Issa Rae Wasn't the First Black Person to Host 'SNL' — but Here's Who Was

Issa Rae joked that she was the first Black person to host 'SNL' on Oct. 17. But who actually were the first Black man and woman to do so?

Michelle Stein - Author

Feb. 23 2021, Updated 2:38 p.m. ET

Issa rae

If you regularly tune into NBC's Saturday Night Live, then chances are you've noticed the comedy show is often lacking in diversity. Although there have been slight improvements through the years in this department, the percentage of Black cast members, hosts, and musical guests, has still remained relatively low. But who was the first Black person to host SNL?

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Issa Rae joked that she was the first Black person to host 'SNL.'

Issa Rae hosted an episode of SNL that aired on Oct. 17, 2020, and during her monologue the actress/writer/producer made a joke that referenced the NBC show's lack of diversity.

issa rae snl
Source: NBC
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"I can't believe I just walked down the stairs — the same stairs — as the comedy legends like Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler, and Molly Shannon. And my family, all of our inside jokes are from SNL. This is incredible," she began her bit.

Issa continued, "And actually I'm so scared right now; I'm scared as hell, I'm not going to lie. I might throw up. But I'm going to hold it down because I'm the first Black woman to host SNL, y'all."

After the live audience members clapped heartily for her, she added, "OK wait, that's actually not true. Y'all really clapped ... What if I just kept lying to y'all all night? Half of y'all wouldn't even notice."

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Source: SNL/YouTube

Who was the first Black person to host 'SNL'?

Naturally, Issa's joking claim that she was the first Black woman to host SNL begged the question: Who was actually the first Black person to have the honor, and when, exactly, did that happen?

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On Dec. 13, 1975 — which was when Season 1, Episode 7, aired — comedian Richard Pryor became the first Black person to host SNL.

During that episode, Richard took part in a skit with Chevy Chase called "Word Association," during which he was interviewing for a job as a janitor with Chevy. Another skit Richard participated in on SNL was a racially-charged parody of The Exorcist.

Richard also took his longtime girlfriend, Kathrine McKee, with him to New York City, where she made a brief appearance alongside him on SNL. Just a couple years later, he had his own variety show The Richard Pryor Show, which premiered in 1977 on NBC.

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richard pryor first black host snl
Source: NBC

Cicely Tyson was actually the first Black woman to host 'SNL'

As far as who the first Black woman was to host the show, that didn't happen until four years after Richard had the honor; Cicely Tyson was the first Black woman to Host SNL, and she did so in 1979.

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first black woman host snl
Source: Getty Images

The actress was known for her role as Rebecca Morgan in Sounder, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. She also won two Emmys (and a nomination for a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role) for her acting in the TV movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.

And now you know.

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