‘SNL’ Gets What the Rest of TV Should: Racial Diversity Means Quality Featured

By Dean Obeidallah

January 7, 2014

(The Daily Beast) “Tragedy plus time equals comedy.” This famous quote that has been attributed to people from Woody Allen to Carol Burnett.

“More diversity equals better comedy.” This much less cited quote I think is even more relevant today. No need to Google who said this—I just did. (But I do expect it to become hugely famous-so save this article.)

On Monday, Saturday Night Live announced it had hired comedian and improv performer Sasheer Zamata to join its cast. The addition of SNL cast members usually gets a little press but this was not a typical addition. Zamata was added after a controversy erupted over the lack of black female cast members at SNL—the last being the amazingly talented Maya Rudolph who left in 2007.

Adding diversity to a comedy show—or to any show for that matter—simply to fill a quota would be wrong. But as a comedian and as someone who worked at SNLon the production staff from 1999-2007, I can tell you that greater diversity truly does equal better comedy.  Authentic voices representing different backgrounds only enhance the comedy stew. So instead of one-note comedy bits, we see nuanced ones that resonate as being truthful—which in turn is better comedy.

And I say this from first-hand experience. When I worked at SNL, I was the only person on the production staff of Arab heritage. Consequently, when writers were working on sketches that dealt with the Middle East—and believe me, there were a lot in the years after 9/11- they would often ask me questions.  Some were factual inquires. Others were: “Is this racist?”  If I sad “yes” they made sure to put it in the sketch. (Kidding!)

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