Saturday Night Live (SNL) is a highly respected and controversial, abundantly awarded sketch comedy show that has aired on NBC since October 11, 1975. As of March 2020, the show is currently at its 45th season.
This long-time running show sees famous guest hosts participate in comedy sketches with an ever-changing cast of comedians such as Alec Baldwin portraying the role of the current president of the United States, Donald Trump. The series has won a total of 61 Emmy Awards as of December 2017.
Due to the show's live factor, a number of technical problems, performer mishaps, intentional acts of sabotage by performers, protests, and cuts to dead air have occurred throughout the show's run. One incident that garnered widespread media coverage was the October 3, 1992, appearance by singer Sinéad O'Connor, in which she ripped up a photo of Pope John Paul II during her performance. On April 13, 1996, the alternative metal band Rage Against the Machine made a statement about the host, billionaire Steve Forbes, by hanging two upside-down American flags from their amplifiers. On October 23, 2004, Ashlee Simpson appeared as a musical guest, and there was a lip synching mishap. Her first performance, "Pieces of Me," was performed without incident, but when she began her second song, "Autobiography," the vocals for "Pieces of Me" were heard again through the speakers, even before she had raised the microphone to her mouth. Simpson began to do an impromptu jig and then became the only musical act to leave the stage.
Over the years, SNL has been criticized for its perceived lack of racial and sexuality minority representation. A 2016 study of SNL episodes from 1975–2016 (826 total) revealed over 90% of episodes had white hosts, while 6.8% were black, 1.2% were Hispanic, and 1.1% were of another racial minority. When longtime cast member Kenan Thompson suggested in 2013 that female African-American representation was low because producers were not finding such comediennes who were "ready," media outlets countered it was SNL that was not ready, and that the racial disparity “is symptomatic of problems deeply rooted in comedy and the entertainment industry at large.”
SNL has had “little representation from Asian actors, as cast members or hosts," in its run. Until Bowen Yang’s promotion from writer to on-air performer, there had only been three people of Asian descent on the cast: Fred Armisen (2002–2013) had a Korean grandfather; Rob Schneider (1988–1994) was raised by a Filipino mother; and Nasim Pedrad (2009–2014) was born in Tehran, Iran. In the first forty-four seasons, the show has had six hosts who were of Asian descent: Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu in 2000; Aziz Ansari and Kumail Nanjiani in 2017; Awkwafina in 2018; and Sandra Oh in 2019.
As of September 2019, there have been 153 cast members; five, or roughly 3.3%, have been openly LGBTQ. Of the 588 guest hosts over the first 44 seasons, 14, or roughly 2.4%, were openly LGBTQ at the time of their appearance. Another 14 hosts came out at some point after they had been on the show.
Terry Sweeney was SNL’s first openly gay male cast member, appearing in the 1985–1986 season, although he was not hired by Lorne Michaels. Sweeney was also the first openly gay series regular on network television. John Milhiser was second, in the 2013–2014 cast. Danitra Vance was also in the 1985–1986 cast but was in the closet throughout her life. All three cast members left after one season. Kate McKinnon was already out before she was cast in 2012. She continues to be a cast member as of January 2020.
Bowen Yang is the fifth LGBTQ cast member in SNL history. Numerous news outlets noted the disconnect of Michaels hiring Yang, an out gay Chinese-American cast member, at the same time as Shane Gillis, who was found to have aired what was perceived as homophobic and anti-Asian jokes and slurs on his podcast. Gillis issued what Vox and HuffPost characterized as a non-apology apology. Within days a spokesperson for Michaels announced that Gillis would not be hired in light of the controversy.
Jake Weisman, co-star of Comedy Central’s Corporate, says the absence of gay men in the cast is rooted in homophobia and bigotry. In March 2018, NewNowNext noted, “Even if the audience and writers have changed with the times—and even that’s debatable—Lorne Michaels hasn’t.”
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