×

‘SNL’ Adds Two African-American Female Writers In Wake of Diversity Scrutiny

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.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Barack Obama Michelle Obama

    Obamas Discuss Higher Ground Productions, 'American Factory' in New Clip (Watch)

    In a new clip released by Netflix, Barack and Michelle Obama discuss the reasons why they’re jumping into the story business with their Higher Ground production banner. The clip takes the form of a sit down between the former President and First Lady, and Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, the directors of “American Factory,” a [...]

  • Phyllis Nagy

    Writers Guild Candidate Phyllis Nagy Warns of Risks to Residuals (EXCLUSIVE)

    Phyllis Nagy, who is challenging Writers Guild of America West President David Goodman, has warned that guild leaders are endangering future residuals. Nagy, in a message posted Wednesday on her Writers Forward Together site, said residual payments are the most important issue the WGA faces during upcoming negotiations on a successor deal to the current master [...]

  • Kathleen FinchDiscovery Executive Session panel, TV

    Listen: Discovery's Kathleen Finch on How to Nurture Lifestyle Brands

    Kathleen Finch is a big believer in staying in your lane. Discovery’s chief lifestyle brands officer juggles a portfolio of 11 linear cable channels and their digital offshoots, from Food Network and HGTV to TLC and crime-centric Investigation Discovery. Many of Finch’s channels are defying the gravity of the moment in generating extremely high levels [...]

  • Stockholm Requiem

    Walter Presents Takes ZDF's 'Stockholm Requiem' for U.K., Australia

    Walter Presents has acquired Swedish thriller “Stockholm Requiem” for the U.K. and Australia from ZDF Enterprises. It marks the fourth Swedish drama series the global on-demand service, which specialises in non-English language drama, has picked up from ZDF following “Blue Eyes,” “Thicker Than Water” and “Before We Die.” Walter Iuzzolino, co-founder and curator of the [...]

  • Bill Bellamy Joins Octavia Spencer Netflix

    Bill Bellamy Joins Octavia Spencer Netflix Series 'Madam CJ Walker'

    Bill Bellamy has joined the cast of the forthcoming Netflix limited series “Madam CJ Walker,” which tells the story of the black hair care pioneer and mogul. The four-part series hails from executive producers LeBron James and Octavia Spencer, who will also star as the titular Madam. The series is inspired by the book “‘On Her Own Ground’ [...]

  • Ken Burns PBS

    BBC Boards 'American Crime Story: Impeachment,' Ken Burns’ 'Country Music'

    The BBC has acquired FX’s “American Crime Story: Impeachment” and Ken Burn’s upcoming PBS documentary series “Country Music,” the broadcaster announced Wednesday at the Edinburgh TV Festival. “American Crime Story: Impeachment” will air on BBC Two in the U.K., while “Country Music” has been picked up by sister channel BBC Four. “Impeachment: American Crime Story” is [...]

  • Sean Spicer Emmys

    Sean Spicer, Lamar Odom Join 'Dancing With the Stars' Cast

    Sean Spicer must have been practicing his dance moves since leaving the White House in 2017. The former press secretary will join the cast of “Dancing With the Stars” which will premiere its 28th season Sept. 16. Other bold-faced names to join the cast include actor James Van Der Beek, former Laker Lamar Odom, “The [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content