Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sasheer Zamata/Instagram
Michelle Obama and Beyonce can now expect to receive a proper send-up from the cast of Saturday Night Live. The late-night sketch show has hired New York comedian Sasheer Zamata, who becomes the first black female cast member since the departure of Maya Rudolph in 2007.
Back in August, SNL made a big casting announcement that led to big controversy -- all of its new cast members were white, and four out of the five hires were guys. In finding replacements for the departing Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, Jason Sudeikis and Seth Meyers, SNL went with a new cast that, well, looked a whole lot like the old cast. That decision, naturally, didn't sit well with a lot of people. It left the sketch show without a cast member to play Oprah or spoof Scandal -- until Olivia Pope herself, Kerry Washington, appeared as guest host and helped deliver a jab at the diversity controversy.
Zamata's first SNL appearance will be on Jan. 18, the night Drake stars as host and musical guest. Before her big debut, here's what you need to know about the show's highly anticipated new star.
She's a University of Virginia grad and Upright Citizens Brigade alum.
Zamata graduated with a degree in drama and moved to New York City in 2009, where she began performing with UCB -- the comedy troupe co-founded by Amy Poehler.
She's one of the funny people behind the web series The Pursuit of Sexiness.
Zamata writes and stars in the hilarious, though NSFW, series about relationships with Girl Code comedian Nicole Byer.
She's been on NBC's radar.
Through her work, she became a finalist for the NBCUniversal & UCB Theatre's Diversity Scholarship.
And starred in a web series from the producers of SNL.
She's not afraid to tackle issues like race.
She beat out approximately 25 other women for the job.
SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels told the New York Times that he invited "about 25 people" to audition for the midseason hire. This decision came after star Kenan Thompson said he was hanging up his cross-dressing heels (which, of course, was a terrible solution for portraying black women on the show to begin with) and subsequently ignited some of the biggest controversy over the show's lack of diversity.
When asked how the show would incorporate black female characters into its sketches moving forward, Thompson told TVGuide.com, "I don't know. We just haven't done them. That's what I'm saying. Maybe [co-star Jay Pharaoh] will do it or something, but even he doesn't really want to do it."
Instead of writing off some of the biggest names in pop culture, why couldn't they just, you know, hire a black female comedian to play those parts? Thompson said they couldn't find any who were up for the job. "It's just a tough part of the business," he said. "Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready." The very funny women who auditioned proved him wrong.