On Monday night, a special audition was held on the SNL stage after several casting sessions were convened over the last few weeks. About a dozen candidates auditioned, but only one will be hired, joining the cast for shows beginning in January 2014.
Michaels told The New York Times, “All told we’ve seen about 25 people. A lot of the people we saw are really good. Hopefully we’ll come out of the process well.”
Earlier this year, SNL has been subjected to great criticism over the absence of a black female comedian on the show; a show which has only had a handful of black female performers over the course of it’s successful history. Maya Rudolph was the last black comedian to grace the SNL stage, but left the series in 2007. When Scandal actress Kerry Washington hosted the show in early November, the show made it known of their awareness of lacking a black female comedian in their cast, forcing Washington to play numerous roles.
Criticism began with the show’s own black cast members, Jay Pharoah, who pushed that the show needed to “follow up” on the promise to add a black woman, and Kenan Thompson, who announced that he no longer wants to act as black women in drag. When comments circled the cyber and general medias, Mr. Michaels explained that the process of searching for a black woman comedian was purely driven by considerations of the talent.
Michaels told The New York Times, “We’re all about talent. It doesn’t help if somebody’s not ready – and ‘ready’ is one of the charged words. But you want to be sure you give people the best possible shot.”
Since Maya Rudolph left the series, Michaels said he had committed to that timetable to add the show’s first black woman.
SNL’s talent department held an audition for a dozen in Los Angeles at The Groundlings theater on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Michaels himself witnessed another dozen in New York on that following Monday. The media was privy to the auditions thanks to circling tweets of the women that auditioned.
Simone Shepherd tweeted, “The hilarious BLACK women who just rock the SNL audition. #WeJustMadeHistory ME @gabrielle_dennis @breshawebb @tiffanyhaddish @nicolebyer @amberruffin @darmirrabrunson @mistymonroe @lekendratookes @aziedungey @bethpayne.”
Although it was not an imperative role to play, it was important enough that all the candidates be able to perform an impression of the First Lady Michelle Obama. Michaels told the Times that there had been too much focus on playing Beyoncé and Michelle Obama. He continued explaining, “That’s a weird sort of way at looking at it because you don’t judge comedy that way. Versatility is what we look for.”
Michaels warnes that the woman who makes it onto the cast of SNL will be subject to unusual scrutiny. “That’s one reasons we took extra time,” Mr. Michaels said. “You have to be careful to try to protect your players.”
Michaels will be experiencing one of the busiest periods of his career in early 2014 in preparation for the new Tonight show starring Jimmy Fallon, and the new edition of Late Night with long-time SNL star Seth Meyers. Not to mention the comedy-variety show pilot for NBC’s prime-time schedule. Who's the star of that show? SNL alum Maya Rudolph.