“Saturday Night Live” announced three new cast members for the upcoming 45th season Thursday, which includes the addition of its first Asian-American cast member, Bowen Yang. Yang began as a writer on the 2017-2018 season, and appeared in sketches sporadically, most notably playing Kim Jong-Un opposite Sandra Oh. Before joining “SNL,” Yang was a fixture in the New York stand-up comedy scene, where he garnered a following for his short-form videos and as co-host of the “Las Culturistas” podcast. He is also openly gay, making him only the third out gay male cast member in the show’s history (with Terry Sweeney and John Milhiser). He joins fellow out LGBTQ cast member Kate McKinnon.
Joining Yang are fellow new cast members Chloe Fineman and Shane Gillis. Fineman is a frequent performer at LA’s prestigious comedy incubator The Groundlings. Both Fineman and Gillis were recently recognized as a New Face at the 2019 Just for Laughs Festival. All three will join as featured performers.
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The news comes hot on the heels of Leslie Jones’ announcement that she would depart the show after five seasons. A beloved cast member, Jones also began her career at “SNL” as a writer in 2013 before making the jump to featured player the following year.
Many comedians have voiced criticism that “Saturday Night Live” has been too slow to embrace cast members from underrepresented groups. Last year, comedian James Adomian spoke about his belief that the show had an issue with casting out gay men, prompting frequent host Alec Baldwin to fire back on Twitter. When gay comedian Guy Branum asked if Baldwin could identify gay performers executive producer Lorne Michaels had hired, Baldwin wrote: “I can identify several. But they were not out then and are not out now. You realize that possibility, right?”
Branum replied: “That’s the point, Alec. Opportunities are denied us for being out. The fact that gay men get cast on SNL when they stay closeted and play ball doesn’t make the show inclusive.”
The 45th season of the famed sketch series will begin on September 28 with host Woody Harrelson and musical guest Billie Eilish. Previously announced hosts for the season also include Phoebe Waller-Bridge, David Harbour, Kristen Stewart, and Eddie Murphy. In addition to Eilish, musical guests include Taylor Swift and Camila Cabello.
Check out some of Yang’s sketches below.
— Bowen Yang 杨伯文 (@bowenyang) July 13, 2018