Open Thread: Kerry Washington hosts Saturday Night Live

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By Kendra James

With the combined fire power of a few cute empire waists, boxy tops, and racial stereotypes, Kerry Washington became one of a handful of Black women to host Saturday Night Live in its 30+ year history. Given the recent controversy surrounding the lack of color in the SNL cast, its understandable that the show would be eager to face the topic head on. Asking Washington to host was a nice first step, but they seem content to stop there.

Kerry Washington Cold Open 1

Kerry Washington Cold Open 2

Kerry Washington Cold Open 3
Scrolling text in Kerry Washington’s SNL cold open, via Mashable

Sure, SNL addressed their lack of Black women directly in the cold open, but joking about the glaring absence really loses all effectiveness if you don’t take steps to fix it immediately after. Addressing your own racist casting practices as a joke makes you seem less like a writer’s room full of subversive humourist savants than it does a room full of white privileged writers. The screen caps above represent a joke that could only retain legs if at the end of the show they’d announced the addition of a full time Black female cast member.

Of course, after seeing the sketches Washington was thrown into –especially in the first half of the show– it’s probably worth wondering how well a Black woman would fare in this era of SNL. With a sketches that included a mouthy, angry Black girlfriend, a BAPs style Black ghetto girl, an Ugandan beauty queen who reeked of Eddie Murphy’s “what have you done for me lately” bit from Raw, and the best Angela Davis impression she could muster, Washington and the SNL writers were one weave joke away from a stereotypical Black woman full sweep.

Washington put her all into everything she was given (as did Jay Pharoah, who was in all but 2 sketches on Saturday night, “because,” said the writer’s room, “if they want Black people then, goddamnit, we are going to give them black people! Take that, critics.”) but surely there have been several other hosts from popular breakout television shows who’ve knocked their hosting nights out of the park without relying on racial humour to take them through. Jon Hamm comes to mind. Unfortunately, where someone like Jon Hamm seems to inspire new, original material, the SNL writers room looked at Kerry Washington and clearly decided that with the plethora of jokes people have been making about Black women for years, they already had all they needed.

The only sketch that seemed as if it had any input from a non white writer included the Angela Davis impression mentioned above. I really do wish my white friends would stop telling me to watch The Wire. But for the most part, I still have to disagree with Kenan Thompson’s recent comments about there being no Black female comedians who are ready for SNL. It’s the SNL writers who aren’t ready for Black women.

The rest of Saturday night’s sketches are underneath the cut. What do you think, readers?

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  • Julia A

    The “ghetto girl” character reminds me why I hate most ghetto girl, or any bitchy woman stereotype in the first place. To me it seems like she didn’t want to be polite because her boss is a joke and makes useless demands. I guess we were suppose to laugh at how unreasonable she was being, but I would probably do the same.

  • happyappa

    I don’t watch SNL, but this: “SNL addressed their lack of Black women
    directly in the cold open, but joking about the glaring absence really
    loses all effectiveness if you don’t take steps to fix it immediately
    after” is basically my thoughts when I saw the “apology”. Pretty much like lampshade hanging.

  • UrbanTribesBlog

    I’ve learned it’s wise to expect absolutely ZILCH from SNL. The show peaked decades ago and it’s slow decline has finally reached dire territory. The writing is unbelievably half-assed, only going for the easy jokes, the lowest common denominator. They really need to let it die.

  • jen*

    I find the show funny in fits and starts. There are about two episodes per year that I really enjoy, and those are usually dependent on the host. Otherwise, there are a handful of sketches that I like, and some moments on the Weekend Update that are worthwhile (although the Daily Show and W. Kamau Bell have pretty much annihilated all the material except for what happens on Friday, by the time SNL gets to the news).

    The only sketch I was really into this week was “How’s He Doing?” – it was funny and I loved Kerry’s work in it. Otherwise, I think she was underutilized from the monologue all the way through. At this point, I’d like to see a new sketch show with a diverse cast find a spot in the landscape. MADtv is gone, In Living Color is LONG gone, and the closest thing out there is Key and Peele (which is slipping, IMO) and Kamau’s show – which isn’t really sketch.

  • nicthommi

    I was annoyed by the obvious and lazy racial stereotyping that they engaged in. Also, the skit in which she played the BAPs style assistant made me roll me eyes at what “ready” apparently means if you are a white chick.
    SNL is so unfunny that they need to stop pretending like no black women have the chops to be on the show. Frankly, I think it would be a big come down to be on that show since it has not been funny in like 2 decades.

  • justlikeoldtimes

    Let’s not confuse the show’s self-deprecation with self-awareness. Even if they find one permanent cast member, it’ll be like a bandage at this point.

    The whole show is broken by design. “Constructive criticism” of the show’s race problems won’t take things far enough. I’d argue for getting rid of the whole show and replacing it with a better comedy sketch show.

    • Miche

      I agree. The show has not been funny for the past several years. As far a the lack of Black female comedians, the only Black women that were cast members in the past were Danitra Vance & Ellen Cleghorne who was on the show from 1991 – 1995. There have been only a handful of Black women that have hosted SNL (only Gabourey Sidibe comes to mind at the moment besides Kerry Washington.) As one person stated, SNL used to be about sticking it to “the Man”, now SNL has become “the Man.”

      • justlikeoldtimes

        Let’s not forget Maya Rudolph. But your point still stands.

        • Michelle Kirkwood

          I find Thompson’s comments ridiculous and disingenuous on the face of it, considering that there have been only THREE–count ’em—THREE black female cast members for the entire 38 years this show has been on the air. You mean to tell me they couldn’t find ANY more talented sisters than that? They never seem to have any trouble finding talented brothers to add to the cast (like Jay Pharoah, who’s been pretty good as Obama this past year.) I’m calling BS on that, big-time. And another thing—how come they’re never had any Latino/a, Asian-American, or even Native Americans in the cast? I find it strange that no one’s ever pointed that out either.

          And funny how SNL never seems to run out of talented (or not so talented) white cast members every damn season. Plus it hasn’t been that funny—only intermittenly–or the last I would say, over 10 years or so—now whether it’s even funny or not seems to depend on who’s hosting the show (with mixed results.) I loved the show where Bruno Mars hosted (that actually had some inspired moments, and i wound up watching the whole thing because it was fun to watch.