SNL’s Unorthodox ‘Diversity’ Audition Process Could Hurt Sasheer Zamata

January 9, 2014  |  

Saturday Night Live‘s efforts to “diversify” their staff reminds me of a college brochure. “Oh let’s throw in a black guy in the front page — y’know — so students think we’re multicultural.” I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to be “sprinkled in” for added effect. I’d want to be the prime selection, front-and-center, for the university’s pamphlet.

And this is how I perceive SNL‘s first black female cast member since 2007, Sasheer Zamata. She’s the token black girl — “Scary Spice” or Saved By The Bell‘s Lisa Turtle — to create the illusion of heterogeneity.

“No matter how talented this young woman is,” Variety‘s Andrew Wallenstein wrote, “the special circumstances surrounding her hire put an asterisk next to her name that wouldn’t have to be there had she just been brought in during the traditional casting process.”

Wallenstein, under an opinion piece titled “How ‘SNL’ Mishandled Casting a Black Woman,” explains that while SNL‘s efforts to seem more inclusive is noble, the way they casted Zamata was a big ol’ mess. And for the most part, I agree.

When SNL opened up their auditions for African-American women only, I know I’m not the only one that heard, “Alright, alright! Shut up already! See? We’re going to hire a Black woman damnit!” SNL‘s mid-December auditions were out-of-the-ordinary. The sketch show never had open casting calls.

How Comedians (Usually) Become An SNL Cast Member:

1. Talent scouts usually pull comedians from four respected comedy clubs: Second City, Improv Olympic, the UCB Theater, and the Groundlings. Comedians at these venues are “seasoned performer[s] who can better handle all the rigors of being on a live TV show,” according to Mental Floss.

2. They will invite you to do a 10-minute performance in front of a live, paying audience. Comics can do celebrity impressions or a stand-up routine. 

3. Before you’re called to do your audition, they put you through professional hair and makeup. “You’re looking along the walls at all the past cast members. It’s just hitting you, and you’re trying not to vomit,” Will Ferrell said as he reminisces his wait in the dressing room.

4. Should you impress the recruiters, you’ll get a call that will change your life forever.

And it all just makes you wonder: Will Zamata be just as respected for her position on SNL as her co-stars? In a sense, the public pushed SNL into a corner and demanded they hire black women. Zamata’s predecessors, on the other hand, were hired without a figurative gun to the head.

While Zamata seems qualified, SNL‘s atypical audition process discredits her as just the “affirmative action” pick — the girl chosen just to appease the diversity defenders.

“If it took a supplemental measure for her to make the team,” Wallenstein adds, “a nagging unanswered question is left looming over her: Did ‘SNL’ relax its strict standards for admission in fear of public pressure?”

Look at it this way: If you’ve been through hell and back to get into a Greek organization, you probably won’t take kindly to new recruits who get off easy. For the sake of solidarity and tradition, you want all your sorors to go through the same challenging recruitment process as yourself.

In this scenario, Zamata — and  SNL‘s new Black writers LeKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones — are the “new sisters” who slipped through the cracks.

SNL should’ve stuck by their traditional hiring process. Scout the big comedy clubs, such as New York’s Upright Citizens Bridage (UCB) where Tina Fey was discovered, while zooming in on Black entertainers. And don’t tell that me there are no Black comedians at these venues because guess what? Zamata was part of the UCB troupe herself.

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  • Kristen

    I’m glad she was hired, I’m glad SNL got a wake up call, I wish her much success at SNL and her career in general. But I never really liked shows like SNL and MadTV so I won’t be watching it anyway lol!

  • Gigi

    I get all of the racially and politically incorrect-ness about this whole situation. I do, I truly do. However, I’m just glad a sista got own – period. You can call it affirmative action if you want to, but without the progress afforded to black people by AA, where would many of us be? It was instituted in order to level the playing field in the work force. If I understand the author, basically talent scouts have been passing black comediennes by for years in the comedy clubs. So others steps needed to be taken to fix the situation. Let’s be happy for Sasheer and stop over-analyzing the situation.

  • Miriam Pollock

    Yes, this is disappointing. However, I hope Sasheer uses the opportunity to showcase her talents to the fullest.

  • scandalous7

    she is going to have to be extremely funny and not just to black people, to everybody. She is going to have to be so funny that people forget that she is a “diversity hire”. Its going to take a miracle. Prey for Zamata. That also goes for the two black writers they hired to shut all us black people up. Thats why they did it, so we can stfu about it. Thats how Im feelin.

  • scandalous7

    she is a diversity hire. Thats sad but at least she is about to get PAID! she better be funny. I hope she is funny. I truly hope she is.

  • Chevonne

    I think Tina fey comes from Second City not UCB

  • Monique Cousins

    This was my response to Kevin harts response and tying it in to this article:

    I understand where he is coming from. If there is already a small pool to fill anyway, why make a big deal about there not being a black woman on the show! thousands of people come out to audition with only one spot to fill. This does not make SNL discriminatory at all. Now if 50 spots needed to be filled and never a black woman was hired, then i can see someone yelling discrimination! Everything is not a race issue! Everything must be put in the right perspective!

    By having an audition for a ‘black female’ it takes the focus off of her talent and on her race! Now she has become the token black girl on the show! She better bring the funny or she will be kicked off immediately bc after all, the majority of the reasoning behind hiring her was because she was black, not solely off her being funny!

  • Charlene

    You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. People complained relentlessly about not having a black woman on the show and now that they’ve hired one, people complain about the way she was hired. Geez you can’t win.

  • Nehes Ba’a Rayay

    and that’s exactly what it feels like. the new writers and the new cast member will never reach that Tina Fey status unfortunately.

  • Nicki

    SNL is pretty terrible imho, so maybe they should rethink the recruitment process as well. Like affirmative action, what really makes a difference is success once on the job or in the school. Ultimately, what matters is whether or not she fits and whether or not she’s funny. The show ‘s vets should support her regardless of the circumstances because their show and their legacy are on the line as well. Maybe I’m extra sensitive because I know Sasheer personally, but I’m tired of feeling that people are waiting for her to tank. Especially other black people. I hope she blows us all away and shuts all of you down!

  • sasha

    i kinda don’t really agree. idk why black people are so ready to be against her. maybe because it is a bw being benefitted and not a bm? at the end of the day, the show will be on and she’ll be as good as the others or not. in fact most of the people on SNL are pretty bad, so it won’t be hard for people to keep up. only weekly update is consistently good anyway, so if you put her in that she’ll be sure to be funny. ta-da.

  • Courtney Banks

    Unfortunately you’re right..