In the annals of recent Saturday Night Live history, countless cold opens stand out for their loopy takes on politics. Just one is memorable for its scathing critique on SNL itself: 2013’s “Michelle Obama At The White House.” When the cold open begins, fans believe they’ll simply see host Kerry Washington play the beloved First Lady, as the title suggests. Then, Taran Killam shows up to announce Oprah Winfrey has arrived at the White House — and can “Mrs. Obama” change to go play her? STAT?
Cue SNL’s mea culpa. You see, the NBC institution had no Black women in the season 39 cast at the time. So, Washington would be asked to play a multitude of melanin-blessed ladies that evening (FLOTUS Obama had no regular impersonator since Maya Rudolph left in 2007) — sometimes in the same sketch. “This is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the near future,” narrator Steve Higgins says. “Unless, of course, we fall in love with another white guy first.”
Imagine what will happen when Saturday Night Live gives Nwodim the true starring role she deserves.
Five years later, Ego Nwodim was backing up Leslie Jones in 2018’s “Thirsty Cops,” a sketch built around two Black women cops hitting on a slightly confused citizen played by handsome white man Seth Meyers. In a world where headlines about police traffic stops involving Black women usually end in tragedy, the racy sketch was a much-needed power shift. “Thirsty” marked viewers’ first glimpse at SNL newbie Nwodim’s potential as she gamely leaned into ridiculous lines such as “Her-ass-ment, or my- ass-ment?” It’s a quip so funny that Meyers seemed to need to turn away from the camera to keep from laughing.
The season 44 entrance of Nwodim, currently a featured player, makes history as just the second time in nearly five decades of SNL that more than one Black woman is starring in the late-night comedy at the same time. While stand-up Jones excels when she plays versions of herself — or just, herself — Nwodim, an alum of hallowed improv group the Upright Citizen Brigade’s L.A. chapter and former Funny Or Die video star, is a classic Saturday Night Live utility player. She can spit the best flow in all of rap parody “I Love My Dog,” play the straight woman to John Mulaney’s prop-wilding “Cha-Cha Slide” dancer, craft a fur-drenched Empire-ified version of Ivanka Trump, and embody political figures like representative Ilhan Omar.
And those are just a few of the hilarious, necessary characters that would not be possible without Nwodim. After the 2017 exit of Sasheer Zamata, we are once again a long way from the possibility of a single Black women pulling Kerry Washington-style costume double duty. Imagine what will happen when Saturday Night Live gives Nwodim the true starring role she deserves.