Comedienne Nefetari Spencer Explains What It’s REALLY Like To Audition For Saturday Night Live
I know we all felt some type of way when Kenan Thompson said that the lack of black female comediennes on SNL had a lot to do with most of them not “being ready” last month. Yet we quickly moved on from the issue after Kerry Washington killed it as a host of the show on November 2. Guess everyone thought enough progress had been made in the blink of an eye. But Salon recently sat down with funny lady Nefetari Spencer, a black comedienne known for being in the comedy troupe Elite Delta Force 3, and starring in the hilarious skit, “Real Housewives of Civil Rights” with Wayne Brady, to talk about what it’s really like to audition for Saturday Night Live. Spencer went into detail about making it to the final rounds of auditions in 2008 with her Michelle Obama impressions, coming face-to-face with SNL-head Lorne Michaels, and what she thinks about the lack of sistas on the show. Really interesting stuff:
What was it like when you got there?
“I was in the same space that raised Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ellen Cleghorne and Maya Rudolph. And I was there, me, Nefetari Spencer, the same little girl from the south side of Chicago who performed “skits” with my cousin in the living room. The Holy Grail of sketch comedy called and I was ready.
I came “camera-ready,” meaning my hair and make up were already done. As a black woman in this industry, I learned my lesson the hard way about going through “the works” and coming out looking worse than when I sat down. We have all gone through that but that’s another story.
While I sat in the chair for a touch-up, in walked Seth Meyers. Come to find out he went to Northwestern, and I used to visit one of my BFFs there, so we were able to talk about that and Chicago. [I hoped] Seth would be able to see me as more than a head shot.”
How many other people were testing at the time?
“There were 20 of us testing that year. I was the only African-American woman and Jordan Peele [of Key & Peele fame] was the only African-American male there.
[After two hours, my name was] called. The assistant director introduced himself to me and asked me to check the set and if I needed anything. As I checked the table, set up my wigs, and props, I noticed that Lorne Michaels, Seth Meyers and Marci Klein were sitting at a table à la “American Idol” adjacent to the camera and behind them in the bleachers were possibly the writers. It was about 10-15 people, mostly white men.
I started my audition.
“Hi, I’m Nefetari Spencer and this is Michelle Obama.”
Six-point-five minutes and seven characters later I said, “Thank you.” Two people in the hall told me, “That was so funny, you were great.”
How did you find out that you didn’t get the gig?
“I found out I didn’t get it the day they announced the new cast members. It was hard to digest because it seemed kismet. I thought of the contract that I signed that could have changed my life and about me moving to NYC. With Maya Rudolph no longer being on the show, they were going to need a Michelle Obama. I mean all of the signs were there. I had been working tirelessly for years to get to that level. I couldn’t help but feel sad, but I also felt I left my heart on that stage and that’s all I could do.”
How did you react to Kenan Thompson’s statement about black women and “SNL”?
“I can’t speak for all African-American women who do sketch but I can say I think there are some out there who are ready. Hell, I thought I was ready but maybe not.”
Do you still want to work for “SNL” or are you more focused on your own pursuits?
“I will stress that to me, “SNL” is the Mecca. If the Mecca calls again, I will go and do my best. Meanwhile, I will continue to focus on my own pursuits.”
SNL definitely missed out because Spencer is pretty funny! Check out her full interview from earlier this month over at Salon’s website and check out some of Spencer’s best impressions below and share your thoughts.