So who are these comedians rumored to be joining the SNL cast? Taran Killam is the 28-year-old boyfriend of How I Met Your Mother actress Cobie Smulders (the two also have a child together), with a slew of TV credits on his resume. Paul Brittain and Vanessa Bayer are two young comics from Chicago with few professional credits—save for this chuckle-worthy insurance commercial starring Bayer's head (below). They're both alumni of Chicago's famed Second City improv troop.
Michaels is traditionally tight-lipped when it comes to confirming casting hires and even which actors will return season-after-season, but let's assume this trio is officially heading to 30 Rock. What's good, what's bad, and what's puzzling about their casting?
Killam's been a consistently working TV actor since 2000. He plays a recurring character on How I Met Your Mother, and has also had roles on Scrubs 2.0, Mad TV, Nick Cannon's Wild N' Out, and on FunnyorDie.com. It's a refreshingly fleshed out resume for a SNL rookie. Previous new hires, who are announced as "featured players" in the show's iconic opening credits, have had negligible TV and film experience.
Players like Abby Elliott, Jenny Slate, Bobby Moynihan, and Casey Wilson were hired based on their stock of impressions and stand-up repertoire, but have all had a hard time making their mark on the show—anchoring very few sketches and suffering fair amounts of critical backlash. As a steadily working actor, Killam's casting is a departure from Michaels' typical pattern of hiring little-known amateurs; given the track record of his predecessors, Killam's experience should only work in his favor.
As for the two rumored hires who are significantly less well-known, Brittain and Bayer's affiliation with Second City is especially noteworthy. SNL has a history of casting Second City grads, including John Belushi, Bill Murray, Chris Farley, and Ana Gasteyer. But for some reason Michaels stopped hiring alumni of the Chicago comedy troop in the late 90s. The last Second City hires were Rachel Dratch, Horatio Sanz, and two moderately successful comediennes named Amy Poehler and Tina Fey (the quartet joined the cast separately between 1998 and 2001). There's clearly something special about the training at Second City that breeds SNL all-stars, and Brittain and Bayer's history with the company bodes well for the future with the show.
There is currently one black actor on SNL: Keenan Thompson. Barack Obama is played by Fred Armisen—who is half Latino—in blackface. Armisen is also the only cast member over the age of 40. This rumored casting hardly addresses the show's problematic lack of diversity. A company of all young white people severely limits the show's comedic possibilities.
For any sketch featuring Michelle Obama, SNL has had to bring back former cast member Maya Rudolph for special appearances—not exactly the easiest situation to write around when you're a sketch show that frequently addresses political issues. The fact that the series has no black females in its cast will only become a bigger problem in the upcoming year: it is The Oprah Winfrey Show's last season! Does Michaels not understand how much opportunity for late night parody this pop culture event is going to provide?
So far only Will Forte has announced that he is not coming back to the show. Why then, would Michaels be hiring three new actors? According to the Post, Weekend Update anchor and head writer Seth Meyers, and cast members Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, and Keenan Thompson (who also happen to be the show's biggest celebrities) all have not been confirmed to return this season. Does the signing of three cast members instead of just one mean that more people are leaving the show?
It's just as well, so long as Kristen Wiig is still around to pick up the slack: