When I heard that Sasheer Zamata, an alumna of my alma mater, became the newest cast member of “Saturday Night Live” last January, I could not have been more excited—until I found out that she was returning to University of Virginia to perform during her college tour.
Among the gems Zamata offered up during the show were an embarrassing story about her mom’s first meeting with Lorne Michaels and the surprisingly un-sexy reality of breaking a bed during a hookup. Zamata gracefully weaves jokes and narratives out of mundane daily realities that are relatable yet sparkling with sly observational humor. Zamata’s ability to spin reductive black stereotypes about hair or absent fathers into surprising and thought-provoking stand-up struck me as being particularly valuable. While listening to Zamata engage larger ongoing conversations about race, I had the sense that in her comedic contribution, important cultural work was being done. For example, after a joke climaxed in a comment about absent fathers, Zamata ended by quipping, “My dad’s actually sitting right there,” and pointing to her father, who was sitting in the second row. By no means do I mean to suggest that Zamata is THE voice of black women everywhere, but she is a very intelligent voice and a very funny voice, and thanks to years of hard work, more people than ever before are finally listening up.
Of her transition into the SNL cast as SNL’s first black woman in six years, Zamata deadpanned, “It was a big deal that I was hired—you know, I was the new black girl…the makeup department—I can tell that they’re super excited that I’m there because they get to use products that they haven’t used in like, half a decade.” From there, she grew the joke into a story about a white ex-boyfriend who bought brown sheets to minimize the stains from her makeup.
After about 40 minutes of standup, which she concluded with a bittersweet story about being hit by a car during her time at University of Virginia, Zamata opened the show to questions from the audience. In describing her journey into comedy, Zamata emphasized the importance of authentic interest over a desire for fame, saying, “I found UCB—Upright Citizen Brigade Theater—and just stayed there. I was doing it for fun, but toward the end of the year in 2009, I was like, ‘Oh, this is it. This is where it’s at. These are my people and I understand them and I want to just do this.’ And later I figured out I could make money from it.”
Zamata’s anecdotes of finding a career that resonated with her interests and talents ended up being my favorite part of the show. Like most aspiring writers, I’ve spent a fair amount of time considering whether moving to New York is very brave or very foolish, so it was encouraging to hear a success story. That being said, Zamata didn’t disguise the early mornings, long days, and myriad of jobs she took to stay afloat—living out a dream sounded unglamorous more often than not. Still, she emphasized that pursuing a passion—thoughtfully, with hard work and determination—is worthwhile. Because after all, otherwise, what’s the point?
What’s your favorite Sasheer Zamata sketch? Tweet us @litdarling!