Jay Pharoah, who plays President Obama and other characters on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” thinks the show needs to hire more black performers.
“As far as being a black person on the show, there’s not a lot of us, you know?,” the 25-year-old comic told The Grio. Among the show’s current cast of 16, Pharoah and Kenan Thompson are the only black comedians. All six of this year’s new additions are white.
He added that producers “need to pay attention” and hire Darmirra Brunson, who’s currently working on OWN’s “Love Thy Neighbor."
“Why do I think she should be on the show? Because she’s black first of all, and she’s really talented,” Pharoah said. “She’s amazing. She needs to be on ‘SNL.’ I said it. And I believe they need to follow up with it like they said they were going to do last year.”
It was unclear if Pharoah meant that producers had promised to follow up on hiring Brunson, or that they had made a larger commitment to pursue diverse casting.
In any case, his remarks are noteworthy for a couple reasons.
“SNL” has occasionally come under attack for lacking diversity, and after Pharoah’s words were published, another round of stories examined the matter. This despite the fact that “SNL” for years has given crucial breaks to black performers like Garrett Morris, Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock. (Maya Rudolph, an earlier cast member, was biracial.)
However, for the criticism to come from within the show is highly unusual. Even former “SNL” cast members tend to be highly circumspect in talking about their time there, possibly out of genuine affection as well as genuine fear. Executive producer Lorne Michaels remains one of the most powerful people in the business.
“SNL” producers are aware of the criticism and -- true to form -- have made fun of it. On last week’s show, Michaels made a walk-on appearance in a skit asking whether he could tell the difference between a new cast member and a member of the band Arcade Fire. “Is it the black guy?,” Michaels asked, indicating Thompson, who’s been on the show since 2003.
Asked for comment, NBC provided a written statement from “SNL” producer Lindsay Shookus: “‘SNL’ has a history of including many hosts, musical guests and cast members with different backgrounds. When we scout for the show, we always look for diverse voices and representation."
What do you think? Is Pharoah right that “SNL” needs to hire more black performers, or has the show already found the right mix?