Kearney shared the news of their history-making casting in a post on their Instagram account Thursday night: “Head exploding!! Thanks for all the love everyone.”
Considered a rising star, Kearney is best known for their role as Fern Dannely in the Amazon Prime series “A League of Their Own.” In addition to their acting, the Los Angeles-based Kearney has traveled the country as a stand-up comic and helps produce a monthly outdoor stand-up show called “The Big One.” Marcello Hernandez, Michael Longfellow and Devon Walker were also revealed to be joining the show, which premieres Oct. 1.
SNL has a long but patchy history of LGBTQ cast members. Terry Sweeney and Danitra Vance both made history in 1985, with Sweeney as his first out gay cast member and Vance as his first lesbian cast member, although she was not out at the time, the Advocate reported. Both left after one season.
Another out queer person would not join the cast until 2012, when Kate McKinnon became the show’s first out woman to do so. The show has never had an out transgender person as part of its ensemble and, as recently as 2021, has been accused by viewers of airing “homophobic” and “transphobic” jokes.
Kearney is joining the cast at a time of major transition. Seven members of the award-winning ensemble said they would not be returning for the show’s upcoming season, including some of its most high-profile names.
McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Kyle Mooney and Pete Davidson bade goodbye to the show in May during its season finale. In September, three more cast members said they would not be returning: Melissa Villaseñor, the show’s first Latina cast member, Alex Moffat and Aristotle Athari, the first Middle Eastern man to join the sketch ensemble. Longtime SNL producer Lindsay Shookus also announced she would be leaving the series in August.
Earlier this week, creator and SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels told reporters backstage at the 74th Emmy Awards that the upcoming season “will be a transition year, and the change years are always difficult.” Michaels, 77, suggests that the coronavirus pandemic may have contributed to some of the cast departures: “I think people might’ve left earlier, but there was no place to go.”
But he added that it is an “exciting” time for the show, which has been riding high in both ratings and critical acclaim in recent years. According to the Hollywood Reporter, its 2020-2021 season was the most-watched entertainment program on television for adults ages 18 to 49. On Monday, SNL took home its sixth consecutive Emmy for variety outstanding sketch series.
“There are new people, and things are changing, and a different generation comes to the show,” said Michaels.