In all the excitement about SNL finally hiring another black woman, we can’t overlook an important detail: New featured player Sasheer Zamata is not just an African-American lady. She’s a seasoned comedian with four years of professional experience, and she has an individual identity — as well as, you know, a name. (Ahem, headlines like this.)
So! Now that SNL has finally solved all its diversity problems forever and ever, let’s take a minute to put that issue aside and focus instead on Zamata herself. Here are a few things you should know about her before her big debut Jan. 18:
1. Comedy people dig her
Even if Zamata hadn’t been hired by SNL, chances are you would have learned her name soon enough: She’s already opened for fellow rising star (and former SNL writer) John Mulaney, made multiple videos for UCB Comedy, and appeared on both Inside Amy Schumer and the late, lamented Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell. If those guys like her, it’s pretty safe to say you should too.
2. She’s also good friends with SNL auditioner Nicole Byer
They’ve got a great webseries called “Pursuit of Sexiness” — one of Variety‘s 10 favorite webseries of the year — that will make you wish Lorne Michaels had hired both of them. Maybe next year?
3. If you flash her, she’ll spin a comedy routine out of the incident
And it’ll win the approval of Lena Dunham. Neat!
4. She’s a triple threat who also writes and directs
Check out her behind-the-camera skills in this UCB Comedy video, also starring Nicole Byer. (So yeah, another thing to note: Don’t ever ask if she can “be blacker.”)
5. One time, she had a panic attack while working at Disney World
Gotta love a performer’s “my weird old job” stories.
6. She’s got a history with NBC and SNL, sorta
In 2011, Zamata was a finalist for NBCUniversal and the UCB Theatre’s Diversity Scholarship. (According to the Daily Mail, she actually beat out Diversity Scholarship winner Natasha Rothwell for the SNL job.) Zamata has also co-starred in an episode of The Morning After, a webseries by Above Average — an online comedy network owned by Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video Entertainment.
7. She’s not a born impressionist
In a character reel video that’s since been made private — curse you, fast-acting NBC goons! — Zamata tries her hand at famous figures like Michelle Obama, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and Eartha Kitt, as well as a few original characters. Her impersonations are fine, but not as note-perfect as those of, say, Jay Pharoah or Darrell Hammond — Zamata’s Michelle, for example, ends up sounding a little more like Barack than the first lady. With practice, of course, she’ll no doubt improve. And her decision to play “Angela Bassett Hound” instead of a more straightforward version of the actress was pretty inspired.
8. She can, however, capture the essence of Beyoncé
Who cares if the voice isn’t an exact replica — this stuff’s funny.