Saturday Night Live SNL

Leslie Jones and LaKendra Tookes join writing staff of venerable program

Saturday Night Live” has bolstered the ranks of its writing staff with two African-American women as part of a recent and much-scrutinized diversity effort, a spokeswoman for the program confirmed.

The venerable NBC sketch-comedy showcase added Leslie Jones and LaKendra Tookes, two comediennes who recently auditioned for the program as it set about to add an African-American woman to its on-air cast. Earlier this week, the show announced Sasheer Zamata, a veteran of improv troupe Upright Citizens Brigade, would begin as a featured player as of its January 18 broadcast.

The two new writers took part in auditions recently held in different parts of the U.S. with the express purpose of finding a female African-American to join the show’s cast of “Not Ready For Prime Time Players.”

“SNL” has come under more scrutiny than is the norm in its 39th season on the air. Before this cycle of the show bowed in September, critics wondered how the program would fare after the departures of longtime cast members such as Fred Armisen and Bill Hader. After adding six new featured players, however,  the show came under criticism for not hiring any new people of color.

While the current cast of “Saturday Night Live” includes two African-American men – Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah – it has not had an African-American woman in the cast since Maya Rudolph, a comic actress of mixed heritage, was in the cast between 2000 and 2007.

The show has not featured many women of color during its history. Danitra Vance,  “SNL'”s first African-American female cast member, joined the show for its 1985-1986 season, part of show creator Lorne Michaels’ return to the program after an absence of several years. Yvonne Hudson, an African-American woman, was a featured player during the program’s 1980-1981 season. Ellen Cleghorne was on the show between 1991 and 1995.

Nasim Pedrad, an Iranian-American comic, has been with “SNL” since 2009.

News of the hire of the two new writers was reported previously by The Hollywood Reporter.

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