'SNL' to Add African-American Woman to Cast by January
Showcases featuring black female comedians have already been held in New York and L.A.
"It's not like it's not a priority for us," Lorne Michaels told the Associated Press in early November in response to widespread criticism that the new cast of Saturday Night Live lacked minority faces -- and more specifically the inclusion of an African-American woman.
Now it looks as though Michaels is staying true to his word.
SNL recently held two showcase auditions consisting entirely of African-American women, with sources confirming to The Hollywood Reporter that SNL indeed intends on adding one African-American woman to the cast as soon as this January.
The auditions are the first in the history of the long-running sketch show to focus exclusively on minority females, and appear to be a proactive response on the part of producers to rectify the current season 39's much-publicized diversity problem -- which was skewered by SNL itself in a sketch in which guest host Kerry Washington was run ragged playing everyone from Michelle Obama to Oprah to Beyonce.
The show added six new comedians this year; all of them were white, with the exception of Noel Wells, who is of Hispanic-Tunisian decent. Of the 16 castmembers currently on the show, Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah are the only African-Americans, while Nasim Pedrad is Iranian-American.
The first showcase audition was held at the Groundlings Theatre in Los Angeles on Dec. 1 at 10 p.m., where actresses like Misty Monroe, a Groundlings Sunday Company alum, Amber Ruffin, Simone Shepherd, Tiffany Haddish, Nicole Byer and Bresha Webb were among a dozen hopefuls vying for the coveted spot, as was Darmirra Brunson, the comedian Pharoah had recently suggested should join the cast "because she's black, first of all, and she's really talented." The second showcase took place in New York on Dec. 1, and was attended by Michaels himself.
With Seth Meyers' likely departure from SNL coming this spring, the plan has long been in place to boost the team by one player come midseason -- but the groundbreaking showcases suggest the game plan has shifted to focus solely on the addition of an African-American woman. The talent pool has so far impressed producers, according to sources, but further showcases have been scheduled ahead of the big decision.
The move to add another female castmember arrives as Pedrad's future with the veteran sketch series remains murky. SNL's longest-tenured female castmember signed on to co-star in Fox's Michaels-produced John Mulaney comedy series, reprising her role from the pilot originally developed for NBC.
When Pedrad signed on to the pilot in April, she would have departed SNL had NBC picked up Mulaney to series. This time around, sources tell THR that the Fox series' production schedule does not conflict with SNL and Pedrad will be able to maintain her presence on the late-night staple. Time will tell if that proves to be true.
News of one of the two showcases was first reported by blog The Jasmine Brand after one of the comedians involved, Webb, posted a photo from the event on Instagram.