Saturday night ladies

Jenny Slate and Nasim Pedrad prepare to up the estrogen quotient on the 35th season of "SNL"

Published September 2, 2009 9:03PM (EDT)

"Saturday Night Live" owes much of its recent success to the efforts of its funny ladies. Even after Tina Fey dropped the Sarah Palin act and Amy Poehler left the show to pursue her own prime-time sitcom, Kristen Wiig emerged as last season's biggest breakout star, garnering by far the most screen time of any cast member and going on to win prestigious film roles. (According to IMDB, she has no fewer than seven features currently in development.)

But despite the success of Fey, Poehler and Wiig -- not to mention the embarrassing failure of Fred Armisen's Barack Obama impression -- "SNL" has, for the most part, continued to reflect the boys club that is mainstream comedy. As Wiig stepped into the spotlight, her female castmates, Casey Wilson, Abby Elliott and Michaela Watkins, remained sorely underutilized. (I'm particularly upset to see so little of Elliott, a talented impressionist whose recent Funny or Die video spoofing Gwenyth Paltrow made me laugh out loud.)

Fortunately, that might be changing. On Tuesday, The Comic's Comic broke the news that the series has hired two new female cast members. Joining the show for its 35th season will be a pair of Upright Citizens Brigade (the troupe that launched Poehler) alums, Jenny Slate and Nasim Pedrad. Rachel Sklar at Mediaite notes that this brings the show's male-to-female ratio down to a promising 4:3. 

Slate, a Brooklynite who The Comic's Comic practically gushes over, is a fixture of the New York alt-comedy scene, where she and partner Gabe Liedman have hosted well-received showcases. Back in May, UCB entrusted Slate with her own one-woman show, "Dead Millionaire." After checking her out on YouTube, I'm intrigued by what Slate, who seems to have a fairly absurdist style, might bring to the more staid, traditional realm of "SNL." For a glimpse of what I'm talking about, take a gander at the faux commerical below, in which Slate hawks "Shee Block," a product with the tag line, "Because you can't just kill other women."

Pedrad hails from Los Angeles and has appeared on "ER." But perhaps what's most interesting about her is the Tehran-born comedian's one-woman show, "Me, Myself and Iran." Although the presumably political production debuted in 2007, YouTube clips of  it are now password protected. Luckily, Air America was able to track down a Groundlings video featuring a very brief hint of what Pedrad (she's the second lady from the right) can do.

By no means does this material -- especially Pedrad's -- help us predict of how the comedians will fare on "SNL." But I'm rooting for them, in hopes that a few women who aren't Kristen Wiig get some screen time this season.

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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