While plenty of alumni returned for the Saturday Night Live 40th anniversary special, one of the more notable appearances was from Ellen Cleghorne, who was a cast member from 1991 to 1995. The comedian, who has spent the past seven years earning her PhD at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, has largely been out of the public eye aside from a brief appearance in 2013’s Grown Ups 2.
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Yet, when Jerry Seinfeld hosted a Q&A with the audience on Sunday night, Cleghorne was there to ask a pre-scripted question about the lack of diversity on the show or, rather, in general.
While the whole bit was met with mixed reviews, Cleghorne says she was game to do it. “[SNL producer] Michael Shoemaker has always been a friend and he explained to me what the tone should be,” she tells VH1, “so it was like old times and I really, really appreciated it.”
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And even though she is aware of the controversy surrounding the show -- prior to the addition of Sasheer Zamata in 2014, there hadn’t been a black female cast member since Maya Rudolph left in 2007 -- Cleghorne didn’t attend the 40th with the intention of teaching the new cast a lesson on diversity. “They don’t need me to lecture them -- that’s not my place,” she says.
“They know what it’s like to be a black woman in comedy,” Cleghorne says of meeting current cast members, Zamata and Leslie Jones, as well as Rudolph. “I just wanted to say good job.”
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For Cleghorne, the evening was a “rite of passage” for the former star who hasn’t returned to Studio 8H in two decades. “When you leave the liminal stages, you move on but you remember that everything is in preparation for something else,” Cleghorne says of the closing the chapter on SNL.