Saturday Night Live is my personal pick for best comedy television series of all-time, but despite my opinion on the show I feel it is important for us to be critical even of the things we love, and in a lot of cases we should probably be especially critical of the pop culture events we take part in. SNL has had an endless number of sketches which stirred up controversy or just general unrest amongst viewers, and the show’s most recent episode with host Louis C.K. is no different.
In a sketch titled “Black Jeopardy,” the show’s current three black cast members, Jay Pharoah, Kenan Thompson, and Sasheer Zamata, starred in a new take on the classic game show Jeopardy!, where they were pitted against a white African-American Studies at BYU played by Louis C.K.
The premise seemed innocent enough, and although I admittedly laughed several times while watching the sketch, I also felt a growing sense of discomfort. The categories for contestants involved them giving responses that seemed to only perpetuate racial stereotypes, rather than teach us anything about black culture. And Kenan Thompson’s character was called Alex Tre-“black,” not Trebek. But to the show’s credit, in the end, the real butt of the all the jokes became Louis C.K.’s character, who was reprimanded for selecting a category titled “White People” and was warned to “watch himself” when the Final Jeopardy category was revealed as “Rap Songs That Begin With The Letter ‘N.’” Still, I find myself questioning what exactly was the message the show intended to send to viewers when airing this sketch?
The talent of the cast members and writers of SNL is undeniable, but I often find myself wishing they had done a better job with creativity after watching any given episode. My concern for the Pharoah, Thompson and Zamata is that while producer Lorne Michaels is making a concentrating effort to introduce more diverse cast members, the only characters or sketches they’re given have to do with their race…sketches which are more often than not written by white men who simply do not have the lived experience to truly understand issues involving the many black communities in America. With the exception of celebrity impersonations—which necessarily should be played by black actors if the celebrity in question is also black—I’d really like to see the show letting these actors do characters who are everyday people and aren’t defined by their race. Instead of a show trying to meet a quota or fitting into a certain niche, I want every cast member to be featured according to their strengths.
Fans of SNL, what did you think of the sketch? Offensive or just light-hearted fun? What do you think of the way the black cast members of SNL are being showcased?