Interview: Actor-Comedian Sasheer Zamata Can Do it All

Sasheer Zamata


Actor-comedian Sasheer Zamata may not have been keen to discuss one of her most famous credits, her 2014-2017 tenure on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, during our recent interview, but that’s cool. Zamata is focused on moving forward with her bourgeoning film career (she’s got The Outdoorsman and The Weekend coming out this season), her stand up gigs (including a Netflix special, Pizza Mind), and a stand up tour that brings her to Punch Line comedy club this week.

A.D. Amorosi: So you come from– or started – with a sketch comedy background. Does that influence your stand up?
Sasheer Zamata: I started doing improv in college and when I moved to NY after I graduated, I did improv, sketch and stand up all at the same time and I found that each form helped the other. With improv I learned how to listen and respond, which is helpful in stand up as far as listening to the audience and recognizing their energy, or just talking to people in the crowd. And with sketch I learned how to edit. You wanna get the point of the sketch out within the first page because the whole piece will only be a few minutes long, and that applies to stand up too. I try to cut out the superfluous parts of the set up so I can get to the meat of the joke sooner. So yeah, all the forms I learned when I was coming up influence my stand up today.

A.D.: As someone who is writing their own material for sketch and stand-up, how are you compartmentalizing what goes where? Or does the material organically do that for you?
Sasheer: I try to write everything down. I use the Evernote app and it divides everything into folders. I have a folder for jokes, sketches, movie ideas, loose ideas I don’t know what to do with, etc., and eventually an idea I had years or months ago will make sense to me today and I’ll know how to execute it. And trying things out on stage helps too. Sometimes I’ll try a bit in front of an audience and realize "oh this may be better as a sketch" or vice versa. So it’s mostly trial and error and figuring out how an audience would respond to it.

A.D.: When you were coming up, who were your models for great stand-up?
Sasheer: I was really inspired by Carol Burnett and The Carol Burnett Show. I love how much she can connect with an audience. And some of those sketches really took their time, but I would enjoy every moment of it because the performers looked like they were having so much fun. Also her outfits were incredible on that show, and maybe I’m attracted to that because I like to look nice on stage and it’s cool to see women before me who were unapologetic about dressing up for comedy. I’m also a big fan of Lucille Ball. I love how physical she is and I guess I like watching women who aren’t afraid to get messy or look wild. She was a very attractive person, but it seemed like she went out of her way to get the audience to forget that.

A.D.: I know you have a slew of films coming out. Are you as comfortable acting as you are doing stand-up?
Sasheer: I started acting in college, so like improv/sketch/stand up, I’ve been doing it all at the same time. I’m a friggin' quadruple threat.

A.D.: Tell us about Party Time, your live showcase. It has been on stage as well as online.
Sasheer: Sasheer Zamata Party Time is a variety show that I host. It ran for four years in Brooklyn, now it’s in LA because I’m in LA, and I’ll occasionally take it on the road, too. The format is usually me hosting and doing material at the top, three comics do their set, and then I do a game that involves all the comics and the audience, and then a musical performance at the end. It’s really fun and it’s a nice way to get the audience to feel like they’re a part of the show and we’re all partying together.

A.D.: I ask this of every comic: we live in a time in which the daily news cycle has a level of strangeness and silliness. Is it hard to keep up with/surpass in terms of its raw humor, or do you feel that – as a stand-up – you’d rather avoid that?
Sasheer: I talk about my life in my material, which sometimes touches on my identity as a woman, or a black person, or a black woman. And some people see those topics as political, and that’s fine, but I don’t really make an effort to specifically talk about what’s happening in the news. Some topics may overlap with what’s happening in the news, but I’m mostly trying to get the audience to relate to what I’m saying through personal experiences. Oh, and pussies. I talk a lot about pussies.

A.D.: You've worked with the ACLU, and, more specifically, the Women's Rights Project. Where are you now with them?
Sasheer: I still work with the ACLU, and my role is to amplify any issues that may need attention. They asked me to work with them years ago because they saw my work and thought my sensibilities aligned with their work, and I take that as a huge compliment because people are recognizing what I’m doing and saying and finding value in it outside of performance.

A.D.: What is the dream career arc for you at this point in your life? What mix of elements and options that you would like to have before you?
Sasheer: I want to do more stand up specials, I want my own show, I want to write/direct/produce my own movies. I want to do it all. And then I want to do what Bill Murray’s doing, just hide away and pop up every once in a while to do something critically acclaimed or fun and then go away again. That’s the dream.

Sasheer Zamata performs November 15 through 17 at Punch Line Philly, 33 East Laurel Street, Philadelphia, PA. For more info, visit

Photo courtesy of Avalon Entertainment

Posted on Thursday, November 15, 2018