Owen Wilson, Jennifer Lopez and Christina Aguilera drew laughs from a crowd of students and community members Sept. 8, but only one woman stood on stage.
Melissa Villaseñor, a comedian and Saturday Night Live (SNL) featured performer, delivered her celebrity impression-driven stand-up set at the annual University Program Board (UPB) Fall Comedian event in the Musco Center for the Arts. She opened with her own voice, and a drawn-out “Wow,” as she admired the crowd, emphasizing her distinctive drawl.
“It’s a quirky voice. It sounds like I crochet yarn and also eat it,” Villaseñor said.
Villaseñor originally broke into the comedy scene with her passion for voices. She was a semifinalist on season six of America’s Got Talent, and was made a featured performer on SNL in 2016.
The University Program Board selected Villaseñor because it “wanted a female to add diversity,” especially as the first Latina cast member on SNL, said the UPB Panther Nights Director Natalie Snyder.
Snyder said that 700 students reserved tickets to the event. The event cost $13,000, Snyder said, but she declined to disclose to The Panther the amount UPB paid Villaseñor.
Before Villaseñor’s set, some Chapman student comedians took the mic to deliver stand-up sets of their own.
Roanan Keldin, a junior political science major, kicked off the night with her stories of dating in college as a Sagittarius.
Kelly Cripe, a sophomore film production major, took to the stage with stories from her Newsies- inspired summer job as a “pizza editor” at “Shmeeza Shmess” – a tongue-in-cheek nickname for Pizza Press. It was both of the students’ first stand-up performances.
“The entire time before the show when I was backstage, I was interacting with women from UPB and the other comedians,” Keldin said. “I wasn’t afraid or nervous. I just felt a sense of support.”
Keldin and Cripe were followed by comedian Chase Bernstein, who opened for Villaseñor. She interacted with the audience, poking fun at the crowd that responded enthusiastically to her question, “Are there any single men out there?”
The crowd’s laughter was most hearty during Villaseñor’s celebrity impressions, especially her Owen Wilson and Christina Aguilera bits.
Avalon Lafosse, a student at the Orange County School of the Arts, came to the show to give Villaseñor a photo that she drew of Owen Wilson, her favorite of the comedian’s impressions.
Despite Villaseñor’s wide smile and relatable comedy – she often stops to giggle while delivering jokes – the comedian was met with some controversy after joining the cast of SNL a year ago.
When SNL hired Villaseñor in 2016, she deleted 2,000 tweets from her Twitter account, according to the Huffington Post. Some of the tweets included racist comments that were screenshotted by April Reign, the creator of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag.
Snyder said that UPB was aware of the racist tweets, but did not receive any negative feedback from the administration or students when receiving approval to hire Villaseñor.
Several students came to the show for insight into her SNL experience. David Siegel, a junior television writing and production major, hoped to hear about what it’s like to write for the show. Senior creative producing major Karli Holdren expressed her curiosity about what Villaseñor’s set would contain.
“I’m interested to hear the material she chooses for tonight, and if she’s bound by the network at all,” Holdren said.
Villaseñor did not discuss her experiences on SNL at the event, or her racist tweets.
Villaseñor’s representative, Tatiana Sarah, requested to review a list of questions prior to her interview with The Panther.
Negeen Lotfi, a UPB graduate assistant, said that Sarah cancelled the interview because UPB could not guarantee that The Panther would not ask questions regarding the racist tweets or Villaseñor’s status as the first Latina cast member on SNL.