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'Saturday Night Live' hires first out Black lesbian cast member

Punkie Johnson, a “brutally honest Southern lesbian,” will join LGBTQ cast members Kate McKinnon and Bowen Yang for the gayest season of "SNL" yet.
2019 Clusterfest -  Larkin Comedy Club - Day 1
Punkie Johnson performs onstage at the 2019 Clusterfest on June 21, 2019 in San Francisco.Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic for Clusterfest file

When the 46th season of “Saturday Night Live” premieres on Oct. 3, the NBC comedy show will include its first out Black LGBTQ cast member, and second out lesbian cast member: Punkie Johnson.

Johnson — a New Orleans native and self-described “brutally honest Southern lesbian” — is a triple threat with a background that includes standup comedy, acting and writing. She has performed regularly at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles and was featured as a new face at last year’s Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal.

Johnson has also appeared in a variety of TV shows, web series and short films, including the Netflix series “Space Force.” She had role in the feature film “The Ride,” which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and she played a supernatural lesbian bar patron in the 2019 “Dance Biter” sketch in HBO’s comedy series “A Black Lady Sketch Show.”

In an interview with the film website Film Courage, Johnson described herself as a playful “child with adult bills.”

“Everything is a joke to me,” she said in the 2016 interview. “I was and still is the person that jokes and laughs in the midst of despair. I would always make up these crazy, wild funny stories and others kids at school would actually believe me. I had and still have a big imagination. I am still a child.”

Johnson added that as a child she would always get in trouble while attending Catholic school for telling inappropriate knock-knock jokes to nuns and recalled “mooning a member of the usher board at the church.”

While Johnson will be the first out Black lesbian cast member of “Saturday Night Live,” she won’t be the first overall. Danitra Vance, who was on the show in 1985 and 1986, has that distinction, though she was not out publicly at the time. And while Kate McKinnon is recognized as the sketch show’s first out lesbian cast member, Denny Dillon, who was on the show for one season in the early ‘80s, was actually the first overall, though she did not come out publicly until later.

In addition to Johnson, “Saturday Night Live” announced two additional cast members: Lauren Holt, an actor, comedian, singer and improviser, and Andrew Dismukes, who has been an “SNL” staff writer since season 43.

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