May 29, 2020

‘S.N.L.’ Has Long Lacked Asian Players. One Just Joined the Cast.

For all the comedians and actors who have come and gone from “Saturday Night Live” in its four decades, there has been a near-complete absence of Asian performers onscreen.

The NBC show is taking a step toward rectifying that. Bowen Yang — the son of Chinese immigrants and an “S.N.L.” writer — will be one of three new cast members for the 45th season, which begins this month, the show announced on Thursday.

Yang’s admission to the cast was a breakthrough — he will be the show’s first Chinese-American regular performer — but just hours later, the show was confronted with the embarrassing revelation that another new cast member, Shane Gillis, had made racist jokes about Chinese people in a podcast. Representatives of the show and Gillis did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

[Update: “Saturday Night Live” dropped Shane Gillis from its cast]

“S.N.L.” has had little representation from Asian actors, as cast members or hosts, in the past. Fred Armisen, who appeared on the show from 2002 through 2013, is of Asian descent; another former star, Rob Schneider, is one-quarter Filipino; and Nasim Pedrad, who was in the cast from 2009 to 2014, was born in Iran.

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