I’ll admit it, Saturday Night Live hasn’t always done a great job in giving its black cast members meaningful clever roles, but these are just a few sketches that do so. Obviously SNL can’t fix racism, but humor can be used as a way to address tough issues (if done right, of course).
- “28 Reasons”: In this hilarious skit, Kenan Thompson and former SNL castmates Sasheer Zamata and Jay Pharaoh perform a song about the importance of Black History Month for their white classmates. Basically, you should celebrate Black History Month because African-Americans deserve a chance, but for the most part? Because, well, slavery. Normally when people study Black History Month in school, they think the few black students are going to speak for every black person on the planet, as well as present on people such as Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr. (while they are obviously important to study, there are also countless narratives of black people in history that I never got to study until I got to my first Africana Studies course in college). And Kate McKinnon plays their hilarious teacher, who at the end, says “Very cool. Very sorry, and very cool” when applauding them for their performance. I have seen this sketch numerous times and never get tired of it.
2. “Bushwick, Brooklyn”: This sketch addresses the challenges that the gentrification of big cities like New York presents to low-income communities of color (even though the actual issue is much more complicated). But the way that Kenan, Kevin Hart and Jay use humor to address the issue is very brilliant. My favorite quote is when Kenan tells Jay, when he gets sad that Kenan and Kevin didn’t respond to the Evite to his party, that Jay’s face looks as if “someone put gluten in his muffins”, which is supposed to be a joke about the abundance of health-food stores and gluten-free places in gentrified areas. Of course, they probably could have done without the scene where Kevin Hart shoots the guy at the end, but other than that, this sketch was pretty hilarious.
3. “Inner White Girl”: Starring Leslie Jones as herself and Reese Witherspoon as Leslie’s “Inner White Girl”, this sketch features Leslie at a bank trying not to play The Angry Black Woman stereotype and Witherspoon telling her what she should do in each situation. I like this sketch because the whole joke punches upward, meaning that we as the viewer think it’s just going to be Reese Witherspoon trying to make Leslie feel like the irrational hot-tempered one, when at the end they reverse the roles and Reese Witherspoon is the one who gets angry at the end just because she and Leslie would have to wait 10-15 minutes for the bank manager to withdraw the cash from Leslie’s account, thus challenging the Angry Black Woman stereotype imposed on Leslie at the beginning.
4. “39 Cents”: Oh my goodness, the first time I saw this when it came out back in 2014 I was howling with laughter. It basically pokes fun at ads that have addressed poverty in developing nations at the cost of speaking for individuals in these countries and simply putting their sad faces out there for the Western world’s consumption. Bill Hader plays Charles Daniels, who tells viewers that all each of them have to do is donate 39 cents to help people in need, but the people in the village (played by Leslie, Sasheer, Jay and Kenan) explain to Daniels why 39 cents is barely enough to help keep these people alive. Two of my favorite parts: when Leslie asks why people’s donations have to be the price of a cup of coffee (39 cents, which of course isn’t true, especially if that coffee is from Starbucks) and asks “Why can’t it be the price of an Arizona Iced Tea? Those are 99 cents.” And the very last part when they ask him what country he is doing the commercial in, and Daniels says “Africa” and they all throw their hands up in exasperation. Truly another fave of mine.
5. “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black”: This sketch made me laugh so hard my ribs nearly hurt. It pokes fun at how some people overreacted when
Beyoncé released her video for “Formation” and thought that
Beyoncé was somehow blacker than she normally is simply because the song contains cultural references that are contextually specific to her experience as a black woman with roots in the Southern United States. The best part is when Bobby Moynihan and Beck Bennett are hiding under the table while everyone else in the office runs around in chaos, and Beck asks “How can Kerry Washington and Beyoncé be black? They’re women” and then Bobby says “I think they might be both” and they both start screaming. It’s just so absurd for obvious reasons, mainly because it shows us that these two white men were clearly out of touch with the reality that yes, there are tons of black women out there besides Kerry Washington and
Beyoncé. I am sure everyone had so much fun making this sketch.