’Brien, sketch group comic John Milhiser, comedienne and Zooey Deschanel impersonator Noel Wells, and stand-up comic Brooks Wheelan.
While each new member’s talents were greatly appreciated and reveled in, the show also came under a great deal of controversy for not including a cast-member of color to the group. Especially a female African-American. Even current cast members Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah were upset with this fact, and made their opinions public to the media and on the show.
In the November 2 show with Kerry Washington as the host, the cold open somewhat addressed the issue by trying to make light of the situation, as well as with a title card that did not really explain or help the situation at all.
Luckily, in the 2014 opening show on January 18, with host and musical guest Drake, a new featured player was introduced, African-American comedienne Sasheer Zamata. Zamata is a regular performer at the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) Theatre in New York City, and commonly makes videos online with her friend Nicole Byer, of “Girl Code” and stand-up fame.
Zamata is an incredibly talented actress and comedienne; after hearing of her addition to SNL, I looked up and watched all of her Pursuit of Sexiness web series videos and, seriously, watch them if you enjoy comedy. However, I find it a bit strange how exactly her first show went. Zamata was in almost every skit, even though her comedic talents were not utilized for the majority of the show. At the send-off with Drake at the end, Drake had his arm around her shoulder and thanked her for her first show, which got an astounding applause.
I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have applauded—Zamata is pretty much exactly what the show needed comedy-wise. However, Michaels and the cast seemed more interested in Zamata for the color of her skin rather than the laughs she delivers—especially since she didn’t even have many, if any jokes, in the winter premiere.
I understand that Michaels and SNL overall received a ton of flack for not adding an African-American female to the cast for the 39th season, which I completely agree with. Although this country is a mixture of different cultures and ethnicities the majority of the current cast members are white or Caucasian. I still believe, however, that Michaels and SNL should receive flack, much as Lena Dunham did in the past, for hosting auditions for a “black female cast member.”
We should not focus on race, but talent—then again, we need to realize that there is more than one group that needs to be represented, especially on a show that is currently in its 39th season.
Let’s see what they do with Zamata in the next few episodes; I’m excited to see her in comedic aspects, rather than as just a sidepiece, as it seemed she was in this episode.