After weeks of audition news, Sasheer Zamata has gained the day to become part of Saturday Night Live. Zamata, who graduated from the University of Virginia and started taking classes at New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in 2009, will become one of the five black women to star on the show in its history.
The 137 regular cast members who have been part of Saturday Night Live since its 1975 debut have been mostly white and have included only four black women. The most recent was biracial Maya Rudolph, who left in 2007. Black men, including Eddie Murphy, Tracy Morgan and Chris Rock, have played more prominent roles.
The rare mid-season hiring comes in response to “SNL” suffering some of the most blistering criticism and mounting pressure about the lack of a black female cast member, a topic that the show skewered on a recent, Kerry Washington-hosted episode, says the NY Daily News.
“SNL” turned the issue into comedy when “Scandal” star Kerry Washington was a guest host. During the Nov. 2 episode Washington mocked the diversity issue, playing first lady Michelle Obama and media mogul Oprah Winfrey in the same skit. She had to make a quick outfit and hairdo change in order to play Obama and Winfrey back-to-back. Then, she ran offscreen to assume the role of pop star Beyoncé.
Zamata was among 12 black women who received callbacks and were invited to try out in New York on Dec. 16. She beat out NBC Universal Diversity Scholarship winner Natasha Rothwell and sketch-comic Kerry Coddett in the final round of auditions.
Her competitor Coddett was one of the many critics of the show’s lack of diversity, going to far as to write a scathing essay on the Huffington Post responding to a comment from black cast member Kenan Thompson who said the show often auditions black females but finds they’re never ‘ready’.
Sasheer Zamata will make her debut on the show’s next live broadcast that airs on Jan. 18 during its 39th season where Drake will not only host, but he will also perform on the show.
The new SNL member stars in sketches on online comedy engines Jest and College Humor as well as on TV in FX’s Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell, Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer, MTV’s Hey Girl and ABC’s Would You Fall For That?. She also has a web show called Pursuit of Sexiness.
In December, Girls creator Lena Dunham tweeted her support for the jokester, posting one of Zamata’s comic takes on a scary situation she ran into. “This is crazy funny and a wonderful antidote to today’s internet,” Dunham tweeted.
In October, ‘SNL’ cast member Kenan Thompson told TV Guide the show had difficulty finding qualified black female comedians to hire. He insisted that the talent pool was limited because so many of the women were not seasoned enough for the job.
Executive Producer Lorne Michaels said last month he was holding audition and that a black woman would be added to the cast in January. “All told, we’ve seen about 25 people,” he said. “A lot of the people we saw are really good. Hopefully, we’ll come out of the process well.”