We've Got Hollywood Covered

NBC Partners With The Second City to Develop Diverse Sketch Comedy Talent

Network’s ”Saturday Night Live“ was questioned by the media in late 2012 for its lack of black female players

More than a year after “Saturday Night Live” was dinged in the media for not employing any black female cast members, NBC and The Second City are teaming up to hone diverse sketch comedy and improv talent.

NBCUniversal Talent Development & Inclusion is partnering with the legendary Chicago-based comedy theatre on a training program for improvisation, performance and writing.

The network did not state in the announcement that the collaboration had anything to do with the year-ago conversation surrounding “SNL” casting.

An NBC insider told TheWrap: “For years, NBCU has been supporting scholarships at Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) (notable alums include Sasheer Zamata and Natasha Rothwell), as well as the Peoples Improv Theatre. This most recent partnership is simply an extension of our continuing efforts to invest in talent diversity programs.”

“NBCUniversal is honored and excited to partner with The Second City to encourage and nurture emerging and diverse comedic talent,” said Paul Telegdy, President, Alternative and Late Night Programming, NBCUniversal. “The Second City has historically been a premier training ground for comedic and improv talent — and NBCUniversal is delighted, through this partnership, to help make this incredible learning opportunity and exposure more accessible to the diverse talent who represent the comedy voices of the future.”

“We are thrilled that NBCUniversal shares our passion and commitment to diversifying the comedy community,” added Andrew Alexander, CEO/President for The Second City. “We are excited to have them as a partner on these initiatives and appreciate their support in the efforts of our Outreach and Diversity division.”

Three programs will debut as part of this partnership, in NBC’s own words:

  • NBCUniversal Second City Bob Curry Fellowships: Sixteen fellowships will be awarded to emerging talent to hone their comedic and sketch writing skills. Named after the first African American ensemble member of The Second City, the fellowship is an eight-week master class series, which culminates in a showcase performance at The Second City. This fellowship program will begin on April 7, 2015.
  • NBCUniversal Second City Emerging Voices Scholarship Awards: Three scholarships, one in each of the cities with The Second City training programs — Chicago, Toronto and Hollywood, will be awarded for one year of advanced improvisation or sketch writing training. Applications are particularly welcome from candidates from diverse communities.
  • NBCUniversal Second City Break Out Festival: In 2015, The Second City will launch a new comedy festival spotlighting some of the country’s best emerging talent in sketch, improvisation and stand-up, sponsored by NBCUniversal Talent Development & Inclusion. Headlined by comedians Al Madrigal (NBC’s “About a Boy”) and Ron Funches (NBC’s “Undateable”), the event will feature performances and workshops spotlighting emerging comedic talent.

“SNL” did eventually hire three black female comics during its 39th season: Zamata and writers Leslie Jones and LaKendra Tookes. Jones has since been upped to a performer.

Before those announcements, however, the long-running sketch comedy series spoofed the public backlash during a cold open that saw host Kerry Washington asked to play several black women at once. The show also took some shots at its historical lack of diversity during February’s highly rated “SNL 40” reunion show.