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In its 43rd season, SNL finally has its first black head writer

By Alice Truong

Saturday Night Live, long plagued by diversity problems, has named its first person of color as a head writer.

NBC announced on Dec. 12 that Michael Che, who is African-American, and Colin Jost—the current co-hosts of the show’s Weekend Update segment—have been promoted to head writers, joining existing head writers Kent Sublette and Bryan Tucker.

It’s a refreshing move for the show, which has been criticized for its lack of diversity on the regular cast, and for how few of the guest hosts—each episode has a different one on SNL—have been minorities. An analysis by IndieWire last year found that 90% of hosts are white.

Despite being a show skewering current events, SNL for a while lacked a cast member who could play Michelle Obama (paywall). It frequently had Kenan Thompson (an African-American male) perform in drag to play black women, including Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg. SNL has acknowledged the discrepancy and responded by hiring more minorities, including Che, both in front of and behind the camera.

Che, a standup comic, joined SNL full time as a writer in 2013, and started hosting Weekend Update with Jost in 2014. Behind the anchor desk, he hasn’t been shy to joke about race. In October, for example, he faced backlash for calling Trump a “cheap cracker” during a segment about Puerto Rico.

His most recent sketch, which aired Dec. 9, won much praise on the internet: In order to understand liberal white women, who he said often wrote in to complain when he made fun of a marginalized group, he decided to go undercover as one himself. His experience as “Gretchen” helped him realize that such women “want the same thing that everybody else wants: equality, respect, and wine in the daytime with no judgment.”