There is a reason why people are now demanding that SNL be more diverse. It isn't just because for the first time in SNL history, the show has gone more than five years without a woman of color. It's also been five years that there hasn't been another sketch show with a diverse ensemble cast. For 19 years (between 1990 and 2009, when In Living Color began and MAD TV ended, respectively), there was always another sketch comedy show where people could get their fill of diverse and funny TV. Now that SNL has no network competition, people are relying on it to be comedy's saving grace -- and it's just not fair.
SNL is one show. The problem is the lack of others, especially as it pertains to comedy. There are brilliant, hardworking, independent content creators that have already demonstrated how dynamic and creative their work can be; all they need are the resources and the opportunities to reach the wide audiences that want to see them. Instead of breathing down SNL's back to hire a more diverse cast, we should be knocking on the doors of networks, demanding that they let more people in. Awkward Black Girl creator Issa Rae getting a deal with HBO is a great step into the right direction. But it's time for others to start following suit. Until then, SNL is only a small part of the larger problem..
Most of the chatter around SNL lately has been focused on the secret audition for black women. But, there's more to this story that should be explored. Many of the women who auditioned are already creating content that can help supplement the lack of diverse comedy. For example, Kerry Coddett has her own sketch comedy web series. In the theme song she raps: "[I'm] doing sketch comedy and I'm not a white guy," outright, addressing the issue SNL would later be criticized for. The Coddett Project has a diverse cast, and offers social commentary in the form of character sketches, political satire, pranks, cartoons and musical parodies, reminiscent of Andy Samberg's Digital Shorts. One of her more popular sketches, "Blackertone," also mocks some of the stereotypes that she believes SNL and mainstream media reinforces. In the sketch, black actors show the effectiveness of a powerful suntan lotion, and it's as much about deceptive advertising as it is the way people obliviously buy into silly racist stereotypes. In another sketch, Coddett parodies celebrity culture and its glorification of wastefulness and fiscal irresponsibility; "Make It Ash" is the satirical equivalent of Lorde's "Royals." Coddett also plays the voice of an animated prank caller named Adele Weinstein.
"Give 'Em Hell Adele"
Sasheer Zamata, also in the running to being SNL's next cast member, has written and produced her own webseries, called The Pursuit of Sexiness, along with Nicole Byer, another UCB alum who auditioned at the secret L.A. showcase. Best friends in real life, Zamata and Byer, are a hilarious comedy duo. They're smart, funny and have a fresh and unique perspective. The series follows the "broke, single, and (adorably!) self-absorbed" Nicky and Sheer as they look for "good men, easy money and free meals, but would be satisfied to break even and find a guy who doesn't prematurely ejaculate." In the first episode, the girls each go out on dates that end unsuccessfully, but instead of wallowing in self-pity as single women are often depicted to do, the pair continue to blaze ahead confidently and unbothered. In the hilarious season finale, Zamata and Byer courageously panhandle on the train, and dress up as sexy (and uncoordinated) subway performers. Nicky and Sheer's characters are larger than life; moreover, they are funny, quirky and a little awkward -- qualities we rarely see black women portray on TV.
Pursuit of Sexiness -- Episode 1 (Date)
Pursuit of Sexiness -- Episode 2 (Subway)
Going beyond what SNL and other sketch comedy shows have done with black comediennes -- the sassy receptionist, the nagging girlfriend, the matronly matriarch that never seems to leave the kitchen -- all of these women have challenged the status quo, poking fun at any and everyone, themselves included.
Both The Coddett Project and the Pursuit of Sexiness feature a variety of characters you don't see on network shows, and there are others out there. If SNL wasn't the only TV show being pressured to prove how much diversity means to them, then more shows like this would be on the big screen. Because when it comes to fresh, funny and colorful content, there is definitely a significant demand.
Just last summer, Fox revealed that they were attempting to reboot the popular 90s comedic series In Living Color, but they pulled the plug on the project because they just didn't feel that it was "good enough." It's no wonder black comedians are now developing their own content. Executives feel the solution is trying to recreate new versions to our old favorites, when it's time to find fresh perspectives and new ideas. There are independent content creators that are actively being the change they wish to see. Especially the ones that have already demonstrated how dynamic and creative their work can be.
Until the images in the media more accurately reflect an ever changing, ever growing, ever multi-ethnic population, there will always be a problem. It's one thing to slam SNL for being an all-white boys club, but it's quite another to go out and create your own. Whether Coddett, Zamata, Byer or any of the other ladies that have auditioned get a part on SNL, there is still way more work to be done. One role on SNL shouldn't be the only arena in which these black women are able to shine. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for all of these shining stars, and I hope it includes more opportunity for minorities and people of color to be positively represented in the media on a wider level.