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Kenan Thompson: the Internet Outrage Machine’s Straw Man Villain…

Kenan Thompson, long running member of the Saturday Night Live cast recently gave the desperate, hungry beast known as Manufactured Internet Outrage (MIO, not to be confused with the drink additive that Tracy Morgan pitches) a morsel to feast on.  Saturday Night Live is particularly white and has always seemed to have a lack of women of color.  In a TV Guide article, Thompson said, regarding the casting issues (please hide the children and be careful reading the following sentence): “Like in auditions, they just never find ones (women of color) that are ready.”

Oh. My. God.

Obviously there could be many reasons for Saturday Night Live‘s  lack of diversity, especially in the women of color category. Perhaps they represent a small sample size of people available to audition (coming from the Stand Up, Sketch and Improv ranks it would not be surprising), perhaps Lorne Michaels is hugely racist or perhaps the small sample of women of color who may audition did not do as well.  There are many reasons both benign and pernicious that could justify the whiteness of the SNL cast over the years, but the response to Kenan Thompson’s quote is simply a desperate and angry overreaching of people craving a villain for the day. What exactly did Thompson say – that IN AUDITIONS, there never seem to be women of color ready for the spotlight?  So he is speaking of the auditions he seems to have observed.  He did not say black women are no good at sketch comedy or comedy.  He was very specific and not very harsh or definitive in his condemnation of sketch performing women of color.  But did that stop the Internet from finding outrage? Of course not.

“Kenan Thompson blames black women for lack of black women on SNL” – Jezebel

“Kenan Thompson Blames SNL‘s Diversity Issue on Lack of Talented Black Comediennes””- TV Guide

“Kenan Thompson Blames “SNL’s” Lack Of Black Female Cast Members On Black Women” – The Urban Daily

“Stephen from Django Unchained Calls Black Female Sketch Performers Worthless Trashy Hoes” – Huffington Post

OK that last one is fake, but this is just the latest example of web traffic driving the presentation of content, instead of the actual content itself. What Kenan Thompson said was not controversial or mean or sexist or racist.  It was a half-hearted explanation based on his personal observations.  This just represents this year’s “Girls” controversy or Eddie Brill situation where a group feeling slighted generally parses and latches on to something someone said to create a straw man upon which to place their anger.  Why not direct the anger at Lorne Michaels?  Because his show has been on for four decades and he is not going anywhere or doing anything he doesn’t want to at this point.  So let’s get mad at today’s straw man monster Kenan Thompson. ZUT ALORS!  And just remember the flood of women (under five I think) that have appeared to do stand-up on Letterman since Eddie Brill stopped booking it? I would look for a similar deluge on next year’s SNL.  Because sometimes there are bad people doing bad things, but other times there aren’t but someone still has to get blamed anyway.

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My SNL Mount Rushmore

At the risk of seeming redundant if Buzzfeed has already posted 17 versions of “23 SNL stars we cannot live without,” Bill Hader’s announced departure from Saturday Night Live made me ponder who my favorite SNL stars of all time are.  I wrote it on my Facebook page and all hell broke loose.  My criteria for choosing may explain why the four I have are the four I have, but it won’t appease all/most of you so feel free to leave your homophobic and questioning-my-mental-state type comments in the comments section.  I chose Eddie Murphy, Phil Hartman, Will Ferrell and Bill Hader.  I got a lot of heat for neglecting several names.  First their were the folks I call the conservative SNL fans – the ones that want an original member on – Bill Murray, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were the three names mentioned most often in that order.  Then there were the folks in my age range and a little older who wanted their pre-teen and teenage nostalgia represented with Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, Chris Farley and to one delusional, but well-meaning soul, Adam Sandler. And lastly there are the folks who clamor for Kristen Wiig or Gilda Radner, but I am not the Huffington Post Twitter recommendations!  Kristen Wiig is like the Carmelo Anthony of SNL – very talented, but took so many shots (Kristen Wiig was in 107% of SNL sketches in her final two seasons) that stats appear bigger than impact.  If I had to replace Hader (because to me he is admittedly the most tenuous selection of the four – only Bill Murray or Dana Carvey could take his place, but I stuck with Hader.  My criteria was simple (and has nothing to do with post/outside show successes):

  • Versatility – impressions and inventing new characters. 
  • Stature on the show – were they a pillar of their era
  • Do I still laugh at them today?

Now admittedly this criteria will favor modern comic talent more, which is what makes Eddie Murphy even more amazing.  He very well might be #1 overall and emerged in the earlier phase of the show.   But this is what I picked so here it is:

Versatility – I don’t think anyone can dispute the versatility of the men I chose.  They did both iconic impressions, but also created many original characters/sketch ideas.  This is where someone like Dana Carvey would stand out and be right at the top of an all-time SNL list.  But this is only one category.

Stature on the show – each person was a big time player on the show and was undoubtedly the best on the show at the peak of their respective SNL careers.  But of course to some people on my Facebook comment stream ignoring the original pillars of Murray, Belushi, Aykroyd, etc. is sacrilegious.  Murray would be the only guy I would come close to replacing Hader with, but part of me feels like that would be me incorporating his terrific and long film career into the mix subconsciously (though Hyde Park on Hudson was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen).  But like versatility I need more than just one category dominance.

Do I still laugh at them today – yes for all four.  Though Bill Murray”s Lounge Singer act was something I still laugh at, the majority of early SNL just makes me smile.  I do love Dan Aykroyd’s shady toy seller character as much as anything that has been on, but those are isolated examples.  I find Murphy, Hartman, Ferrell and Hader to be great in just about everything they did and can laugh at a majority of their work right now.  I understand the show as a whole has been better than it is now (as well as more culturally relevant), but that should not penalize Hader who is absurdly gifted and will leave a huge whole in the show.  I understand there is a modern bias because humor on SNL has developed in large part thanks to the early efforts and development of sketch comedy on the show.   But Dana Carvey impressions and sketches do not make me laugh the way they once did (“Chopping Broccoli” is an exception) and a lot of the general early stuff doesn’t get me going anymore. Farley was hilarious, but I do not see him as having the body of work (in part because of tragedy) or versatility of the other guys on the list.  The guys on the list were alpha dogs during their time.  It is easier to be a 3 sketch supporting second tier guy, I imagine, than to be the guy who most of the writers are trying to write for.  Each of my selections was “the guy” at some point.  So Murphy, Hartman, Ferrell and Hader – congrats!

Of course if this was all sketch comedy I might put Jim Carrey’s work on In Living Color above them all.

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