The internets kind of erupted this past week when Kenan Thompson, of SNL (and before that “Kenan and Kel” on Nickelodeon–never forget.), told TV Guide that the reason SNL doesn’t feature any black, female cast members is because black women, when they come to the auditions, aren’t ready for the job.
People were up-set. And came for Kenan’s throat. Maybe I’m desensitized but personally, I didn’t find his statement all that offensive. When I think of places where black comediennes can succeed and thrive, SNL is not nearly at the top of my list. Not because of their history has so clearly lacked black women, but because I never really associate the SNL brand of humor with black women, and rarely with black people. But that’s just me; and while I’ve been known to make people chuckle sometimes, I’m not a comedienne.
But Azie Mira Dungey of the YouTube series, “Ask A Slave” and Amani Starnes of “United Colors of Amani” are comediennes and fortunately, the two sat down to share their thoughts on the lack of black women in comedy. I think you may find their insight a bit more helpful than some of the [faux] and authentic “outrage” people have hurled at Kenan over the past few days.
In the two part conversation, these women explained that there are layers to this thing about black women not being ready to take on roles at SNL, including the expectations for black comediennes, lack of diverse writers and even socioeconomic status.
“Comedy has been male dominated forever. When it comes to black women, one of the fears that may actually keep black women away from comedy, you have to play stereotypes. That’s what’s funny about sketches. As a black woman, the stereotypes that we have, there’s like two. Ghetto, angry ghetto, sassy ghetto, loud ghetto. Lots of stuff about hair. I was in a class and my teacher, when he gave themes or prompts for a scene, he gave me basketball and weaves to me every time. That’s what he thinks is going to be funny about me.”‘
“My parents have ascended to a point where their children are entitled enough and have the right to go pursue their artistic dreams just like kids from other races or backgrounds. If my dad had told his father that he wanted to be an actor, he would have just laughed in his face and put a cotton gin in his hand and said, get back out there. My dad grew up on a cotton field. Statistically, a lot of African Americans are not at that place.
Black people don’t have any money.
Black women make the least amount of money. By the way when SNL scouts for talent, they go to the major, elite comedy schools. They need the top people that can hang on their stage. At those places you’re not going to find many people of color because it’s so expensive. If there’s only 10% of white people that can afford it. Then there’s going to be like .2% of black people that can afford it. And those 2 percent are going to get a medical degree. They’re not going to get a comedy…unless they’re crazy like us.”
And then in the second video, they spoke about the lack of black, comedic, female role models.
You can watch the full discussion in the videos on the next page.