Tuned In

Now, SNL Is Diversifying Its Writers’ Room

This may be at least as important as hiring a black woman performer--precisely because it won't get as much publicity.

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Earlier this week, after weeks of criticism, Saturday Night Live announced its first black female cast member in five years, Sasheer Zamata. Now, says The Hollywood Reporter, SNL is also hiring two African American women, Leslie Jones and LaKendra Tookes, as staff writers:

Tookes and Jones were both among the black female comedians who auditioned during showcases held in New York and Los Angeles after the long-running Lorne Michaels sketch series faced widespread criticism that its new cast lacked diversity — specifically the inclusion of an African-American woman.

Although Jones and Tookes won’t get the kind of attention Zamata will in front of the camera, arguably this is an even more significant move. For one thing, because SNL didn’t need to do it at all; it could have made one visible cast hire and watched the diversity controversy blow over.

But also–while there’s always been overlap between writers and performers at SNL–as I wrote the other day, having a diverse cast is only one issue; another is having a diversity of material for them. That’s not to say that you need black women writers to write for a black woman, or that this should be the new writers’ assignment; that would be depressing. And diversity isn’t just about race or gender. It should also be about people of different class backgrounds, people of different political beliefs, people who didn’t all write for the Harvard Lampoon, and so on.

But people with different backgrounds and experiences come up with different takes on comic situations–and for a show like SNL, which has such a broad field of potential subjects, it’s especially important. Forget being p.c.; it’s about not getting stale, which should be SNL’s biggest worry of all.