Coming off its most-watched season in 23 years and nine Emmy awards, “Saturday Night Live” is making major changes both in front of and behind the cameras.
NBC announced Tuesday that Heidi Gardner, Luke Null and Chris Redd will join the show’s cast as featured players, beginning with Saturday’s 43rd season premiere hosted by Ryan Gosling and featuring musical guest Jay-Z.
The most recognizable of the three is likely Redd, who appeared in the Andy Samberg movie “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” and has a Comedy Central stand-up special “Trapped in Atlanta.” Gardner is a performer with the Groundlings, the improv troupe and school with such notable alumni as Kristen Wiig, Kathy Griffin, Lisa Kudrow and Phil Hartman. The Chicago-based Null is a much more unknown comic who has done sketches for the iO Comedy Network.
The new performers will fill holes left by the departures of notable veterans Bobby Moynihan, Vanessa Bayer and Sasheer Zamata, who served on the show for nine, seven and four years, respectively.
Yearly shifts in on-camera talent are not unusual for the show. Last year, both Jay Pharoah and Taran Killam — two six-year members of the show — were let go, while Mikey Day, Alex Moffat and Melissa Villaseñor joined the cast. Villaseñor became the show’s first Latina cast member in the show’s 42-season run.
These departures also weren’t unexpected, given how much time Moynihan and Bayer, especially, spent on the show. As The Washington Post reported, six seasons — the same number Tina Fey, Dennis Miller and Jimmy Fallon were on SNL — is a pretty long run on the show. Famous performers such as Bill Murray, John Belushi and Eddie Murphy spent less time as cast members.
More notable is the show’s substantial expansion in writing talent. NBC is adding seven new writers for new season, including Sam Jay, Gary Richardson, Erik Marino, Andrew Dismukes, Steven Castillo, Claire Friedman and Nimesh Patel, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Some said Patel might be the most significant hire on a show that’s been criticized for its lack of South Asian voices.
Last year, Aziz Ansari became the first show’s first host of South Asian descent. Pakistani American filmmaker and “Silicon Valley” actor Kumail Nanjiani will be the show’s second, when he hosts on Oct. 14.
Patel’s most prominent writing credit is for the this year’s White House correspondents’ dinner, during which comedian Hasan Minhaj roasted President Trump, who chose not to attend the dinner. Given this background, Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson wrote, “In hiring Patel (who jokes about keeping his Hindu papers on him at all times lest he be mistaken for a radical terrorist), S.N.L. is better placed than ever to dig into” the South Asian perspective, particularly in politics.
The show has long been criticized for its lack of racial diversity, which it has made strides to address in recent years. In 2013, for example, executive producer Lorne Michaels held special auditions after the show was criticized for its lack of diversity, which resulted in the hiring of Zamata, the first black female cast member in seven years.
As The Post’s Elahe Izadi wrote, “An argument in favor of increased racial diversity in SNL’s cast is that it better positions the show to effectively comment on and satirize pop culture, politics and whatever else is in the zeitgeist at the moment.”
Patel, in fact, has actually joked about wanting former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, an Indian American, to win the presidential election so he could have a job with SNL.
“I wanted Bobby Jindal to win … he’s the Indian guy,” Patel joked on stage at the Comedy Cellar last year, according to Vanity Fair. “Not because I believe in his politics but because I want a career on S.N.L. and that’s the only way that was going to happen.”
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