The Evolution and Diversity of Saturday Night Live

The Evolution and Diversity of Saturday Night Live

Kenan Thompson believes that the enduring success of Saturday Night Live is attributed to its ability to evolve and diversify its talent base. According to him, the iconic ‘Black Jeopardy’ sketch serves as an exemplar of the show’s growth and adaptation. In a recent discussion at Cannes Lions, the SNL stalwart highlighted the constant changes that the nearly 50-year-old format undergoes. Thompson mentioned that every week, there is a new host, and every season, there is a new cast. He reflected on the show’s evolution, including format modifications from live Saturday night performances to videos being shared on a Sunday morning. However, the most significant change, in Thompson’s opinion, has come in terms of diversity.

Thompson emphasized that SNL’s evolution is not limited to format changes but also extends to reach. He noted that in the past, SNL had only one or two Black cast members, whereas now, there are five, along with Asian, Hispanic, and LGBTQ+ members. This diversity allows the show to explore comedy that was previously inaccessible. For instance, a sketch like ‘Black Jeopardy’ can only be successful if there are enough Black cast members to make it authentic to the community. Such sketches open up the show to a broader audience that may have previously felt excluded. Thompson reiterated his boss Lorne Michaels’ vision of SNL being a big tent show, appealing to all ages and ideologies. The show aims to bring people together through laughter, transcending boundaries and creating a sense of unity.

Thompson discussed his experience portraying controversial figures like OJ Simpson and Bill Cosby on SNL. Despite the dark humor involved, he approached these portrayals with a sense of fun. According to Thompson, humor has the power to cut through the noise and provide a moment of levity amidst the chaos of daily life. He stressed that laughter can serve as a form of healing, allowing people to cope with challenging situations. In a world full of turmoil, humor offers a reprieve and a way to address serious issues in a more lighthearted manner.

When asked about creating viral cultural moments that go beyond the show, Thompson expressed uncertainty. He highlighted SNL’s sketches featuring well-known individuals like Taylor Swift and George Santos, yet the most significant sketch revolved around Beavis and Butthead, characters from 30 years ago. Thompson acknowledged that cultural moments cannot be manufactured but are rather a result of maintaining quality and consistency. By focusing on creating engaging content, the show opens the door for unexpected and impactful moments to emerge.

Saturday Night Live’s enduring success can be attributed to its constant evolution, emphasis on diversity, and ability to use humor as a unifying force. Through its diverse talent base and inclusive approach, the show continues to resonate with audiences worldwide, creating memorable moments that transcend the boundaries of time and culture.


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