After enjoying three and a half seasons as a cast member on Saturday Night Live, Sasheer Zamata is looking towards the future. Now a household name, Zamata is eager to take her immersive blend of sketch, standup, and improv and showcase it on a national stage.
Ahead of her performance at the Paramount Theatre on October 20th, she took some time out to discuss how she plans to spend her free time, a few of her past projects, and what to expect at her upcoming show.
SNL just started its new season, and this is the first time in three years that you’re not there with them. How does that feel?
Good! I’m excited for the season. I’m still watching the show. I can’t help it. I still want to know what’s going on as far as who is writing stuff and what characters are being done. And so far it’s been good. I’m really excited for it.
How does it feel to have all this freedom now? You have over half a year of free time that you didn’t have before.
I guess so. I am doing more of my own stuff which is good, I actually have time to be more creative in other ways. I’ve been doing stand up and writing more stuff, like movies and stand up, and it’s nice to have the time to be more creative in my own endeavors.
Are you doing anything other than working? Have you picked up new hobbies or anything?
I do want to get back into music. I have a guitar, I have a piano, I have a violin, but I’m kind of okay at all of them but not good or great at any of them. So I would like to get back into them and just play more whenever I have downtime.
That’s exciting. That’s always what I say I’m going to do when I have free time, but I never end up doing it. Hopefully you get the chance to practice those more.
I heard if you get a stand for your instruments so they’re out of the cases, like a guitar stand, and you see it, you’ll be able to play it more. So on my to-do list is buy a guitar stand.
That’s a great tip! One of the things I know you’re busy with is your monthly show you do in Brooklyn, “Sasheer Zamata Party Time!”
Can you describe the format of that show for anyone who might not know what to look forward to?
Totally. I’ve been doing it for two years. it’s a variety show where I host every month and talk to the audience and do some stand up and do bits and I usually have two or three stand ups do acts and then we have a group game, like a party game, with the performers and the audience and it’s really fun. It’s a lot of things that are based in truth, people tell stories about themselves and be honest and revealing. And then we end with music. And it’s always really fun, it’s in Park Slope, and it’s one of my favorite things to do. I always have a blast doing it.
I’ve seen some videos of it online because it’s a web series now, with Above Average, right?
We did do a summer web series. And that was really fun to have people be able to see what happens in the space because they’re not able to come to the show. We might be doing more of those. I’m excited for people to see the stuff that we do.
And I saw that you have exciting guests from all over, like Bob The Drag Queen.
Oh, yeah. I’m a huge fan of Bob and we’re becoming friends which is so awesome. Yeah, any chance to have Bob perform is a blessing.
So is your show at The Paramount going to be anything like that, format-wise, or will it be a more traditional stand-up show?
I think a traditional stand-up show. I might talk to the audience a bit or tell stories or talk about what’s going on with me or the world. But it’ll just be me with a mic talking. So I guess kind of traditional.
Will it be anything like your stand up special, “Pizza Mind?”
There might be some bits from Pizza Mind, yeah. Probably not a lot, but there might be some crossover.
What was it like putting together that special? When you filmed it you were still at SNL, while it was having one of its most successful seasons in a long time.
I filmed the special in the middle of the season. December we had our Christmas show and I got on a plane and I don’t even know if I slept. I went home, got my luggage, and went straight to the airport and then went to New Orleans to start filming the sketches and the musical bits that we had. And then did the special the next day. I still don’t know how I had that much energy to do all that. But I survived, I made it, and I’m really happy with the outcome and I’m glad it came out when it did and people were able to see it.
Speaking of being able to see it: it was released on SeeSo, which will be shutting down before the end of the year. Have you found a new home for it yet?
Not yet, I think it’s kind of in the same boat as everything else on SeeSo. We’re kind of waiting to see where else we can put it. What other homes can take over. SeeSo was a great home for it at the time but now we need to find another way to get it out to people. But in the meantime, the audio is on iTunes and Spotify and whatever other online audio platforms you can get it on. It’ll be online again.
I think, obviously, it works better with the visual elements of it that you won’t get to see. Like the part with Krackel the dragon, people won’t really get to enjoy that in full.
It has visual elements to it so I’m hoping that people will be able to see it soon. But yeah, in the meantime, most of the standup, the audio that you don’t need visuals for, is available!
Was it a natural shift for you to go from doing sketch comedy to focusing more on your standup, or is this very much the result of you being burnt out on doing that six days a week, six months a year?
Well I’ve been doing standup, sketch, and improv consistently since 2009. I guess sometimes one form will be the majority of my time at different times of my life, but I’ve kind of been doing standup consistently while I was at SNL too, so it’s not too different of a switch. I just have more free time during the day.
So one thing that you were known for before SNL was the web series that you and another great comedian, Nicole Byer, did, “The Pursuit of Sexiness.”
Both of you landed different TV shows since then and are enjoying a lot of popularity right now, but I’ve seen you two involved in a lot of projects and never collaborating on any of them. Is that something you’re interested in changing, or do you have ideas for projects that you’re currently pursuing together?
Yeah, we actually are working on a movie idea right now that we’ll hopefully start pitching it to studios soon. The Nicole-Sasheer game is still going strong. We both obviously have been busy for the last few years because she has her show – had a show on TV that’s now on Facebook – and I was on SNL for years so now we’re finding our groove again and working on stuff.
And I actually was just in LA filming a small part on her show, Loosely Exactly Nicole, which I think will be really fun and funny. We love working with each other and it’s so easy because we are best friends and we speak the same language and it’s easy to work with someone you love already and you definitely want to do more of that.
I’m excited to hear that, because I mean, you guys are so good individually but together you’re an unstoppable force.
Aww, thanks! I think so.
I know that within the last few years you’ve been working as a celebrity ambassador with the ACLU.
How is it serving in that role? Especially during the last few years when so many more people are starting to pay attention to what the ACLU does and what services they’re providing. You’ve been doing it since 2015, correct?
Very shortly after I started SNL. And they approached me, which was such a huge compliment, because I think that my views and my work kind of aligns with what they’re doing and I am a fan of their work, I think that they kick ass, and I was so happy to put my name on the causes that they’re working on. I just finished a sketch for them talking about reproductive rights, and I want to get more conversation happening about the things that are happening right now. We have rights that are literally being stripped away week by week, so it’s good to be working with ACLU so that I can get out a message quickly and they can also get out a message and I can use my audience and my platform to kind of direct people’s focus to whatever thing we need to tackle at the time.
I think doing that kind of work is so important, and so awesome.
It really is. I write sketches for them and make videos for them and it’s a cool way to be able to use my voice for things I already like doing, but in a way that is more – that feeds my social justice hunger and do that in a way that is unabashedly pointed.
Sasheer Zamata performs at The Paramount Theater in Asbury Park on Friday October 20. Tickets are available, here.