Chris Rock has a special knack for pointing out messed up things about the world that we are all assholes for ignoring. Case in point: this past September, four years after America elected its first black president, SNL finally replaced Fred Armisen with Jay Pharoah in the role of Barack Obama. Why did it take them so long?
Rock spoke about it today while on a press tour promoting the new talk show Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell. Talk turned to Rock’s old gig at SNL, and he said he’s a fan of Pharoah’s. “I think he’s funny and he’s underused,” he told reporters. ”It took him two years to play the black president? Seems odd.”
It does seem odd, doesn’t it? Especially considering Pharoah’s spot-on Barack Obama impression was one of the things that aided his rise in the comedy world and, I assume, captured SNL‘s attention in the first place:
It gets even weirder when you realize that Armisen was basically performing the role in a mild form of blackface, which I thought we had decided was Not Okay? I’m going to admit something embarrassing now: I’d always just assumed the producers of SNL were covering their asses with the fact that Armisen’s like, a quarter African American or something. But guess what? Fred Armisen is Venezuelan, German, and Japanese. You learn something new every day.
Compound this with the fact that Armisen’s Barack Obama impression was never as good as Jay Pharoah’s, and you have to wonder: Is this further evidence of SNL‘s issues with race? Or can it be attributed to SNL‘s crappy decisions in general? Is it a problem when there are so few non-white actors in the cast that the ambiguously ethnic guy has to play most of the non-white characters? What does it say about SNL that a still racially troubled America elected a black man president four years before they let a black man play him on TV? Maybe if they started casting more non-white actors and making decisions based on ability instead of some antiquated system of seniority, more people would still be watching.