I get it, I get it, I get it, I get it.
I get why an article with a title like “Kenan Thompson Blames SNL’s Diversity Issue on Lack of Talented Black Comediennes” would go viral.
As evidenced by their recent hires, Saturday Night Live has a well-documented diversity problem. This is especially true when it comes to Black women. Despite not shying away from jabbing at Black women in their skits, they’ve only had four Black female cast members in 38 years. And usually, when the jabbing takes place, one of the Black male cast members will just throw on a dress.
(And yes, SNL isn’t funny anymore and no one watches it and Black people need to make our own shows and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. While this is all true, the fact remains that Saturday Night Live remains one of the most successful pipelines in the entertainment industry. Its starmaking power is virtually unmatched, and it’s shameful to deny talented Black comediennes access to that.)
We’re also in a time where you literally can not throw a stone without hitting a talented Black comedienne in the leg. And by “literally” I mean “literally.” I just threw a rock out my window 10 minutes ago and it hit Nicole Byer. (My bad!)
Seriously though, from Issa Rae and Angela Nissel to Samantha Irby and the homie Luvvie, there are a fuckton (Yes. An entire fuckton.) of funny-ass Black female writers and comedians. All young, all very prolific, and all very accessible. This isn’t the 80s or 90s when you had to go barnstorming across the country to find talent. Anyone with a YouTube bookmark and Twitter account can find anyone, and this gives a show like SNL even less excuses.
Also—and this is partially his own fault—Kenan Thompson is an easy foil. Of course the Black guy who’s rocked more wigs than Lady Gaga would say some slick shit about Black women, and of course we’d quickly share, save, and retweet anything saying that he did. The outrage practically writes itself. And, full disclosure, after seeing everyone talking about this article, I also went to TVGuide.com, pitchfork in hand, ready to cremate the coon as well.
So, I get it, I get it, I get it, I get it.
But, there’s just one problem with sharing, saving, and retweeting articles about Kenan Thompson blaming SNL’s diversity issue on a lack of talented Black comediennes:
Kenan Thompson didn’t actually blame SNL’s diversity issue on a lack of talented Black comediennes.
Yes, the title of the TVGuide.com article—and all the subsequent articles about it—clearly states that he did. As does the text of the article. But, if you read the article, Thompson doesn’t actually say anything like that. Sadie Gennis (the author of the piece) does, and attributes it to him.
Don’t take my word for it. Read it yourself.
Instead of blaming showrunner Lorne Michaels or the series, which currently only employs three actors of color out of 16 cast members (Thompson, Pharaoh and the Iranian Nasim Pedrad), Thompson blames the lack of quality black female comedians. “It’s just a tough part of the business,” Thompson says. “Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready.”
Now, I will say that Thompson’s quote (“Like in auditions, they (SNL) just never find ones that are ready“) isn’t very clear. Some have interpreted it as him saying “Black comediennes just aren’t smart and funny enough to be on SNL.” I read it as “they (SNL) need to do a better job of finding them”—which would actually be a shot at SNL.
Regardless of how you interpreted it, you likely recognize that it was an ambiguous statement. Which is my point. The easy outrage pitchforks are out for something we’re not even really that sure about. Now, a legitimately important issue—Black women being ignored by SNL—gets an undeserving scapegoat. And while it’s great that people are talking about it, it’s not so great that the discussion was sparked by a “kinda, sorta, untrue” truth.
So, how do you get a ”Kenan Thompson Says Black Comediennes Aren’t Talented!!!” headline from that? Easy. This is what happens when a writer writes a piece with a pre-conceived narrative and gives it a misleading, but click-worthy title. Anyone who has ever blogged or even just aggregated content has done this. (Me included.)
Let’s say someone like Ted Cruz gives a speech where he says something like “President Obama speaks differently when in front of all-Black crowds.” If you’re writing a quick news piece about that story, how do you get people to share, save, and retweet it? Title it “Ted Cruz Calls President Obama A Fugazi Black Man” and edit it so that Cruz’s words are as divisive and insensitive as possible. And, if possible, put words in his mouth by introducing his quotes with leading sentences. Fox News has made billions off of doing stuff like this, and we (sane people) aren’t much better.
You know, it has to be said that he may actually think that Black comediennes aren’t talented enough to make SNL. And, he very likely could have meant that the Black women who tried out just weren’t ready. I honestly have no idea how he feels about either of those points.
But, after reading his interview a few more times, I am certain of one thing: Neither do you.
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)