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Debra Wilson Reveals She Left ‘MADtv’ Due to Pay Disparity With White Male Cast Members

Mad TV
©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

Debra Wilson, one of the original cast members on “MADtv,” said that she left the sketch comedy series in 2003 after hearing about a pay disparity between her and the white male actors that joined the cast after her. In an interview with Comedy Hype News, Wilson revealed the showrunners were unwilling to bump her pay or address the issue after bringing it to their attention.

“I was a tenured cast member from the beginning, from pilot, and people were coming in after me making more than me,” Wilson said. “And when I realized there were white male cast members who were coming in after me making more than me I went, ‘Okay, can we talk about this?’ And the answer essentially was no.”

While Wilson did not reveal the exact pay gap between her and the other cast members’ salaries, she said her departure was less about “dollars and cents” and more about the principle of being the only original Black woman on the show since its television debut in 1993.

“What I wanted to do and what I wanted to create on that show did not hit a glass ceiling,” Wilson said. “But when I was told that ‘All the things you want to create and be on the show has a monetary value, and we don’t value it as much as the new people coming in,’ that’s when I left.”

Wilson was most recognized for her impersonations of Oprah Winfrey and Whitney Houston. She created many popular characters on “MADtv” such as the blaxploitation actress Cocoa Latette, Tovah McQueen and the fast-speaking Bunifa Latifah Halifah Sharifa Jackson. After leaving the series, she did voice work on animated films like “Over The Hedge” as well as television series such as “Family Guy” and “The Boondocks.” 

Wilson said that she would have stayed on “MADtv” if the showrunners were willing to negotiate about raising her salary.

“Had they just said, ‘You know what, Debra, we’re going to raise your salary. It won’t match his but we are going to raise it,’ I would have stayed,” Wilson said. 

Wilson was one of the eight original “MADtv” cast members along with Bryan Callen, David Herman, Orlando Jones, Phil LaMarr, Artie Lange, Mary Scheer and Nicole Sullivan. Some of the cast members added later on included Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Alex Borstein, Will Sasso, Frank Caliendo and Michael McDonald. When the sketch series was briefly revived on the CW in 2016, Wilson returned for an appearance.

Watch the interview below.