'SNL' welcomes another University alum

Sasheer Zamata offers diversity, sharp humor to cast

The University community prides itself on the success of its alumni. It’s hard not to, seeing as Woodrow Wilson, Robert F. Kennedy, Katie Couric and Tina Fey have all walked the Lawn. Now, Wahoos have another alumna to be proud of: Sasheer Zamata, a 2008 College graduate who was recently cast as a featured performer on “Saturday Night Live.”

Zamata joins the cast in the wake of criticism regarding the show’s striking lack of African-American cast members, particularly women. The show hasn’t featured a black female performer since Maya Rudolph’s departure in 2007.

Last fall, writers addressed the issue using their distinctive satirical tone and poked fun at their own shortcomings. In a November skit, actress Kerry Washington frequently changed costumes in order to simultaneously play Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Beyoncé. At the end of the skit, a voice-over apologized for the show’s lack of black actresses. The performance garnered many laughs, but also stirred a debate about the show’s pressing need for racial diversity.

Zamata brings with her an “intelligent, witty, disciplined and versatile” personality, said Drama Prof. Richard Warner, Zamata’s academic advisor when she was a student. “[She had] a radiant personality and a highly mischievous sense of humor,” he said.

At the University, Zamata performed with First Year Players, Spectrum Theater and co-founded an on-Grounds improv group, Amuse Bouche. She also revived an African-American theater ensemble, the Paul Robeson Players.

Zamata moved to New York City in 2009 to perform with the Upright Citizens Brigade, a well-renowned improvisational and sketch comedy group. She has also performed on Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer,” MTV’s “Hey Girl” and ABC’s “Would You Fall for That?”

“Her characters were always bold, original and at times provocative,” Warner said. “She does wonderful impressions and she is a wickedly funny, off-beat comedy writer.”

Zamata did not play a notable African-American figure in her “SNL” debut Jan. 18. Her roles included a background singer, an embarrassed 13 year-old girl and a rebellious high school student.

Warner compared Zamata to fellow Wahoo and “SNL” cast member Tina Fey, a 1992 graduate. “Tina and Sasheer are social critics,” Warner said. “Their humor is satirical, grounded in their vision and experience of what it’s like to be a woman — [in Zamata’s case] a black woman — in America in 2014.”

Published January 26, 2014 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau

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