University of Iowa student named one of four SNL Scholars

Alexi Bolden, a graduating senior, will take comedy classes through Chicago’s Second City, and then have the opportunity to audition for the late Saturday Night Live Television Program.



Mary Hartel, News Reporter

Alexi Bolden fell in love with comedy in the fifth grade, watching the season 34 cast of Saturday Night Live tell jokes and perform improv before the world. Now, she will get the chance to follow in their footsteps.

A senior at the University of Iowa, Bolden was recently named one of four diversity scholarship recipients of the popular television program which reviewed nearly 1,300 applications. The scholarship comes with the opportunity to study with Second City for two years and then audition for SNL.

Bolden said that watching cast members like Bill Hader, Seth Meyers, Kristin Wig, and Fred Armisen act absolutely ridiculous and commit to their roles inspired her.

Joining their ranks became one of her wildest dreams, she said.

“I’ve always been, let’s say, weird — and okay with being weird,” Bolden said.

Bolden, a theater major with a minor in African American Studies, said she has worked as a center programming assistant at the Afro American Cultural Center, and performs in the Janice Improv group, an all-female improv group in Iowa City.

A Cedar Rapids native, Bolden said she initially planned to pursue theater and acting after college, but during a Janice improv tournament about a year ago, she decided she also wanted to pursue comedy.

“I had this awakening — and I was like, who cares about literally anything? And so, I stopped judging myself on stage as an actress and as an improviser,” Bolden said. “So, it just felt that much more freeing, and so when I went to that junior year of improv, I had the best time of my life.”

She started getting more serious about pursuing a career in comedy during quarantine, Bolden said, as graduation approached and she worried about security in an arts career. She heard about the opportunity through a mentor and decided to go for it.

Bolden said the classes have already began virtually. She plans to move to Chicago, where Second City is located, after graduation.

The scholarship is an attempt between two major comedy forces in the U.S. to foster more diverse comedians, Bolden said.

Having been raised in a fun household, Bolden said she was always able to be honest and true to herself. But while growing up, she said she slowly started to understand more how society viewed her.

“Every Black child has their first jarring experience with how the world sees you,” Bolden said.

For Bolden, this was when she learned of the death of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown at the hands of police and heard some of her peers saying they deserved it.

“I would say there’s a sadness in being able to realize that you see things clearer or differently than other people,” Bolden said. “So, make it funny.”

Bolden said talking about her truths came up again this summer, when racial tension was triggering instances for people to say things such as “go get a Black friend.”

“I was like, what, do you not know how you sound? Like ‘Oh, go grab the nearest Black person,’ Like we’re a deal on the clearance rack,” Bolden said. “Like, ‘Yeah, buy one, get one free.’ ‘Just go get a Black friend.’ Like we’re waiting for you to come ask us to be your friend, type of thing.”

Noticing the truth and then delivering how you see it and your take on it is an important part of comedy, Bolden said.

Bolden said she prides herself in being her own brand and telling her own truths.

“I only get somewhere by being me, by living my answers,” Bolden said. “I don’t want to try to be anybody else or hold somebody to like a standard of perfection or something that I want to reach. I just … I want to do the best I can do.”

UI Associate Professor of Instruction in the Department of Theater Arts Mary Mayo, who has worked with Bolden in class and coached her in several plays, said Bolden has a unique and special presence.

She said Bolden is eager to learn, but also maintains an open-mindedness and can put all the instruction and coaching she’s received together to make it work for herself.

“I think Alexi will have a huge impact at SNL because of her fierce sense of what it means to be a good storyteller, and her deep understanding of the complications of being a human being,” Mayo said.

Coordinator for the Pride House Emma Welch said she got to know Bolden through collaboration among the different cultural centers on campus.

When Welch found out that Bolden had been named one of the scholars, she said she was both elated and not at all surprised, referring to her as “smart funny.”

“Alexi most certainly deserves all the praise, all of the flowers. She’s funny and thoughtful and mindful,” Welch said. “She always puts her best self forward, and always strives to not only grow, not only go through personal growth, but she also strives to facilitate growth of her environment.”

To have Bolden’s face out there as an example of someone who is contributing to comedy in this big way is huge, Welch said, because it’s demonstrating representation of people who are often overlooked or not given the credit they deserve.

“Diversity is huge within all pop culture spaces, including comedy,” Welch said. “Alexi is really special, and we’re all very lucky, and the SNL scholarship is very lucky to have that type of representation in their realm.”

Welch said Bolden is not only funny but humble too, and she stands in the spotlight with poise and grace.

UI senior Zahra Aalabdulrasul, Bolden’s best friend for nearly six years and her coworker at the Afro House, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that there is no one more deserving for the scholarship.

“When I found out Alexi was named one of the SNL scholars, I felt what can only be described as pure joy,” Aalabdulrasul wrote. “For as long as I have known her, I have seen the raw, unique talent that she possesses. I knew it was only a matter of time before the rest of the world saw it, too. My heart is continuously bursting with pride for her and I am excited to see what lies in store.”