“SNL” returns with its first Asian-American cast member

Caroline Lobel, Managing Editor

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The popular late-night comedy sketch show “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) premiered its 45th season, the first season in the show’s history to feature an Asian-American cast member, Bowen Yang, on Sept. 28.

Originally from Denver, Colorado, Yang is a 29-year-old Chinese-American gay comedian who co-hosts a comedy podcast with Matt Rogers called “Las Culturistas.” Yang was also a writer for “SNL” during its 44th season and even made an appearance on stage as Kim Jong-un alongside Korean-Canadian actress Sandra Oh as his translator during the episode she hosted. 

Within the show’s 45 years on air, there have only been six Asian hosts (Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Aziz Ansari, Kumail Nanjiani, Awkwafina, and Sandra Oh) and now one Asian series regular.  

Yang’s addition to this season’s ensemble marks a huge step toward Asian representation in television. “SNL” is nationally aired on NBC and has a strong presence on social media with 3.2 million followers on Instagram and over 8.8 million subscribers on YouTube. The large audience that “SNL” reaches gives Asian viewers at home a chance to see themselves on screen through Yang’s performances. 

Asian representation has come a long way within the past few years with the emergence of shows such as “Fresh Off the Boat” on ABC and movies like “Crazy Rich Asians.” In an interview with NBC News, Yang commented that he always loved “SNL,” but couldn’t see himself on stage because he’d never seen someone who looked like him on the staff.

It wasn’t until after he started working on the show when he “saw that there were people behind the scenes and working these very, very vital jobs in that system that were Asian.” Yang has written some notable sketches such as “The Actress,” which featured guest host Emma Stone. 

During this season’s premier, Yang reprised his role as Kim Jong-un during the cold open sketch about Trump’s impeachment. He returned in the same episode during a skit about CNN’s Impeachment Town Hall as Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. During this season’s second episode, which aired on Oct. 5, Yang played Chinese trade representative Chen Biao during the Weekend Update, saying “I’m basically the Lizzo of China right now,” while explaining the current trade war with China.

Although the roles Yang have played so far are Asian figures, his presence on the screen is still inspiring for viewers because he’s just as funny as his fellow cast members, if not more.

Hopefully Yang will play more colorblind roles as the season progresses so Asian viewers can both see themselves presented in a more natural way and envision themselves on the “SNL” stage and the larger or in media and entertainment space someday.

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