Was There a Weird Policy on Female SNL Cast Members?

Here at The Renaissance Fan we are firm believers that women are just as funny as men. That’s a statement that should really go without saying. But as we found out from the release of the female driven Ghostbusters movie this summer, there are at least a million internet trolls who disagree with the idea that women are funny. Those people (mostly men, we assume) suck. If you can’t at least appreciate the work being done right now by Tina Fey, Amy’s Shumer and Poehler, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and others, well, sorry-not-sorry but you don’t have very good taste in humor. The good news for you is that Dane Cook DVD’s are probably super cheap right now.

With the preponderance of great female comedians on the landscape right now, it was all the more surprising for us when we unearthed a strange pattern related to women in comedy while researching another story. Over the next few months The Renaissance Fan will be going deep to look at Saturday Night Live during it’s long tenure as a cultural touchstone. We’ll have a variety of articles about hosts and eras, high and low points, etc. But one thing we examined was the makeup of the cast. In doing so, we found something that looks very odd, particularly when plotted out.


For the first 26 seasons of the iconic comedy show there were never more than 3 full-time female cast members. It almost appears to be some kind of cap or quota. While brilliant in many ways, SNL show-runner Lorne Michaels has not been immune to casting snafus, and the existence of a “no more than 3 females” policy (or guideline) doesn’t seem completely out of the question, particularly after seeing this pattern. The disparity becomes particularly glaring in the 90’s when the cast ballooned to include up to 10 male cast members and stuck with just 3 females. It was not until season 27, when Tina Fey was promoted to full-time, that the cap was broken and 4 females appeared on the show at the same time. That piece of trivia is bittersweet. It seems appropriate that it was Fey who broke the barrier since she has been such a strong advocate for women in entertainment throughout her career. But it was season 27, in the 2000’s, before it finally happened.

The good news for fans is that the recent trend has been to have more women on the show. In fact, lately the female cast members kind of are the show. Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant are complete scene stealers. Cecily Strong is a workhorse with plenty of standout characters as well. And Vanessa Bayer is one of the most talented impressionists in recent memory. In total, the cast will return 5 non-feature women for season 42 (tied for the most of all-time) and with room to hire or promote more cast members it’s possible we could see the most female heavy cast in the history of the show. In addition to the on-screen talent, SNL also recently promoted Sarah Schneider to head writer. In short, whether on SNL or other comedic avenues, women waited a long time to get the similar chances as men, but the time is here, and they are crushing it.

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