On Monday, Saturday Night Live filled out its cast with a black female comedian, Sasheer Zamata. The gender and race of the new featured player wasn't a surprise — facing pointed criticism over its lack of diversity, SNL held ostensibly secret auditions for a black woman throughout the fall, with 12 finalists brought to Studio 8H for a final round in mid-December. Zamata's name had been suggested by helpful critics.
It's easy to see why. Zamata, a 27-year-old Indianapolis native, has been performing sketch comedy with the Upright Citizens Brigade — former comedy home to Amy Poehler and Horatio Sanz — since arriving in New York in 2009. As all SNL cast members must, Zamata can do impersonations. (Watch above) No doubt she will be asked to reprise her Michelle Obama alongside Jay Pharoah's President Obama sometime after her Jan. 18 debut.
"Impressions, for better or worse, have been SNL's bread and butter for decades; pretty much everyone in the cast needs to do them," says TIME's James Poniewozik. "But what will make Zamata's hire worthwhile, for her and for the show, is making sure that she gets to play great, memorable written characters who aren't black female celebrities as well." Poniewozik's right. And Zamata has that covered, too.
Along with her Upright Citizens Brigade work, Zamata has gained some national attention through appearances on Comedy Central's Inside Amy Schumer, FX's Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, an Apple ad, and web videos for College Humor. She also has her own web series, Pursuit of Sexiness. In this clip, she plays it straight:
If that scene from Inside Amy Schumer would fit seamlessly in any SNL episode, the following story from Chioke Nassor's Storytime shows Zamata's range as an inventive actress and storyteller (mildly NSFW language). The talent is there if SNL can tap into it:
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How I lost all my money
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Ismail Kadare's 6 favorite books
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- The religious right isn't retreating — it's reforming
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- 10 things you need to know today: December 21, 2014
Subscribe to the Week