Photo illustration. Source: NBC/Getty Images

The Undisputed Ranking of Every Black ‘Saturday Night Live’ Cast Member

There may be only 20 of them in the show’s 45-year history, but all deserve their flowers

Keith Murphy
Published in
15 min readMay 18, 2020

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“I felt robbed.” That’s how Garrett Morris summed up his tenure as a Saturday Night Live performer. When the sketch comedy show first hit the airwaves in 1975, critics and audiences heralded it as a counterculture breakthrough — but as Morris admitted in the 2017 documentary Live From New York!, he struggled to fit in with the majority-White cast and felt like he was denied opportunities to shine.

While cast members like John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Chevy Chase enjoyed the spotlight in many sketches, Morris found himself typecast in flagrantly stereotypical roles, or left out altogether. “Anything for Garrett?” SNL creator and boss Lorne Michaels would ask during routine 3 a.m. phone calls to the writer’s room. The answer, too often, was no.

For Black cast members, life on SNL in many ways parallels the Black American experience: While many others enjoy long, mediocre careers, our triumphs arise from a combination of defiance and sheer genius. You already know some the names of the Black SNL alumni who found breakout success — Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Maya Rudolph — but much respect is due for unsung pioneers like Yvonne Hudson, Danitra Vance, and the aforementioned Morris.

In all, only 20 of the 153 total performers to appear on Saturday Night Live in its 45 seasons have been Black. The show’s issues with diversity have been so publicized that a self-mocking 2013 sketch actually leaned into it, with guest star Kerry Washington forced to portray first lady Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, and Oprah Winfrey all in the same sketch, mid-scene costume changes and all. The gag is, of course, that there were no Black women on staff to step up (and, hell no, Kenan wasn’t available).

Still, Black SNL performers have delivered some of the show’s iconic moments of the past four-plus decades. Superstar trajectories began there, and too many remained in obscurity there — which is why it’s so fitting to highlight and rank every Black…

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Keith Murphy
LEVEL
Writer for

Mr. Murphy’s work has appeared in such publications and online sites as VIBE, The New York Post, Billboard, ESPN’s The Undefeated, OZY, and Esquire.