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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