When NBC’s Saturday Night Live debuted in 1975, the show changed the way audiences were entertained. With a star-studded cast, Garrett Morris made history as the first Black cast member for the show- a feat that many failed to accomplish.
In a candid interview with CBS, Morris reflected on his journey to SNL. He did not originally sign on to be an actor. Morris was originally hired as a screenwriter after Lorne Michaels read his play, The Secret Place. Morris recalled his friend and producer of said play, informing him [Morris] that SNL needed a Black screen writer. Morris procured Black talent such as Bill Duke, Trazana Beverley and Obba Babatunde to audition for the “Not Ready For Primetime Players”. However, none was successful. When Belushi, Radner, Curtin and Laraine Newman saw Cooley High, they insisted Morris audition. After Michaels saw the movie for himself, Morris was asked to audition.
Morris auditioned with Radner, a key part he attributes to his employment as a cast member. He recalled auditioning in improv as a taxi driver. Radner was the passenger who Morris ripped off as he drove her from JFK to New York City. At the end of the audition, he was able to join the ranks of the Not Ready For Primetime Players.
Morris spoke about the learning curve being steep. “My improvisational skills were honed in a Black theater workshop, in which we did a lot of stuff that was not about comedy, but about serious problems, like drug addiction, teen pregnancy, violence in the street, and racial violence,” he reflected.”One of my other problems, in the very beginning, was that I was a playwright who was used to writing things that lasted a couple hours and not stuff that was 30 seconds, which most skits are — or a minute or two minutes at most.”
Morris went on to speak about his idea that was stolen being used and the gradual integration of a Black character on SNL. “In the first five years, sometimes I was there, sometimes I was not. But you could be white as snow, and you still had to fight for your place on the show.”
Morris credited Chevy Chase for creating the segment ” News for the Hard of Hearing” as a pathway for him to have parts on the show.