Bowen Yang will make history in September when he joins the cast of Saturday Night Live.
On Thursday, the long-running sketch comedy series announced that Yang is being promoted to a featured player role for its upcoming 45th season, along with comedian Shane Gillis and Groundlings alum Chloe Fineman. Yang joined the SNL writer’s room last season and made a splashy debut on the 30 Rock stage in March, playing dictator Kim Jong-un in a Kremlin meeting sketch.
Yang, whose parents are Chinese immigrants, is the first performer of East Asian descent to join the SNL cast. Only a handful of Asian-Americans have ever even hosted the show; the short list includes Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh, Jackie Chan, and Kumail Nanjani. When Awkwafina hosted in 2018, she was the first Asian woman to do so in 18 years.
The busy comedian — who also co-hosts the Las Culturistas podcast and appeared in the meta romcom Isn’t It Romantic? — is also just one of a few LGBTQ+ people to join the Not Ready For Prime Time players. After Terry Sweeney became the first out performer to join the cast for a brief, year-long run in 1985, there have been just three other queer people in the rotation: Danitra Vance, John Milhiser, and Kate McKinnon. McKinnon, who identifies as a lesbian, has won two Emmys for her work on SNL.
Yang is, thus, shattering the glass ceiling twice: both as SNL’s first East Asian castmember and the first queer Asian performer on the show.
Despite SNL’s historic lack of inclusion, the Lorne Michael-produced series has made more of a commitment to diverse casting in recent years. The current roster includes comedians of color like Kenan Thompson, Ego Nwodim, Melissa Villaseñor, Chris Redd, and Michael Che. Leslie Jones, who was nominated for an Emmy for her work on SNL last year, announced she will be departing prior to the upcoming season.
Yang has yet to comment publicly on the news, which was first reported by the entertainment website TV Line. He will be joined in the effort to queer up SNL by Nov 2. host Kristen Stewart, who is guesting for the first time since declaring in a February 2017 episode that she’s “so gay.”