Natasha Rothwell ‘didn’t feel seen’ in SNL’s writer’s room before joining ‘Insecure’

"Putting my hand up was me wanting to know if my voice could be heard. It was Pavlovian for me," Rothwell recently told the L.A. Times

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Actress and comedian Natasha Rothwell was the first writer hired for Insecure before creator and star Issa Rae told her she was best suited to play the outspoken and hilarious Kelli on the hit HBO show, now in its fifth and final season.

But 41-year-old Rothwell, who described herself as “deeply introverted” during a recent interview with the L.A. Times, also revealed she didn’t always feel as empowered as her typically candid television persona would suggest.

Natasha Rothwell
Natasha Rothwell attends the Los Angeles premiere of the new HBO Limited Series “The White Lotus” at Bel-Air Bay Club on July 07, 2021 in Pacific Palisades, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images,)

Insecure showrunner Prentice Penny, who also spoke with the L.A. Times, recalled telling Rothwell she didn’t need permission to speak during writing room sessions for the show.

“I remember saying, ‘Girl, you don’t have to raise your hand like that. Why do you keep raising your hand? Just say it,’” Penny told the newspaper. “And she’s like, ‘Well, because at my last show, I wasn’t allowed to speak. I had to kind of ask, ‘Can I speak?’”

Rothwell’s ‘last show’ before Insecure was Saturday Night Live, where she briefly worked as a writer in 2014.

“I didn’t feel seen, always,” Rothwell told the L.A. Times of her time with SNL. “Putting my hand up was me wanting to know if my voice could be heard. It was Pavlovian for me.”

SNL was searching for a Black woman to join its cast about eight years ago when Rothwell auditioned for the show, according to the LA Times. TV Guide reports that NBC’s sketch comedy mainstay had gone six consecutive years without casting a Black woman when the cast of the show’s newest season was unveiled in 2013.

The heat turned up after SNL veteran Jay Pharoah, who left in 2016, previously told theGrio that the show should hire Black actress Darmirra Brunson, who previously played Drew on Tyler Perry‘s sitcom Love Thy Neighbor.

“She’s amazing. She needs to be on SNL. I said it. And I believe they need to follow up with it like they said they were going to do last year,” Pharoah said in 2013. “It’s one of those things that’s hard. … Some people choke up. Some people burn their bridges by saying things they shouldn’t say either. You just have to be very political about your delivery, what you say, and your performance. You’ve got to be on point. Everybody has to like you and want you to win. If they don’t like you, it’s a wrap.”

Former SNL cast member Sasheer Zamata ultimately won the role Rothwell tried out for, but the show’s producers hired Rothwell as a writer for a time, the L.A. Times reported.

Insecure Rothwell
“Insecure” co-star and producer Natasha Rothwell has signed a multi-year overall deal with ABC Signature to develop new projects for television via her Big Hattie Productions. (HBO)

“I didn’t want folks to think I got in to satisfy a requirement,” Rothwell told the newspaper. “I wanted to show that I belonged. I wanted to be at the table at ‘SNL’ and I wanted them to think, ‘F—, she’s funny. I like what she has to say. And I see her and, oh, that joke is great.’ That’s a lot to carry. And I think that’s also an expression of privilege for white writers: They don’t know what it’s like to walk into a room and feel like the audition is not over.”

SNL and NBCUniversal did not immediately respond Monday to requests for comment from theGrio.

Since finding fame on Insecure, Rothwell has been cast to play Belinda Lindsey on HBO’s new series The White Lotus, which premiered in July.

She’s also reprising her role as Rachel in the upcoming sequel to the 2020 box office hit Sonic The Hedgehog, which hits theaters next spring, and has also been cast in Wonka, the currently filming prequel to the 1971 version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

In April, Rothwell’s production company, Big Hattie Productions, signed a multi-year deal with ABC Signature to develop new projects for the studio, according to Deadline.

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