When Saturday Night Live’s new season kicked off a few weeks back, there was a blinding lack of diversity in it’s six new featured players: Five are male, one is female and all of them are white. In fact, in SNL’s 39 seasons, the series has only had four black female cast members: Yvonne Hudson, Danitra Vance, Ellen Cleghorne and Maya Rudolph. And while I’m not saying the new folks aren’t funny and very much deserving of their new jobs (this season is HILARIOUS), I am saying that it’d be nice to have some range for celebrity impressions. Just ask the youngest cast member, and impression aficionado, Jay Pharaoh, who recently criticized the show’s diversity saying, “They need to pay attention and add a black woman to the cast.”
When asked about what the show will do when they need to spoof a black female character, Kenan Thompson told TVGuide.com, “I don’t know. We just haven’t done them.” He added, “Maybe [Jay Pharaoh] will do it or something, but even he doesn’t really want to do it.”
Thompson goes on to deflect the show’s historically white cast on the industry, saying it’s tough for women. “Like in auditions,” he says, “they just never find ones that are ready.” (“Ones” meaning black women.)
NOW HOLD THE PHONE. While I appreciate a male comedian feeling comfortable enough to make claims about the comedic aptitude of his counterparts, I beg to differ. There are tons of wildly talented women who I would tune in to watch any night of the week, especially on Saturdays. Here are just a few ladies who are more than ready to make you laugh.
Gloria Bigelow has earned her comedy stripes. With a background in acting, she has the facial expressions and comedic chops to make her a must see on any lineup. The out comic has quickly become one to watch on the national comedy scene, performing at The New York Underground Comedy Festival, Bridgetown Comedy Festival, Michigan Comedy Fest, and the Outlaugh Comedy Festival.
As far as television credits, she hosted the pre and post shows for the first ever NewNowNext Awards and was nominated the following year for Brink of Fame Comic. Bigelow recently made an appearance on the first installment of Wanda Sykes’ Herlarious and has been published in a Seal Press Anthology called Here Comes The Brides! Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage.
In the 15 years since she first appeared on the scene, lesbian comedienne Cathy Lewis has earned the respect and admiration of audiences and fellow comedians. Never one to give up, she turned her would be tragedy into a triumph getting laughs on stage talking about her physical condition among other things, and later founding Big Heart Productions in 1996.
A Bay Area native, Lewis has performed weekly at The World Famous Comedy Store. She has also appeared on Last Comic Standing, The Journey of Allen Strange, Comic View on BET, and The Jenny Jones Show and on Nickelodeon’s Teapot as the voice of Bouche. For the past 10 years her extraordinary life has been the subject of a documentary started by Spike Lee collaborator Monty Ross and Donna Lane of Purple Pacific Productions.
Jessica Williams (@MsJWilly)
She’s 23 and a correspondent on The Daily Show? How can be? It seems Jessica Williams is determined. As an actress, writer, and all-around funny lady from Los Angeles, Jessica threw herself into the intense and cut-throat world of improv and sketch comedy at an early age. She performed in shows with ComedySportz: The College Team and at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre before deciding to give the comedy scene in New York City a shot. Shortly after she landed The Daily Show gig as the first African-American female correspondent and never looked back. “One to watch” might be an understatement.
Nyima Funk (@NyimaFunk)
Nyima Funk is a Second City alum who worked as a writer for comedian Katt Williams, writing for the movie Katt Williams: American Hustle and The BET Hip-Hop Awards. Beyond writing, she has a laundry list of television appearances, including the CW’s Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, NBC’s Thank God You’re Here, MTV’s Wild ‘N Out and Short Circuitz, TNN’s LifeGame, VH1’s Basketball Wives LA, ABC’s According To Jim, UPN’s Girlfriends, The Oprah Winfrey Show, TV Guide Channel’s Countdown Shows, and The George Lopez Show. Right? OPRAH! If you’re looking for more, she hosts a weekly web series, Nyima Funk’s Mommy Vlogs, and has a pretty impressive arsenal of celebrity impressions. Mary J anyone?
