Comedy Spotlight: Sasheer Zamata
Have you ever known someone to be so incredibly talented that it hurts when you don’t see them given that shot that you know they would rock, and rock so f***in’ hard? Me too, and that person is Sasheer Zamata. After reading several recent articles from VH1 Celebrity, Buzzfeed, etc. suggesting Sasheer Zamata as someone to consider for one of those open SNL slots this fall, I couldn’t help but agree and think back to the first time I ever witnessed her talent.
It was a dark and stormy night, just kidding but it was at UCB Theater in Chelsea which can be dark and smelly. Anyway, I was invited to watch a friend perform in UCB’s popular Cage Mage, where two mighty gladiator improv teams take the stage to prove who the best is. The winner is decided on by the live audience. The friend who invited me was on one of the teams and I was excited to cheer her on like friends do, right?
Well, the first team called Doppelganger hit the stage, and the team included Nicole Byer, Keisha Zollar, and Sasheer Zamata. My first thought, “An all-black girl group? Where did they manage to find that many black people at UCB?” My second thought, “Whoa, they are funny!” My third thought, “Whoa, they are slaying!” My final thought, ”Damn I hope my friend is funny because that was the best thing I’ve seen in a very long time anywhere.”
The second group hit the stage and they were absolutely no match for what Doppelganger displayed. So, there I was torn. Who do I vote for, my friend or these funny-ass strangers? Well, needless to say, I kept it real and voted for Doppelganger. Not only did I vote for Doppelganger, but I wrote a blog post about how incredible they were. The group went on to use my post as promotion and my friend ended our “friendship” after that.
Doppelganger has since put their group performances on hold to pursue individual success. While I find each one of the members of Doppelganger equally as talented, I believe Sasheer has the range that makes me believe like many other writers that she would be an extraordinary talent for a variety show. Sasheer does, stand-up, sketches, improv, and I can’t forget she also does Beyonce impersonations. The girl has the IT Factor and when I ran into her at UCB recently, she graciously agreed to an interview.
Chalaire: Hi, I think you know how I was introduced to you as a performer from UCB Cage Match through my review on Doppelganger?
Sasheer Zamata: Yes, yes. Thank you.
Chalaire: I have to ask, where’s Doppelganger?
Sasheer Zamata: Well, we’re not dead. We’re still a group, but Nicole moved to L.A. last year so it’s hard to have regular shows.
Chalaire: You’re just on a mutual hiatus?
Sasheer Zamata: We had a running show at UCB for a year. After she moved we decided it would be best to take a break. It would be hard if it was just Keisha and I. We’d already done shows when two members couldn’t make it and we would have other people fill in, but it just wasn’t Doppelganger.
Chalaire: I get it. It’s something very special watching the three of you perform together. How did Doppelganger come about?
Sasheer Zamata: Kinda by accident. In 2010, we were all doing improv at UCB Theater. They have a Diversity Program so we would have meet-ups and would see each other through that. I was doing 2prov (two person improv show) with someone who was a flake and wouldn’t show up. One time Nicole showed up and we did a set. It was great so we thought we should probably keep doing it. Around the same time, it happened again at Gotham Comedy Club, and Keisha was like “I’ll perform with you,” so we performed together. It was also great. Almost like a first date, “I wanna see you again.”
Sasheer Zamata: So for a while I had two two-prov teams going on. After a few months, we all had the same goals of wanting to get better and get our name out there, but I didn’t want to do in in two different directions, so I suggested we do a threesome.
Chalaire: Another date move. Just kidding, continue.
Sasheer Zamata: We never rehearsed together. We just booked a show, met, and performed. It was great and we all said that’s it, let’s do it.
Chalaire: I’m so glad I was able to see you as a group. It’s rare to see any black people at UCB, let alone three black women performing together, so after that night I went to every Cage Match you were in and you had a crazy streak going. How did that feel for you?
Sasheer Zamata: It felt amazing. Plus, we weren’t a UCB House team, we were an Indie team. It was rare for an Indie team to beat a House team. We just came out hard and came out swinging. We were also doing stuff that people weren’t doing at the time like organic improv, organic transitions with the sounds and movement. It wasn’t original but people just weren’t doing it at the time. Then it got popular again. Also, it was like no one had seen three women play that hard, or three black women. I honestly think we won because we were better.
Chalaire: So much better, so I was hell-bent on learning more about you all, like if you grew up together, how did you get that good.
Sasheer Zamata: No, we just met through UCB and came together by accident. The thought of us being three black women came after the fact. We just enjoyed playing with each other.
Chalaire: How did it feel when one of your members moved to L.A.?
