Live From New York

01.07.14

Bobby Moynihan Thinks We'll Love New 'Saturday Night Live' Hire Sasheer Zamata

'Saturday Night Live' announced Monday that Sasheer Zamata will be the show's first female black cast member in five years. Current star Bobby Moynihan reacts to her hiring.

Saturday Night Live star Bobby Moynihan is having sympathy pains. Well, sympathy excitement. He is sympathy overwhelmed.

The SNL funnyman just found out that they officially announced his friend Sasheer Zamata will be joining the cast of the venerable late-night sketch show. “I can’t even imagine what the next three weeks of her life will be like,” he tells me.

Moynihan is promoting the premiere of the FX animated Chozen, on which he plays a gay white rapper trying to break into the mainstream with no industry connections or much talent to speak of. There’ll be much, much more on him and the ribald-insane-funny new series later this week, but it would’ve been a missed opportunity to let the six-year SNL vet leave without getting his reaction to the seventh new SNL hire this season.

“I’ve seen her perform before,” he says about Upright Citzens Brigade-trained Zamata. “She’s the greatest. We’re very, very lucky. Also, I’m just happy to have a friend around.”

Moynihan and Zamata’s connection also goes way back. In fact, Moynihan may be able to take some credit for the soon-to-be breakout star’s initial leap into the New York comedy world. Just before Moynihan made his own SNL debut he performed with UCB at Zamata’s college, the University of Virginia.

“She told me this—I didn’t remember,” Moynihan says. “It’s awful.” She said that she was in the audience and asked Moynihan a question about how to get into comedy. “I had either just gotten SNL or was just about to and I was like, ‘Come with us! Come back to New York with us. We’ll take you. You can live at UCB.’ She said that she laughed. And then a week later she graduated and moved to UCB. She did. And now she’s on SNL. So crazy!”

Zamata’s hiring is more high-profile than the typical new SNL cast member. She’s the first female black performer to be hired for the show in five years, filling a void that began when Maya Rudolph departed. The casting announcement comes after months of debate over SNL’s lack of diversity, set off by comments made by Kenan Thompson about their not being qualified black female performers and then later addressed directly in an episode in which guest host Kerry Washington was forced to play Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Beyoncé all in the same sketch.

“Geesh, people are really going to be picking her apart and scrutinizing that first episode aren’t they?” Moynihan says, shaking his head. “I thought I was nervous for the first episode back. She’s so great, though. So, so smart.”

As for what we can expect from Zamata…she must have a killer Michelle Obama impression, right? “I don’t know if they want me to say it,” Moynihan demures. “I’ll let her show you what she can do in a few weeks.”