With Kerry Washington's help, 'SNL' admits it has a problem

Written By Sun-Times Wire Posted: 11/02/2013, 11:23pm

“Saturday Night Live” wasted no time in addressing the backstage issue burning most brightly, kicking off this weekend’s episode with a spoof of its own lack of cast diversity.
The show has been under fire for including no people of color in its new hires this year. “SNL” hasn’t had a black woman in its cast since the biracial Maya Rudolph left in 2007, and veteran player Kenan Thompson recently said he was through doing scenes in drag.
On Saturday, the opening scene was set in the White House, and host Kerry Washington appeared early on as Michelle Obama. “I feel like it’s been years since I’ve seen you,” said the president (Jay Pharaoh) — an inside joke about the longtime lack of “SNL” comics fit to play the first lady.
When Obama’s press secretary (Taran Killam) reported that Oprah Winfrey also had stopped by, it slowly dawned on Washington that there wasn’t anyone else to play her.

Washington: “And Kenan won’t … ?”

Pharaoh: “Nope.”

So she dashed away to change costumes, and in her absence, a crawl on the screen from “SNL” apologized for working her so hard in the absence of any other black women in the cast.
“We agree that this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the near future,” the message concluded, “unless of course we fall in love with another white guy first.”
Soon Washington returned, dressing and shouting like Winfrey. But when told the next visitor was Beyonce, Washington turned grim and grumbled, “Don’t even …”
During her disappearance for yet another change came the punch line: dropping by now were six Matthew McConaugheys, and a flock of dudes ambled in echoing the actor’s laid-back catchphrase “Awright awright awright.” At Studio 8H in Rockefeller Plaza, an adequate stock of white guys is never a problem.
To cap it off, the real-life Rev. Al Sharpton (a former “SNL” host) inexplicably stepped in to ask, “What have we learned from this sketch? As usual, nothing.”

But merely acknowledging the situation was a step forward for “SNL” and its longtime boss Lorne Michaels, whose habit of hiring who he pleases with ostensibly no regard for diversity doesn’t seem to be cutting it anymore.

In Washington, “SNL” had a popular host who put a good face on the show’s eagerness to make things right. The “Scandal” star was eager, versatile and, in Kenan Thompson’s much-quoted word, “ready.”

In a music-video spoof of “What Does the Fox Say?,” she was a dancing, rapping girlfriend reciting her various statements of jealousy (“Who that who that who that bitch?”).

In a scene set at Career Day, she was the gum-cracking around-the-way girl assisting a boisterous motivational consultant from Yemen (Nasim Pedrad).

And in a public-affairs show called “How’s He Doing?,” she was a dour Spelman College prof dutifully loyal to Obama but quick to judge white people’s obsession with “The Wire.”

It was a night of effort to help “SNL” worm its way out of damaging scandal of its own making. Kerry Washington knows a few things about that.

- That “Duck Dynasty” weirdbeard guy spinning samples from Billy Squier’s “The Stroke” for Emionem was Rick Rubin, the bigtime music producer known for his work with the Beastie Boys and Johnny Cash. He’s an executive producer on Em’s upcoming album “The Marshall Mathers LP 2.”
- On the next two episodes, the host also will serve as musical guest. First comes a rerun of Miley Cyrus’ twerk-a-thon on Nov. 9, and then Lady Gaga pulls double duty on a new show Nov. 16.