Honor Sasheer Zamata’s Understated Greatness With These 3 ‘SNL’ Clips

By Sameer Rao May 22, 2017

"Saturday Night Live" (SNL) lost yet another core Black cast member as Sasheer Zamata finished her three-and-a-half-year run with Saturday night’s (May 20) 42nd season finale.



Entertainment Tonight broke the news yesterday (May 21) that Zamata, as confirmed by multiple anonymous sources, will not return for the show’s 43rd season. Unlike fellow exiting cast members Vanessa Bayer and Bobby Moynihan, Zamata did not publicly announce her departure prior to last weekend’s finale and has not commented on it as of press time.

Her quiet exit contrasts with the very public circumstances surrounding her hiring. The "Upright Citizens Brigade" alumna and stand-up comedian joined "SNL" in January 2014 as the program faced criticism for not hiring any Black actresses since Maya Rudolph‘s 2007 departure—part of a longer-standing issue with the show’s diversity issues. Longtime cast member Kenan Thompson fanned the controversy’s flames when he told TV Guide that the show had trouble finding qualified Black women. Zamata came on board after executive producer Lorne Michaels pledged to hire a Black actress. She told NPR’s "Fresh Air" in March, while promoting her Seeso stand-up special "Pizza Mind," that the publicity around her hiring created unwanted stress: 

I had been auditioning for the show for a couple years before this point and then they asked for a rushed showcase of Black women in LA and in New York, and I was in the New York one, and then they chose people from those pools and then I found out after the holiday break. This was all in December and yeah, it was very stressful. I didn’t love that it was so public.

Zamata did not receive as much screen time or debut as many original characters as most of her other veteran castmates. Her most memorable impressions include her first appearance as Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Michelle Obama, but Zamata mostly shone with subdued performances as fictional characters confronting her co-stars’ absurd behavior or speaking on racism. Celebrate her tenure with the following three stand-out appearances: 

"Commentary on the N-Word"

In this clip from a "Weekend Update" segment last year, Zamata discusses the outrage towards Larry Wilmore after he called President Barack Obama "my n****" during the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. She replaces the n-word with "McGriddle" while explaining the word’s White supremacist origins with a tale from her past: 

I was walking down the street with a friend and this dirty pickup truck comes barrelling down the road, and this man yells, "Y’all McGriddles need to get on a boat and take your Black asses back to McDonalds." … But he was old-school racist, and at least he was upfront about it. That’s how I like my racists: easily identifiable. These days, people won’t publicly say the "McG word," but they’ll say thinly veiled words like "thug," or "ghetto" or "athletic." … I don’t know if we’re ever going to agree on the usage of that word. I do know that word has a lot of history behind it, and if we ignore it, it feels like we’re ignoring the history. And I don’t like to ignore history.

"Stranger Things" Parody

This sketch lampooned the Netflix series "Stranger Things" and its only major Black child protagonist’s (Lucas Sinclair, played by Caleb McLaughlin) lack of a backstory. Zamata convincingly captures Lucas’ youthful sense of wonder and urgency at the show’s surreal events—even despite Thompson and Leslie Jones‘ incredulousness at their Black son hanging out with a policeman.

"The New Bachelorette" 

This cut-for-time sketch features Zamata as Rachel Lindsay, the first Black woman to lead the reality competition series, "The Bachelorette." Lindsay’s enthusiasm turns to resignation as she tactfully handles corny raps, appropriative clothing and "Get Out" praise from the show’s White male contestants. This is one of only a few sketches where Zamata plays a lead character. 

Besides "Pizza Mind," Zamata currently appears in the supernatural thriller "Sleight" and works with the American Civil Liberties Union as a celebrity ambassador.