Comic Erica Watson on being in back of, then thrown under, the comedy bus ...
By Erica Watson
Yesterday I was asked about a thousand times: “How do you feel about what Kenan Thompson said about Black women not being on SNL?” Click HERE for the full story.
And each time my response was “What do you mean? Kenan Thompson IS the Black woman on SNL.”
Then I would go on a rant about how it’s 2013 and we are still looking for the Rosa Parks of Comedy to come and get Black women off the back of the Saturday Night Live bus. After reading Thompson’s statement, it seems like instead of moving toward the front of that fictional bus, we were being thrown under it!
After several conversations about it, mostly with other female comedians, I actually read his statement for myself and I thought: “Wait, what if what he said was taken out of context? Or better yet, what if what he said is true? ”
Hear me out on this.
I don’t know much about the casting process, but I do know that you must submit a tape to audition for SNL. After that, if they like you, they invite you to audition. I’m assuming it’s like the typical casting process where things like looks, age and marketability are probably just as important as comedic talent.
Maybe the Black women that they actually invite to audition are not “ready.” Maybe they are cute, young and camera-ready, but they ain’t funny. Was Kenan implying that ALL Black female comedians are not “ready,” or was he saying that the few Black women who are ALLOWED to audition tend to be women who are not seasoned performers and are not “ready?”
That I don’t know.
What I do know for sure is that there are many funny and brilliant African-American women who would be amazing on SNL. What I also know is that Black women are held to a higher standard than everyone else when it comes to “being funny.” Just like with most things in life, what it takes for a White woman to be ready is different than what it takes for me to be ready.
I had a meeting with a president of a network recently who, after seeing my one-woman show Fat Bitch! said: “You are brilliant. Your show is remarkable. You are smart and funny, but we don’t know if you’re ready!”
He then goes on to tell me how the network had just signed two 20-something White girls to a development deal based on a three-episode web series they shot. THEY were ready? Three episodes in…a combined 15 minutes of footage and THEY were READY! But I, seven years into comedy with a master’s degree in film directing, was NOT considered ready.
I know that I am prepared for the challenge. But I also must admit something.
My agent and manager have both encouraged me to send in a tape to SNL for the last two years. Although I had not done so in the past, I will be submitting the next time around. Many of my really talented African-American female comedic counterparts haven’t submitted tapes either.
So can I criticize SNL for not having me or one of my girls on the show when most of us have not even approached the show to be seen? And even if a Black woman is cast on the show, will there be writers of color behind the scenes who will develop material for her that will allow her true talent to shine?
Kenan Thompson has a right to his opinion. On the other hand, his remarks raise another point. Why does it seem like some Black men in mainstream media continually throw Black women under the bus? It’s almost like a new form of “passing.”
Historically, we know that many people of African descent have “passed for White” in order to make life easier for themselves. Nowadays, in so-called “post racial” America, Black men don’t have to try to BE white…but they need to make themselves seem as non-threatening as possible.
It’s a survival technique that involves making sure that they let White people know that they do not really like Black women. Embracing Black women, loving them, supporting them somehow makes you “more Black” and less likely to assimilate. If you want to “pass” you need to attack Black women…so that White people will say “oh, he’s a cool Black guy. He doesn’t like Black women either.”
I can’t tell you how many times I see Black male comics on stage telling jokes about the horrors of dating Black women, only to see him leave the show with a non-Black woman on his arm. I’m thinking the real joke is you don’t even date us in real life or interact with Black women on any real level, but you feel empowered enough to make jokes about us. The jokes are so cliche and “hack,” it proves the entertainer telling them is out of touch.
Even one of my favorite comics Deon Cole, who is brilliant and very supportive of female comics, had a segment on his show warning White men about the dangers of dating Black women. Although I adore him, and think he is one of the most talented men on the planet, I couldn’t help but wonder why he would go THERE. But then again, why wouldn’t he?
Everyone else is doing it. Whether it is some hipster White boy in skinny jeans at an open mic in Williamsburg, or a neck-rolling sassy plus-sized caricature played by a Black man in drag in a film, it seems as if making fun of Black women is the new “hack joke.” From our big butts all the way to our big attitudes, Black women ARE funny as long as the joke is on us–instead of being told by us.
Ultimately, it is time for Black women to stop waiting to be validated by the world, and start creating, writing, directing and producing creative projects on our own that speak our truth. We must get off the bus, and get in the driver’s seat. The question is are we ready?
Yes Kenan, we are!
Support a grassroots movement to get our guest writer on SNL. Here’s the Facebook link if you want to see Miss Erica onstage with Kenan Thompson.