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SNL’s Black Cast Member Problem

The Problem of the Black Cast Member on ‘SNL’

The heartening thing about In Living Color, Townsend’s HBO show (he had a second, less good one on Fox in 1993), and 14 years of hip-hop era MADtv was the harmony of their multiracial casts. Everyone seemed to be on the same page. In nearly 40 years, SNL has never sustained anything comparable: men and women of different races, from different places, working together to be weird and smash rules. It was happening elsewhere — including on Tina Fey’s mock-SNL masterpiece, 30 Rock, which Michaels produced and which gave Tracy Morgan even better material than he received in seven years on SNL.

As happy as I was to see Cleghorne on SNL, the show never tried to integrate her. It trapped her in a quota box. Her time there overlapped with my years in college, and I thought about how lonely I’d feel at a mostly White place with no Black friends. She didn’t seem to last long enough to forge White ones. Other comedians have called the show the Harvard of comedy, but Harvard would never get away with that kind of population isolation. Cleghorne was eating alone at the Black Table.

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