"Saturday Night Live's" cast of Not Ready for Prime Time Players is about to get a little bigger. After criticism surfaced about the show's lack of female black cast members, creator Lorne Michaels told The New York Times he's been holding auditions and plans to make at least one midseason hire.
Michaels said it was "100 percent good for the show to have an African-American woman" among the players, but added that the expectation the show had to have a black woman in its regular cast so someone could impersonate celebrities such as Oprah and Beyoncé was misplaced.
"That's a weird sort of way of looking at it," he said, "because you don't judge comedy that way. Versatility is what we look for."
Auditions held over the past few weeks around the country led to a special vetting on the "SNL" stage Monday night for several finalists. Michaels said he could hire as many as two women, and they would join the cast for shows starting in January.
News of the auditions first appeared on Gothamist on Thursday, and one woman who had tried out tweeted a photo of herself with the female comedians she met there.
The show had drawn criticism both externally and internally for not having a black female performer since Maya Rudolph left in 2007. Two "SNL" regular cast members, Jay Pharoah and Kenan Thompson, had noted the show's lack of diversity. Thompson has said he did not want to do more drag impersonations of black women.
But Michaels insists it's about hiring for skill, not race or gender.
"We're all about talent," Michaels told The New York Times. "It doesn't help if somebody's not ready — and 'ready' is one of the charged words. But you want to be sure you give people the best possible shot."
"Saturday Night Live" airs at 11:30 p.m. Saturdays on NBC.