Though we know her best from her three-year stint as the fifth Black woman to join the cast of Saturday Night Live during its then-nearly 40-year history, Sasheer Zamata is continuously evolving and reinventing her career as an actress and comedienne. We've seen her in her very own stand-up comedy special titled Pizza Mind, the Pursuit of Sexiness web series co-created by herself and best friend and Nailed It! host Nicole Byer. We've also seen her in The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central's Corporate, and Stella Meghie-directed rom-com The Weekend. Needless to say, sis has been taking no L's since her days on primetime television and relocating to Los Angeles. Talk about a strong bounceback game!
Zamata's latest role in Hulu's Woke, co-created by award-winning cartoonist Keith Knight, is the outspoken voice of reason and queer progressive, confident reporter Ayanna. Woke is centered around protagonist and Black cartoonist Keef (Lamorne Morris) whose internal battle between social consciousness, societal issues, and artistic expression develops after he becomes the victim of racial profiling and police brutality. As he struggles with grappling his PTSD, Keef finds himself surrounded by talking inanimate objects and a wide variety of friends to help him in the right direction of mental stability and a sense of normalcy. "I play Ayanna in the show and my character is 'woke guru' for Keef. She runs a progressive paper in San Francisco and helps Keef to use his platform to talk about his blackness and his experiences," Zamata explained to xoNecole.
We caught up with the Indiana native about her growth as an actress and comedian, racial and social justice being at the forefront of conversation in the comedy industry, and her upcoming projects.
xoNecole: How has your life as a Black woman impacted your career as an actress and comedian?
Sasheer Zamata: When I write comedy for myself, I write about my life and since I'm a Black woman, that is going to come through in my work. I like telling and being a part of stories that reflect Black lives because that's also the entertainment I want to consume. I want to see myself reflected on the screen, and I hope I can do that for other people as well.
"I like telling and being a part of stories that reflect Black lives because that's also the entertainment I want to consume. I want to see myself reflected on the screen, and I hope I can do that for other people as well."
How would you say that Hollywood, in comedy and acting, has demonstrated racial bias, sexism, or colorism against Black women? Have you personally ever experienced any discrimination?
I'd say the lack of opportunity has been a thing that has consistently hindered Black voices, especially the voices of Black women. It's not like there aren't a plethora of talented Black women chomping at the bit for work; we're just not always given the opportunity. Thankfully, we're in a time where people want to see more perspectives and different types of art. Blackness is "trending" right now, so hopefully, that will stick and it'll become second nature for producers, studios, networks, directors, showrunners, and more to look for more diverse voices to help create their projects.
Now that you're in your 30s, what would you say you've learned about yourself professionally and personally in your twenties that can be applied to your day-to-day life now?
Saying "no". I love saying "no". Give me a thing, I'll say "no" to it. It's absolutely important to say "yes" and I think as a young creative you're prone to say "yes" all the time because you're hungry, you want the exposure, and you don't know when the next gig will come. But as I've gotten older and worked more, I've learned it's equally important to know when to say "no" and curate the things you work on and you get to decide how you want to spend your energy instead of letting other people spend it for you.
"It's absolutely important to say 'yes' and I think as a young creative you're prone to say 'yes' all the time because you're hungry, you want the exposure, and you don't know when the next gig will come. But as I've gotten older and worked more, I've learned it's equally important to know when to say 'no' and curate the things you work on and you get to decide how you want to spend your energy instead of letting other people spend it for you."
If you could tell your "green" industry self anything in advance about comedy and entertainment, what would it be and why?
Be specific with your goals. It's not enough to say, "I want to be an entertainer, or do something in entertainment." As soon as I said things like "I want to be a stand-up. I want to be on SNL. I want to be in movies," and put that out into the universe, that's when things started clicking for me. If you don't know what you want out of your career, no one else will either.
How have you been using your platform in comedy to address the intolerances of the Black community?
I use my voice to speak my truth, which includes what I go through as a Black woman in America, and what excites, angers, and/or confuses me and sometimes that's a perspective that some people in my audience have never heard. Hopefully, that can open people up to learning more about what my community is going through and listen to what we've been saying and continue to say.
While we're in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, how have you seen comedy shift the conversation to racial injustices?
I haven't seen any comedy in months, so I don't know. Maybe live comedy is dead? Hard to say. (Laughs) No just kidding, it'll come back. I have to believe that or I'll lose it. I imagine a lot of comedy will shift when we're able to see it, but everything that's on TV right now is stuff that was shot before the pandemic and before this intense summer of [Black Lives Matter] protests. So like with Woke, people are saying it's a "timely" show because we're in a moment where people are talking about police brutality and race in America, but this show was written last year, based off of ideas that were thought of years before that, based off of a history of unrest that's been going on in this country for decades.
None of what is addressed in the show is new. I think what's new is that there's a broader audience that's more open to having these conversations than before and hopefully they'll absorb the messages and continue these conversations with their circles and communities.
"With Woke, people are saying it's a 'timely' show because we're in a moment where people are talking about police brutality and race in America, but this show was written last year, based off of ideas that were thought of years before that, based off of a history of unrest that's been going on in this country for decades."
What is next for you? Any upcoming projects that we should be on the lookout for to support?
I'm in a film called Spree, available on VOD. I have a weekly podcast with my bestie Nicole Byer, called Best Friends. I star in a movie called The Weekend that is now available on Hulu and Amazon Prime. I'll probably go back to doing stand up in the year 3000 when things are back to normal.
You can stream all-new episodes of Woke on Hulu right now and for more Sasheer, follow her on Instagram!
Featured image by Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com