Monday, March 31, 2014

Why the SNL Black Jeopardy skit misses the mark

So let me start with the good.

I love that SNL is adding new skits that have African-American characters because they add to the diversity of the dialogue that often times is left out of the general conversation.  It's important to share these stories and when told by comedians, often makes the message more absorbable by the mainstream audience.

So when I came upon a clip showcasing SNL doing Black Jeopardy, I thought to myself, oh this is gonna be amazing.  Just off the heels of Jeopardy showing college contestants avoiding Black History questions until it was the last category on the board, I thought, SNL is gonna get this right.

But there are ways to do comedy involving race correctly, and there aren't.

For me, it started at hello.  The clip immediately features stereotype after stereotype, beginning with Keenan Thompson's "Whadup, Whadup, Whadup."  Sorry Keenan, but no one really talks like that.  That's just a euphemism for the general casual nature with which African American's greet each other.  Your version is campy and staged.  Plus it sounds completely out of place as if Black people that are game show hosts wouldn't take their job seriously.  Don't say you don't have any examples.  Two of the Original Kings of Comedy are hosts of game shows.  Pair Cedric the Entertainer's mannerisms with Steve Harvey's wit and it would have been comedy gold.  Instead you took the cheap shot and came up with "Whadup, whadup, whadup".

From there it got worse.

Let's talk about the topics they chose from.

Just because #RatchetJeopardy and #GhettoJeopardy were trending topics on Twitter, doesn't mean you need to take the exact hashtag and make it a segment.  That's lazy writing.  What works for black twitter won't always work for a comedy sketch. You have comedy writers that are suppose to weed this stuff out and turn hot topics into funny sketches.  SNL did this exceptionally well during the 2008 presidential elections.  The Jeopardy show where the college students didn't want to answer Black History questions was a perfect hot topic to do a sketch from.  It's execution however, was piss poor.  It's not funny when a majority of the Black Jeopardy sketch only featured stereotypical topics that don't have any real answers.

Keenan, I personally wanted you to stop vomiting up stereotypes. This one didn't help, "As usual we started late" Really? REALLY??  That's probably the cheapest line you could have come up with and it doesn't show any breath or depth of you as a comedian, as an improv master or as an actor.

I really feel for Sasheer Zamata. So far they have only put her in supporting roles that don't have her really speaking or doing anything. This was the first time that her comedic chops could really shine through. I felt like she was physically struggling to still seem like an actual person instead of a caricature. She tried her best with the material. Oy vey.

Sometimes I like Jay Pharoah, sometimes I don't. This time I didn't. There's a way to play the subset of black people you were going for without looking contrived Jay. Kevin Hart does this excellently. Please use him as a source the next time you want to create this type of black character.

There are just so many great comedians the actors and comedy writers could draw inspiration from that I don't know why SNL is resorting to stereotypes and low hanging fruit for their sketches with black actors.

The only time a glimpse of real comedy shined through were Had that been me and Louis CK's reaction when he tried to answer questions. I would have loved to see what you did with "Rap songs that start with the letter "N", but I don't know, after that segment, I don't know if I can trust you SNL.  All I can say is, DO BETTER.

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