Seriously Funny

Sasheer Zamata of the film 'Deidra & Laney Rob A Train' poses for a portrait at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival Getty Images Portrait Studio presented by DIRECTV on January 23, 2017 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Maarten de Boer/Getty Images Portrait)
Maarten de Boer—Getty Images

Everything Sasheer Zamata talks about comes from a personal place …

Between her sharp first comedy special and her video for the ACLU, the SNL star has found a way to speak out that’s seriously funny

How would you describe your sense of humor in three words? Sweet but biting. One guy came up to me after a show and said that watching me was like getting a kiss on the cheek and then a left hook. And I really liked that. You just put out your first Netflix special, called Pizza Mind. How is it different from your Saturday Night Live work? I’m sure some people will be surprised by the whole thing. But I have a life outside of SNL. And there are a lot of thoughts and opinions that I don’t get to say on the show. This special is a chance for everyone to see that.

What is the role of comedy in this political climate? Comedy has always been a way for us to learn about the world. I’ve had strangers come up to me and say they’re excited to see SNL’s take on something , which is so cool. It’s our job to analyze what’s happening and find a way to laugh about it for a minute. I think that’s cathartic for people. Tell us about your work as an ambassador for the American Civil Liberties Union. My job is to use my platform to highlight women’s rights issues like I did by writing and starring in a video targeting privilege. I’m trying to create fun, digestible ways for people to learn without feeling like they’re being attacked.

How do you feel about doing sketches that start conversations about social issues? Everything I talk about comes from a personal place that broadens out to the culture at large. It’s not like the goal is to make everyone woke by the end of the hour. I just talk about real things that interest, confuse, or anger me. And when people dig my work enough to say it changed their perspective on something, that’s really cool.

How can audiences influence the entertainment industry to show more diverse points of view? As consumers, we have to show studios what we want. Try supporting underrepresented types of art instead of going to see another formulaic blockbuster.

What’s up next for you? I want to write, direct, produce, and act in movies and TV. I just want to rule my own empire and take over the industry. That’s all. Simple enough.

First recurring SNL character: Janelle
“In this sketch, Chris Rock’s my dad and Taraji P. Henson’s my mom, which is the best family to have, ever.”

Loves to work with: “Taraji P. Henson has more energy than anyone I know. When she hosted SNL, she gave 110 percent the whole time. I was blown away.

Biggest influence: “I truly fell in love with Carol Burnett because she had an underlying theme of truth in her material, and I try to have that too.”

Preshow Ritual: “I recite Sonnet 105 from Love’s Labour’s Lost over and over before I go onstage. It centers me every time.”

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