Stirring the Comedic Pot: Saturday Night Live Welcomes Sasheer Zamata
By Laura Mooney, Arts Editor
Famous NBC sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live is notorious for a number of things, including making stars out of its cast members, controversial skits, and even some internet meme worthy mess-ups. The long running comedy show has made headlines for a mold breaking, and rather surprising, reason; hiring their first African American female cast member.
While at first this sounds surprising, since some of the more famous actors to come from SNL, such as Eddie Murphy, have been African American, this is in fact the first time in the show’s thirty nine seasons that an African American woman has graced the famous stage at Rockefeller Plaza as a full time cast member. Sasheer Zamata’s sudden hiring was the result of a public outcry last year that called SNL out for their lack of diversity with their current cast members, with the last interracial member, Maya Rudolph, having left the show back in 2007. In true SNL fashion, they turned the situation in their favour by poking fun at the obvious problem in a very funny episode that featured actress Kerry Washington running on and off stage switching between an Oprah and Michelle Obama costume, shining light on the point that there were in fact no African American female comedians on the show. Thus, the search for the first female African American cast member went under way.
Zamata, a 27-year-old comedian and improv actress from Indianapolis, was welcomed to the show on 18 January 2014 to great reception in terms of her performance and presence, but yet something was still not sitting quite right with a number of the critics. The show, hosted by rapper Drake, featured Zamata in nearly all of the skits, but yet some critics claimed that something still did not seem cohesive with the show. Talk show host Sherri Shepherd made the statement that it seemed as though the writers at SNL were trying too hard to make Zamata’s presence known to the audience, as though they were pushing the fact that they had listened to the world and had hired a woman of colour. One skit in particular featured Zamata dressed as singer Rihanna, and Shepherd even went as far as to say the skit was “too black” for a mainstream audience. While this statement by Shepherd is only one opinion, is does bring up a very important issue. Does the fact that it took so long for SNL to hire an African American woman hinder the writers’ ability to seamlessly incorporate her into the show now that she is there? Or will she always be type-casted into stereotypical roles, and be known as the female comedian they were forced to hire?
Only time will tell if the connotations and assumptions that go along with Zamata’s hiring will eventually fade as she becomes just another cast member, but either way she is clearly a welcome presence on the classic show, and will be forever known as the woman who made Saturday Night Live history.