The media is everywhere we go these days, so it’s important that we consumers come to terms with the fact that we are constantly making assumptions about people and cultures based on what we see in the media. What we see in TV shows, movies, commercials, etc. influence our minds and sometimes even lead us to false conclusions. Since 1975, Saturday Night Live has been the go-to live improv comedy show for millions of viewers across the country. As a show closely affected by the male dominant world of comedy, SNL has mirrored this stereotype for most of its 38 years, by featuring predominantly white men as cast members. However, in recent years SNL has gone against the grain by recruiting more diverse cast members, which I believe is important in positively changing the meaning of late night comedy.
The thing about television is that when we watch something, no matter how old we are, it influences us in determining what’s normal and what’s not. That’s a big reason why children these days are not so confused by same sex couples— because they see them on TV, they don’t question them in real life. The problem is that when we see comedy on TV, we only see one demographic. Comedy should not be a white or male dominated culture. We’ve seen this issue with late night talk shows, and many other platforms. Between David Letterman, Jay Leno, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Fallon, all the men of SNL, etc. all we’ve seen as far as late night comedy goes is white males.
Although we all watch the show as a fun way to unwind after a long day, we still have to understand how it affects our thought process. When we sit down and watch a comedy show featuring only white men, they’re the only kind of people we’re laughing with. This inadvertently leads us to believe that white men are the authority for determining what’s funny and what’s not. As a result of this constant conditioning, when we see a woman or non-white take up late night comedy, we are taken aback and start to question it. In January, for the first time since 2007, SNL hired a black female cast member. Although this mainly happened as a result of relentless pressure on Lorne Michaels to diversify the cast— it happened, and it’s noteworthy.
A quote that stood out from one of our class readings was “When you see the absence, of women, it makes you wonder whether it’s something that we really need to do, regardless of whether we want to do it” (Sheets). I think that this certainly holds true for the world of comedy. With so few women holding the reigns, it’s important for them to get as far out there as possible.
One thing that I have found interesting is how when I say “minority” in comedy, people think I am talking about race. Minority in comedy means so many things other than race. Though the main issue to be discussed is the gender divide in comedy, it’s important to discuss other kinds of minorities. For example, only in 2012 did SNL hire its first openly gay female cast member, Kate McKinnon. Also in 2012 the show hired it’s first plus size woman, Aidy Bryant. These kinds of minorities are what change our perception of comedy. It changes who we see as funny, and really opens the gate for everyone to feel comfortable.
With the addition of these new, more diverse cast members, SNL now for the first time ever holds more women in its cast than men, which is quite remarkable. By doing this, SNL is paving the path for women and minorities in comedy. That is to say, with SNL as a trailblazer, the world of comedy will become more used to the idea and soon it won’t be taboo to see women on late night comedy shows. I think that this signifies that 2014 and the years to come will be a revolutionary time for women in comedy, and the world will open its eyes to seeing that all kinds of people can be successful comedians on TV.
Sheets, Hilarie. “Study Finds a Gender Gap at the Top Museums”. The New York Times. 7 March 2014. Web.
Khatchatourian, Maane. “Saturday Night Live to Add African American Woman to Cast Next Month”. Variety. 13 December 2013. Web.
Deggans, Eric. “Conversation about ‘SNL’ and Diversity ‘Just Getting Started'”. NPR. 1o January 2014. Web.
Yang, Jeff. “‘SNL’, Diversity and Punchlines”. The Wall Street Journal. 3 February 2014. Web.
Coddett, Kerry. “The Real Problem With SNL and Casting Black Women”. The Atlantic. 8 November 2013. Web.