Last week, “Saturday Night Live” performer Kenan Thompson made the mistake of suggesting that the current lack of diversity on “SNL” results from female black performers in the comedy world not being “ready.” Unsurprisingly, Thompson’s comments have received major backlash, and for good reason. With a grand total of four black female cast members in its 38-year history, “SNL” could definitely do with a demographic shake-up.
YouTube offers a wealth of talent. With the Internet becoming the preferred platform for writers and performers, more and more comedians, particularly those from groups underrepresented in mainstream media, are expressing themselves in vlogs and web series. Online, several black comediennes have already proven their abilities as writers, impressionists and improvisers. In other words, they’re “ready.”
Darmirra Brunson is one such comedienne, and “SNL” cast member Jay Pharoah even publicly stated that she deserves to be hired. Brunson is the quintessential unappreciated talent “SNL” is obviously missing. As an actress on Tyler Perry’s sitcom “Love Thy Neighbor” and an impressionist on her YouTube series, “TheDarmirraShow,” she’s every bit as versatile and creative as any of the current “SNL” cast members.
Issa Rae gained popularity with her web series, “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.” Although she recently had a television project ABC did not pick up this past season, the setback didn’t slow her down — she’s currently working on an HBO series loosely based on “Awkward Black Girl” with Larry Wilmore, creator of “The Bernie Mac Show” and “The Daily Show” correspondent. Maybe at this point, Rae doesn’t need a stepping-stone like “SNL,” but that doesn’t change the fact that she would be a great addition.
Nicole Byer is a veteran of the Upright Citizens Brigade, an improv troupe co-founded by “SNL” legend Amy Poehler, which boasts members like current “SNL” performer Kate McKinnon. Currently, Byer is on MTV’s comedy series “Girl Code” and web series “Fast Food Heights,” and she maintains a hilarious Twitter account. With a background in improv — something that’s obviously treasured at 30 Rockefeller Center — Byer would fit in at “SNL” just fine.
Another UCB alumna is Sasheer Zamata. Zamata has appeared on Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer,” as well as College-Humor videos. She’s also written UCB sketches and performs stand-up. Zamata is the whole package, and seeing her on television each week would be delightful.
When “Shit People Say” videos were exploding online a few years ago, Franchesca Ramsey stuck out with her video, “Shit White Girls Say … to Black Girls.” Ramsey has maintained her online popularity with her YouTube channel “ChescaLeigh,” where she makes weekly videos. Sometimes she dresses up in ridiculous costumes and sings original parodies of pop songs. Other times, she makes searing arguments pertaining to social justice. Ramsey is smart — a quality that’s often forgotten when discussing comedy — but she’s also silly, creative and relatable.
These are only a few of the many black women who are “ready” to be a part of the legendary “SNL” cast. In 2013, with the wealth of talent available on YouTube and elsewhere, “Saturday Night Live” can no longer keep making the same excuses.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 23 print edition. Valerie Nelson is The Highlighter Editor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.