For two years, Finesse Mitchell had a great time being a cast member on Saturday Night Live. The problem is he was on the show for three years.
The Atlanta-born actor and comedian joined the cast in 2003 (along with fellow African-American comic actor Kenan Thompson, who remains on the show), filling the urban void left when Tracy Morgan bid adieu the previous season. For a while, Mitchell handled the pressure of a weekly live show well, acting in sketches as well as generating material that ensured he would appear on the show.
"Sometimes it's like Survivor or something like that," says Mitchell, on the phone from Los Angeles. "Which way are you gonna go this week, with this particular host coming in, and which cast members will you use in your sketch?"
But in 2005, Bill Hader, Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig joined the already-large cast and immediately began making strong impressions.
"Sometimes, you get stuck in the middle," says Mitchell. "And I felt like as soon as the new guys came in, that's when it got harder and harder to get something on."
When producer Lorne Michaels had to make cuts before the 2006–07 season, Mitchell knew his fate. He's not bitter about it.
"Overall, it was a great experience," he says. "I think people on the outside looking in try to figure out the 'SNL process.' But it's really a bunch of people coming together, trying to do a live show within three days and then trying to do it again the next week, then again the next week before you go on break. And the creativity just doesn't hit every time, every week."
Mitchell had his stand-up career to fall back on. Before he became a Not Ready for Prime Time Player, he was hitting clubs around the country and racking up multiple appearances on BET's ComicView and other stand-up shows. He released his own stand-up DVD in 2006, Finesse Mitchell: Snap Famous.
He also briefly wrote a relationship advice column for Essence, which led to him penning his own book, Your Girlfriends Only Know So Much: A Brother's Take on Dating and Mating for Sistas, in 2007. Keep in mind this was before Steve Harvey, who would be his successor at Essence when Mitchell stopped writing the column, and became a more successful book-writing relationship expert himself. Does Mitchell feel Harvey stole his thunder?
"Back in the day when it first happened, I was like, 'Dang, dude took my book idea!'" he remembers. "And then, after that, I let it go. I'm always moving on to the next project."
Along with developing his own movie and TV projects, Mitchell just wrapped another season of the Disney Channel show A.N.T. Farm, on which he has a recurring role as an overprotective parent. He's shopping another stand-up special, One-Man Monster, around to cable channels before he releases it on DVD in the fall.
He has no qualms praising his own stand-up shows. "I am one of the funniest, laugh-out-loud, make-you-cry, make-you-pee-a-little-bit stand-up comics out there," he says, "and I can't wait for everybody to know it."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Prime time player."