SNL newest edition leaves many unimpressed

Jordan Crawford | 1/15/2014, 9:56 a.m.
Speculation is following the recent hire of SNL newcomer Sasheer Zamata.

“Live from New York, it’s…” finally someone besides Maya Rudolph and Kenan Thompson can play Whitney Houston, Star Jones, or Beyoncé.

On January 8, Saturday Night Live (SNL) announced that Sasheer Zamata would be joining the show’s cast. Her hire followed months of speculation about the NBC sketch program’s lack of Black women due to cast members Jay Pharaoh and Kenan Thompson saying they’d no longer dress in drag to play Black women in sketches.

In it’s nearly 40 years on-air, SNL has featured only four Black women, one of which was biracial. While many anxiously anticipate Zamata’s SNL debut after viewing her comedic prowess in her web-series “Pursuit of Sexiness”, some are also worried for the 27-year old comedian-on-the-rise.

Hampton resident Jamal Cain, a ‘comedy fanatic’ who has watched all seasons of SNL and studies other comedians, applauds SNLs new hire but says that unless SNL gets new writers, nothing will change.

“We don’t know what the writers look like,” he said. “It’s outstanding to have diversity in front of the screen, but it’s almost worth nothing if there’s none behind the camera holding the pen and paper…if not everything will, in essence, be written from one perspective.”

On Jan. 8, the day after Cain’s interview, the Hollywood Reporter announced that SNL had hired LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones, two Black female writers, for the show.

Newport News resident Cassandria Tyson recalls that some Black cast members left SNL before they’d completed one full season on the show. Tyson wonders if Zamata will stay on the show and how much longer it will take for another Black woman to be cast.

Yorktown resident, Tanedra Donovan, reluctantly believes that nothing will come from Zamata’s hiring.

“I think she’s in the cast because someone complained and not because she actually earned the position,” she said. “It’s like a pacifier and a baby. If it wines and cries enough it will be given a pacifier, or pacified, until it stops crying, or until a change is made. As soon as you turn to do something else, something else upsets it and the issue really hasn’t been solved.”

Still, Donovan believes that with Zamata included, SNL can show that comedy works with multiple hair types, skin colors, genders, and cultures.

“I’m hoping that she can thrive on this cast for years to come, that her comedy isn’t subscribed to having to speak for her entire race, and that she’s able to play a pivotal role in the reshaping of SNL,” she said. “A modernized SNL should represent the full spectrum of the people of color experience. Black women are multifaceted and you often only see a few of those layers represented in the media.”

Zamata graduated from the University of Virginia three years ago and now comes to SNL from the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, a comedy collective co-founded by SNL alum Amy Poehler that has served as a training ground for many up-and-coming comedians.