About Time

01.06.14

Finally! ‘Saturday Night Live’ Hires Sasheer Zamata, First Black Female Cast Member in 5 Years

There’s been no black female cast member on the show since Maya Rudolph left. Here’s everything you need to know about Sasheer Zamata, the woman just hired to change that.

“Live from New York, it’s…” finally a woman who’s not Maya Rudolph who can play Michelle Obama on Saturday Night Live.

According to Deadline, Sasheer Zamata, who has trained at the Upright Citizens Brigade, has been hired to join the cast of Saturday Night Live, becoming the first female black cast member since the Maya Rudolph left the late-night sketch show five years ago. Reports of secret auditions to find a performer to specifically fit the almost-offensively missing demographic became not-so-secret in December. Zamata was one of at least three women to get a callback later in the month. Her first live episode will be the Jan. 18 outing, featuring Drake as host and musical guest.

SNL’s lack of diversity has incited rumblings of discontent for decades—there have been only four women of color on the series in its 38-year history. But the rumblings erupted into roars late last year when Kenan Thompson—the male actor who, upsettingly, is the one most often tasked with playing black female characters—insinuated in an interview that the reason there are no female performers of color on the show is that there are no qualified candidates.

An aghast blogosphere instantly took issue with Thompson’s comments, intensifying the spotlight on SNL’s diversity issue. How could a series that skewers modern politics and pop culture have six actors on deck to play Matthew McConaughey but none to play the First Lady of the United States? Baffled by that tidbit of information, the offended hordes not only argued that there are plenty of qualified candidates but also helpfully offered up solutions. Zamata was at the top of almost all of those lists.

Zamata graduated three years ago from the University of Virginia, has been performing at the UCB Theatre in New York, and has already logged an impressive resume of sketch appearances—both on-screen and in live theater.

One video written by Zamata originally in 2012 caught fire again last month when Lena Dunham tweeted her seal of approval.

In it, she tells two sides of a narrative in which a woman is flashed: the victim and the flasher’s. Her hilarious reflection on a supposedly traumatizing incident? "I've had worse encounters with dicks before. This guy was at least polite. He called me 'Miss.' He asked me if I needed a walk home. He double-checked. He took out his dick, I said no, and he put it away. It was actually kind of respectful, if anything."

She appeared in the brilliant first season of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer in a sketch about Schumer’s inability to tell black employees at a clothing store apart.

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She co-stars in a web series called Pursuit of Sexiness, the series’ own description of which is absolutely perfect: “Best friends and troublemakers Nicky and Sheer are broke, single, and (adorably!) self-absorbed. They’re looking for good men, easy money and free meals but would be satisfied to break even and find a guy who doesn’t prematurely ejaculate.”

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She’s also appeared on FX’s Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, MTV’s Hey Girl, sketches for CollegeHumor and Jest, and an Apple commercial.

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Back in November, SNL shrewdly skewered its diversity problem with its Kerry Washington-hosted outing. If the ringer Washington was put through in the episode’s cold open is any indication—she was tasked, as the only black female at Studio 8H, to play Michelle Obama, Oprah, and Beyoncé—Zamata could be looking at an exhausting run with the show. Here’s the self-aware message that scrolled on the screen during the sketch:

“The producers at Saturday Night Live would like to apologize to Kerry Washington for the number of black women she will be asked to play tonight. We made these request both because Ms. Washington is an actress of considerable range and talent, but also because SNL doesn’t currently have a black woman in the cast. As for the latter, we realize this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the near future...unless, of course, we fall in love with another white guy first.”

Turns out Lorne Michaels warmed up to Zamata before another potential McConaughey-portrayer had the chance. Here’s how her former collaborator, W. Kamau Bell, forsees her first day on the job going:

That’s gonna be a lot of wigs. Best of luck, Sasheer.