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Sasheer Zamata: A New Reason to Laugh on 'Saturday Night Live (Makes Her Debut Tonight!)

Shadow and Act By Nijla Mumin | Shadow and Act January 18, 2014 at 11:09PM

Remember when you didn’t have to protest to see a black woman comedian on television? Watching Ericka Alexander as Maxine on Living Single, Kim Wayans on In Living Color, and Debra Wilson on Mad TV may seem like luxuries now.
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Remember when you didn’t have to protest to see a black woman comedian on television? Watching Erika Alexander as Maxine on Living Single, Kim Wayans on In Living Color, and Debra Wilson on Mad TV may seem like luxuries now.

As we know, for the last six years, there’s been an absence of women of color comedians, specifically black women on Saturday Night Live; a void so apparent that even actress Kerry Washington spoofed the disparity when she hosted the show in November. Switching between Oprah and Michelle Obama impersonations in the same sketch, she openly addressed the absence, which was bolstered by widespread criticism of the show and its creator, Lorne Michaels.

Announced this week, Sasheer Zamata, will be the new black female comedian on Saturday Night Live; the first since Maya Rudolph left the show in 2007. Though she may be a newcomer to many, her bio boasts an extensive list of credits and writing that go beyond surface portrayals of well-known black entertainers and Michelle Obama, and into more nuanced areas of race, gender, sex, and good ol’ satire.

Originally from Indianapolis, she attended the University of Virginia where she obtained a degree in drama. She later moved to New York City and performed with the Upright Citizen’s Brigade (UCB) Theater. In an October interview with Man Cave Daily, she said: “I was auditioning for Off-Broadway plays, but I kept going to UCB. I knew of UCB because they came to my school to perform. I was watching them and thinking man wherever they came from that’s where I want to go. Bobby Moynihan was one of the performers and someone asked him, ”how to get a career in comedy?” Bobby replied, “Go to NYC, go to UCB and work really, really hard.”

Her performance and writing credits include The New York Times, Comedy Central’s Comics to Watch Showcase, The Great American Comedy Festival, and Vulture, among many others. She will make her SNL debut on January 18th when Drake hosts the show. In good spirit, she even spoofed the announcement of her hiring.

Not a stranger to online content, Zamata is the co-writer and co-star of an ongoing Youtube series, Pursuit of Sexiness with fellow black comedian Nicole Byer. One of Variety’s Top Webseries of 2013, it follows the two women as they seek “good men, easy money, and free meals.” Incredibly candid, the show explores the ups and downs of sexual relationships, including notes left in vaginas and tandem-fucking, all without being apologetic. Some have compared it to Lena Dunham’s Girls, but it may be funnier.

She also appears in various comedic sketches online, many of which she wrote. These are also the strongest pieces, and give great insight into why she was selected for the show. In one skit, she describes an incident of street harassment, and explores the perspective of the male flasher in a hilarious stand-up routine. It’s a dual-perspective narrative that both pokes fun at these common incidents, and also illustrates their potential danger. She’s got a knack for direct storytelling, as seen here:

Another highlight includes a hilarious black superheroes sketch, detailing the resistance to the idea and existence of black superheroes, especially when it comes to saving white people. The confessional interview style, homemade costumes, and references to X-Men’s Storm and Martin Luther King, Jr. make it a great commentary on race.

This Beyonce lullaby is also hilarious in its bare bones approach to motherhood- the fake baby, that photograph of Jay-Z on the wall, and Sasheer's Beyonce-like high notes.

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There’s a lot here to laugh at, from a comedian who doesn’t revert to dated ideas of blackness to deliver. She also doesn’t negate race, exploring how stereotypes are perpetuated by a white casting director in an audition about clams. I laughed until I was crying on this one. We can only hope that she is able to maintain this versatility in style and subject matter on SNL. 

Her material made me think of Issa Rae, Maya Rudolph, my friends, awkwardness, questioning whiteness while poking fun at it, all wrapped up in a black woman and an awesome afro. I am so down for Sasheer.

This article is related to: Sasheer Zamata


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