Why ‘SNL’ might be irrelevant

lynn

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An open letter to “Saturday Night Live”:

Diversify your cast. How freakin’ hard could it possibly be? This let’s-just-hire-white-male-actors schtick season after season is getting old. Diversify your cast because if you fail to do so, you fail to be relevant to America.

Hire a black woman. For your 39th season, when you hired six new players, five of whom are white males, even one of your castmates, Jay Pharoah, had to call you out on it. Do not hire a black woman for the sake of hiring a black woman. Hire her because Michelle Obama, Beyonce Knowles and Serena Williams are cultural forces to be reckoned with.

Do not diversify because Pharoah told you to. Diversify because America is diversifying, and if your aim is to offer cutting-edge satire of contemporary America, you cannot do so by focusing singularly on a white audience.

Do so because every now and then you have the power to change an election. Do so because when Tina Fey says, “Only in comedy is a white girl from the suburbs considered diversity,” it isn’t funny, it’s shameful. Do so because Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann cannot be your only sources of political variety. Don’t forget about the former mayor of Los Angeles, the governor of Louisiana or the point guard of the Houston Rockets. There is a whole cache of hilarious material that you don’t even have the option of tapping into because you don’t have the players to do it.

Don’t buy into the excuse that “SNL” defenders give — if people want alternative, counterculture comedy, they can look to BET or Comedy Central or “MADtv.” Don’t buy into the excuse that because your audience is largely white and because large swaths of America aren’t interested in your show, there isn’t a need to make an effort. And don’t make the excuse that since you mainly hire from major improv troupes like the Groundlings, the Second City or Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, all of which are predominantly white, your pool for minority employment is limited.

First, maybe the reason counterculture shows exist is that cornerstone shows like “SNL” have failed to integrate, forcing comedy television to segregate. Second, maybe the reason why large swaths of America aren’t interested in SNL is because you haven’t made the effort to branch out. Third, it’s hard to believe that there are zero funny minority players out there who are not involved in an improv comedy troupe whom you could potentially hire.

Your old formula clearly isn’t working and hasn’t been for years. The millennial generation tunes in and out of your show, and when we really need incisive political commentary, there’s Jon Stewart. For everything else, there’s the Internet. Every now and then, a celebrity graces your show that is of interest and does something moderately funny that goes viral.

The New York Times came out with a piece about a month ago detailing your hiring process. The publication noted that Lorne Michaels is involved in all hiring decisions. If all your new hires must be screened through Lorne, maybe your problem isn’t your staff. Maybe it’s Mr. Michaels himself. Maybe your 68-year-old executive is stuck in a New York City bubble, and it’s time for him to look around at America’s changing racial makeup.

Is “SNL” still relevant? Barely. With your persistently stagnant cast demographics, you becomes less and less so with every passing season.

If retaining relevance is a thing over at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, then the solution to your problem is pretty simple. Don’t diversify for the PR. Definitely don’t diversify just because critics are telling you to.

Do it because it makes sense. Do it because diversity is fundamentally American. Do it because it’ll make you funnier.

Lynn Yu is the arts columnist. Contact her at [email protected].

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