Sasheer Zamata: Very sad, because she became my best friend after we formed the group. It was sad for selfish reasons, plus we were very close to becoming a weekend team with a permanent spot at UCB Theater. Doppelganger was my favorite thing to do. It was the thing that I looked forward to most. It was so automatic and didn’t feel like work. It’s still a little bit sad for me, but we’re not dead.
Chalaire: Are you from NYC?
Sasheer Zamata: No, I’m from Indianapolis.
Chalaire: What brought you to NYC?
Sasheer Zamata: The lights, the fame.
Chalaire: Really? So this isn’t something you fell into? You knew you wanted to perform before you got here?
Sasheer Zamata: Well, yes and no. I knew I wanted to come to NYC, and I knew I wanted to perform, but I didn’t know how. I studied theatre in college. Before I got to college I thought I wanted to be a journalist. I just wanted to be in front of people, but I didn’t know how. Then I got to college and I didn’t want to study journalism anymore, I wanted to do plays.
Chalaire: So, after college you came straight to NYC to do Broadway?
Sasheer Zamata: Yes, I was trying to get my Equity card and I was auditioning for Off-Broadway plays, but I kept going to UCB. I knew of UCB because they came to my school to perform. I was watching them and thinking man wherever they came from that’s where I want to go. Bobby Moynihan was one of the performers and someone asked him, ”how to get a career in comedy?” Bobby replied, “Go to NYC, go to UCB and work really, really hard.”
Chalaire: I heard him say that in an interview with Howard Stern.
Sasheer Zamata: Yeah, six months later he was on SNL. So I was like he knows what he’s talking about. I would go to UCB all the time to watch shows, but I didn’t have a job so I was running out of savings. After a while I signed up for classes. Thankfully they have a Diversity Program to help pay for classes, so I blew through them.
Chalaire: So that program is worth looking into?
Sasheer Zamata: Yes, and it’s good that they have it because they need more diversity, and I don’t know that I would’ve been able to take those classes. That’s when I decided that I wanted to be in that community, and that’s all I wanted to do, just be a comedian, write, and collaborate.
Chalaire: You’re also in commercials. I was chillin’ on my mom’s couch watching TV with her and saw you in a couple of commercials. What made you take that step?
Sasheer Zamata: Since UCB is known for being a funny farm, agents & casting directors can go there and find any type of funny person and cast them. When Doppelganger was happening we were getting a lot of attention because there weren’t too many upcoming black females, so we got agents that way. I started going on commercial auditions in 2011, and I booked my first commercial in 2012.
Chalaire: What was your first paying gig?
Sasheer Zamata: I believe a Target commercial that was shot in upstate NY, but the commercial work isn’t that consistent. Now, things are good, but at first I would book a commercial then the money would run out. I would book another then wait, wait, wait, oh god the money is running out.
Chalaire: I recently found out you do stand-up as well? When did you get into that?
Sasheer Zamata: I started stand-up at the same year I started going to UCB. I like doing scary things. Most stand-up comedians are good writers but they have to get over the performing aspect of getting on stage. I already have the performing aspect from my theatre background, so I just needed to work on jokes. I went to an open-mic by myself and didn’t die. I fell in love with it.
Chalaire: You’re great at improv, sketch, stand-up, even spoof videos, have you ever thought about creating your own variety show?
Sasheer Zamata: Yeah yeah, I’m working on something now and talking about stuff with my manager.
Chalaire: Tell me about this ABC show I saw you on last Friday, called Would You Fall For That?
Sasheer Zamata: It was a trial run. They were looking for male and female comedic co-host who would be good interacting with people on the street and playing pranks. They aired three episodes, so we have to wait to see if it did well and if there’s a place for it in the schedule.
Chalaire: It was a good show. The hashtag was blowing up on Twitter.
Sasheer Zamata: Yes, people liked it. I feel good about it, but I have no idea how TV works.
Chalaire: Do you feel like you’re on the verge of a really big break, like you’re the person to watch for?
Sasheer Zamata: I definitely feel like I’m on the cusp. It’s a very good time right now. I’m getting a lot of attention and I feel ready. I wasn’t ready a year ago, but I’m ready now.
Chalaire: I’m ready for you. I wish you everything great, and I hope the follow-up to this interview is us talking about how great you are on a successful show.
Sasheer Zamata: (laughs) Thank you. Thanks for having me in.
For more on Sasheer Zamata:
- See her standup on Monday at 9 p.m. at Brooklyn’s Legion Bar
- Or visit the Upright Citizens Brigade theater on Tuesday & Wednesday (9:15 and 11 p.m. respectively) for improv fun
- Visit Sasheer.com
- Check out MTV’s Hey Girl
- Check out Hulu for episodes of Would You Fall For That?
Chalaire Miller contributes to Us Weekly, E! Fashion Police, MTV VMA’s, and is an improv artist, stand-up comedian, and comedy blogger. You can also check her out on Twitter @laire and That’s What She Said.