NEW YORK — Some believe you haven't really made it in comedy until you've landed a one-hour stand-up special. If that's true, then "Saturday Night Live" writer and comedian Sasheer Zamata has officially, made it.
Zamata, a former member of the Upright Citizens Brigade who plays a mean Beyonce and Rihanna on NBC's "SNL," debuts her first special, "Pizza Mind," on the internet platform Seeso on Thursday.
The Associated Press sat down with the 30-year-old funny woman at the offices of media company Refinery29 to ask about her special, her sketch skills and why you shouldn't ask her to "do Beyonce."
Associated Press: You were hired to appear on "SNL" in 2014 in the wake of criticism of a lack of ethnic diversity. It was all very public. How did you handle that?
Zamata: That stressed me out. I kind of just stayed at home a lot. People knew too much. People would text me and be like, 'What's the process like?' 'What's Lorne Michaels like?' I was like, 'This shouldn't even be your business.'
AP: How have the last few years been on "SNL"?
Zamata: As a writer and a performer, I'm definitely evolving because I'm learning the language of the show more and learning how to fit my voice into the mould that they've already created.
AP: What about outside the show?
Zamata: My actual act and voice has become more political and biting. I feel like before 'SNL' I was more cute and maybe I'd beat around the bush. Now I'm very direct.
AP: What was a favourite sketch you wrote this season?
Zamata: The 'Stranger Things' sketch that happened in the fall, where parents come and snatch a character from the woods. That came from a real thought. I was watching 'Stranger Things' — I ate it up; immediately I was a fan — but the whole time I was watching, I was like, 'My parents would FLIP if I was in the woods running around looking for monsters.' I was like, 'Where are his parents? Why aren't they concerned?'
AP: How does it feel to have your first special?
Zamata: It's so cool to be able to put all my work in one spot and have people see what I do best.
AP: What can we expect?
Zamata: Definitely a collection of stories and material that I've had over the years. Some newer stuff, too. And different mediums and art forms used to express my thoughts in different ways. Like music and songs and little sketches and characters. It's a mix. It's not just a standard stand-up format. I mean, there's an hour of stand-up, but there's also extra goodies in there, too.
AP: In it, you make fun of strangers who come up and demand impressions from you. Does it really bug you?
Zamata: I just joke about it. It doesn't bother me that much. But anyone asking someone to do an impression on command or tell a joke on command is asking for it. I'm not a dog.
AP: You rock your natural hair. Have you had any pressure to look a certain way?
Zamata: I am really glad that no one told me to change my hair. Since I've been doing comedy, my hair has been an Afro. I've never had anyone be like, 'You need to straighten it' or 'Could you wear a wig?' or anything like that and I think that's really cool. I'm glad people get to see me look the way I do because it's good to have representation in different areas and looks.
AP: Have you gotten any feedback from viewers?
Zamata: I've gotten messages from people like, 'My daughter has the same hairstyle as you and she was so excited to see you on TV.' That makes me really happy. Because there was a time, not too long ago, where you didn't see that. You didn't see natural hair on TV. And natural hair is still being demonized in the country for some reason. They just let women in the military wear their hair natural. Just ridiculous things like that. It's just hair! I'm hoping just me being me will, by default, normalize it a bit.
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Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press