Gina Yashere (@GinaYashere)
Gina Yashere broke onto the American comedy scene with her appearances on Last Comic Standing, where she made it to the final 10. Since then, her infectiously hilarious live appearances have become legendary, leading to her one hour comedy special, Skinny Bitch, on Showtime and a touring schedule that’s landed her on nearly every late-night show and taken her around the world. She won the title of “Best Female Comedian” at the Black Entertainment & Comedy Awards in the UK four years in a row and released her new DVD, Gina Yashere: Laughing To America, earlier this year.
Marina Franklin (@MarinaYFranklin)
If anyone knows good comedy, it’s Wanda Sykes. That’s why her new series, Herlarious, is a go-to place for the best emerging comics in the industry. Marina Franklin just happens to be one of those ladies. A New-York based comedian, Franklin is one of the hottest comedians in the comedy scene, with an impressive resume including Showtime’s Women Who Kill, Craig Ferguson’s Late Late Show, The Jay Leno Show, Chappelle’s Show, Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, NBC’s Last Comic Standing Season II, and Showtime at The Apollo.
She’s also been no stranger to nearly every fest across the country, making appearances at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, Scotland’s Glasgow Comedy Festival, BBC’s World Stand’s Up, Rotterdam’s Comedy Factory, Montreal’s Just For Laughs, Ireland’s Kilkenny Comedy Festival, and Nashville’s Bonnaroo Music Festival.
Franchesca Ramsey (@Chescaleigh)
Franchesca Ramsey’s name might not be immediately familiar, but you may have seen a little something called Shit White Girls Say…to Black Girls, Ramsey’s viral video that garnered over 1.5 million views in 24 hours and five million views in just five days. Since then, Ramsey has made a career out of hilarious impressions and being funny on the Internet. But don’t take my word for it, check out her Nicki Manaj and Christina Aguilera impressions.
Ramsey also produces original material on her Chescaleigh Comedy Channel and has been featured on MTV, The New York Times, NPR, Ebony magazine and The BBC.
Keisha Zollar (@KeishaZ)
Need impressions? Keisha Zollar’s got you covered. I’m gonna go ahead and admit that I was fooled into thinking that Nia Mumbatu, winner of Last Comic Standing: Africa, was a real comedian. Turns out, she was just one of Zollar’s many dead on characters. I’d say “give this girl a job!” but seems she’s doing the legwork herself, landing a roll on the second season of Orange is the New Black. If that isn’t awesome enough, she’s slated to be on Comedy Central’s Broad City in 2014, is in the feature film See You Next Tuesday premiering in December, and is performing on Inside the Mind of R.L. Stein, featuring the real R.L. Stein. I mean, what?!
Phoebe Robinson (@PRobinsonComedy)
I mean, we’re gonna get to her comedy in a minute but let me first tell you that Phoebe Robinson’s website, Blaria.com, is a genius hybrid of seeing the world through the eyes of BLARIA (BLACK DARIA)! What, you need more? According to The Huffington Post, she is a “Funny Women You Should Be Following On Twitter.” Robinson recently co-hosted an episode of the new series Raising McCain and appeared on FX’s Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell. She writes for Glamour.com, contributes to The New York Times and, in her copious amounts of free time, has made a mark in the world of standup as a finalist in NBC’s Stand Up for Diversity competition and performing all over the country.
Sonia Denis (@SoniDeni)
Sonia Denis might be one of the newer comics on this list, but she gave me some of my most memorable laughs in recent history, and for that reason alone she is making this list. In a short time, Denis has managed to take the Chicago comedy scene by storm, landing herself on most of the prestigious line-ups in the comedy mecca. She also co-produces her own show, Congrats on Your Success, which just saw it’s year anniversary. With momentum like hers, there’s no doubt Denis will be a household name in no time.