IT WAS AN ANGEL: An Interview with Sasheer Zamata

In late March, SNL’s Sasheer Zamata performed at the University of Notre Dame’s Legends Nightclub. We were able to interview Zamata after the show, via e-mail, to talk briefly about her experiences as a comedian and her recent projects.

Adrian Mark Lore

When you first came onstage Thursday, you were surprised about the availability of designated space for comedy shows on a college campus. How was the experience different from performing at comedy clubs in New York City? How was the crowd different?

Sasheer Zamata

Generally everyone in the crowd in an NYC club is over 21 years of age, so I wasn’t used to seeing young adults in a club atmosphere like that. But you guys were a great crowd.

AML

You mentioned your own university experience a few times. How did you navigate your journey as an aspiring comedian?

SZ

I auditioned for the only improv [comedy] team at the time and didn’t make it. I had friends who also didn’t make the team and I thought they were hilarious, so we started our own team and the group is still going at the school. University of Virginia had a self-governed atmosphere where if students felt like there was a void in the environment, we could fill it. And I thought we could use more outlets for comedy, so I created one.

“All the material in my special starts from a place of truth, and usually starts from something personal; then I work outward.”

AML

Tell me about the process of deciding to audition for Saturday Night Live. What catalyzed your decision to audition? What reservations, if any, did you have at the time?

SZ

I was a fan of SNL, Mad TV and Who’s Line is It Anyway when I was younger and always thought it would be cool to be on one of those shows. And then I started doing improv in college, and kept doing it when I moved to NY, and even started doing sketch and stand-up [comedy] shortly thereafter. I was just pursuing all those forms of performance because I thought they were fun; I didn’t realize all that was leading me to a trajectory toward SNL, but I was happy to discover it was going in that direction. I was doing well in stage shows and SNL heard about me from the Artistic Director of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, and then I started the audition process for the show.

AML

Last week you released your first comedy special, “Pizza Mind.” How was your approach different – or not – from your approach to other comedy writing?

SZ

All the material in my special starts from a place of truth, and usually starts from something personal; then I work outward. It’s different than when I write sketches because that’s usually based on something that’s happened on the news rather than something that happened to me.

Sasheer Zamata’s debut stand-up comedy special, “Pizza Mind,” was released March 30th

AML

During your show at Legends, you mentioned that you enjoy discussing racial issues when you perform – but also talking about your mother. What went into deciding which issues or experiences to include on this particular special?

SZ

I just talk about what interests me at the time. Sometimes it’s race, sometimes it’s my mother, sometimes it’s something totally different — whatever strikes my fancy at that time.

AML

How do current events affect the way you personally approach comedy, if at all?

SZ

A lot of material in my set comes from things that anger me or confuse me, and there’s a lot of fodder for that in current events.

AML

Moreover, some are saying that comedy is needed now more than ever, given the current political climate. What’s your take on the matter?

SZ

Laughter is a release and it can be cathartic. Some people may feel like they need that right now, so I’m glad that they’re looking to comedy to get that.

AML

To pivot for a moment: What makes you laugh?

SZ

Animals doing uncharacteristic things. I just laughed till I cried watching a bunny eat berries because the red juice was all over its face and it looked like blood dripping from its fur. It was supposed to be this cute bunny eating a meal and it looked like a massacre.

AML

If you could choose anyone, who would you want doing an impression of you?

SZ

Jay Pharaoh, he can impersonate anyone. He used to try to impersonate me, I don’t think he ever nailed it down, but I’m sure he could with time.

AML

What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to promote?

SZ

My first stand up special, “Pizza Mind,” just came out on SeeSo and you can get it on Amazon Prime and Roku too. And I’m in a movie coming out called “Sleight,” and I’m also in a movie that came out on Netflix last month called “Deidra and Laney Rob a Train.” Check it all out!

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