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Commentary: ‘Saturday Night Live’ adds 3 new cast members, skips out on chance to diversify

Courtesy of Dana Edelson/NBC

NBC announced three new “Saturday Night Live” cast members Monday, and it has me wondering, why should we care?

Chicago comedians Aidy Bryant, Tim Robinson and Cecily Strong are slated to join the cast as featured performers in the 38th season of “SNL,” which is scheduled to premiere Saturday night.

Good for them. They join a show that has turned out talent such as Eddie Murphy, Jimmy Fallon, Chevy Chase, Mike Myers and Tina Fey, among others. Former “SNL” writers Conan O’Brien, Stephen Colbert, Larry David and Sarah Silverman have also found success past their stints working for the show.

But is SNL still relevant?

The 2012-2013 cast is made up of 13 confirmed members, 14 if Jason Sudeikis does in fact decide to stay – as whether or not he will return next season is up in the air at the moment.

Notably, all but three of those members are white. Jay Pharoah and Kenan Thompson are black, and Nasim Pedrad is Iranian-American. That’s not a lot of diversity for a show that is often considered to be a commentary on what is going on across the United States.

In fact, “SNL” even has Fred Armisen, a white actor, to impersonate President Barack Obama.

Not only that, but nine of the cast members are men and only five are women. Of those women, only Pedrad is a repertory, or regular, player, while the other four women are a tier lower, as featured players.

For a show that is constantly commenting on and poking fun at the news, politics and popular culture, it irks me that the cast is not more diverse. With the departure of Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg and Abby Elliott at the end of Season 37, an opportunity opened up there to diversify the cast. The show did add two more women (Bryant and Strong), which made the men-to-women ratio a bit more even. But it also added a man (Robinson), and all three additions are white comedians.

It’s a shame the show didn’t take the opportunity to diversify the cast because that could have opened up more doors for a wider range of impersonations and characters.

I am interested to see what these new cast members bring to the show, however, because lately it seems “SNL” is struggling to stay afloat. The show is nowhere near as funny as it used to be even six years ago when Tina Fey was still a cast member. Lately the hosts have been the elements making the show shine, as beaten-to-death sketches that should really be retired, such as Thompson’s “What Up With That?” prompt me to use my fast-forward button generously.

The Season 38 premiere is scheduled to air 11:30 p.m. Saturday on NBC, with Seth MacFarlane hosting and Frank Ocean as a musical guest.


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