Rockefeller Center’s Studio 8H will get a little more diverse in 2014, as the show confirms it has hired rising comedy star Sasheer Zamata to join the cast of Saturday Night Live as a featured player later this month.
The young actress and comedienne will become the first black female performer to join the cast since bi-racial Maya Rudolph left the show about six years ago, right around the time Zamata was graduating from the University of Virginia, the same school that former cast member Tina Fey attended years earlier. Both Fey and Zamata were involved in the theater scene at UVA, and were members of the student-run group First Year Players, performing in productions of the musical Godspell 17 years apart.
Zamata joins the show after a growing chorus of critics complained about the lack of a female black cast member, a conversation that grew even louder after cast member Jay Pharaoh discussed the issue in a September interview with theGrio.com. He encouraged the producers at SNL to “pay attention” to the issue.
Fellow cast member Kenan Thompson increased the attention in October in an interview with TV Guide, brushing off his bosses’ critics by saying black women have auditioned for the show but that “they just never find ones that are ready.”
But he also said in that interview that he was done dressing in drag for the job, leaving the show with few options for portraying some of the high profile black women in pop culture and politics today.
The SNL team addressed the issue in its own way in November when Kerry Washington hosted the show: to highlight the lack of other African-American women, Washington was forced to play multiple black women in a single sketch, including the Michelle Obama and Oprah. Rev. Al Sharpton joined to give his take on the matter too.
Zamata is scheduled to make her first performance on SNL during the January 18 episode, according to Deadline.
(Note: Morgan Whitaker went to UVA with Zamata and thinks she’s really funny.)
Check out of her past work below.