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

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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.

 .

   

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.

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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