Sasheer Zamata to join SNL cast to fill diversity gap

Sasheer Zamata will debut on SNL on Jan. 18. Sasheer Zamata is the first black female actor to join the SNL cast in six years.

NBC's comic institution  "Saturday Night Live," criticized recently for a lack of diversity, said on Monday that it was adding a black woman to its repertory cast when new episodes start again later this month.

Sasheer Zamata, who graduated from the University of Virginia in 2008 and has worked with the New York Upright Citizens Brigade comedy troupe, will join for the Jan. 18 episode, for which Drake is the host and the musical guest. Zamata, 27, is from Indianapolis. Zamata is the first black woman to join the cast in six years.

Zamata is more widely known for her comedic YouTube videos.

The 137 regular cast members who have been part of "Saturday Night Live" since its 1975 debut have been mostly white and have included only four black women. The most recent was biracial Maya Rudolph, who left in 2007. Black men, including Eddie Murphy, Tracy Morgan and Chris Rock, have played more prominent roles.

The lack of a black woman among the 16 regular or featured players became an issue this season when the two black male cast members, Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah, commented publicly about it and made it known they would no longer dress in drag to portray black women.

"SNL" turned the issue into comedy when "Scandal" star Kerry Washington was a guest host. Washington was portrayed as exasperated when she was asked to impersonate first lady Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Beyonce in the same skit. At the top of the show, an "SNL" producer apologized for the number of black female characters Washington needed to play that night.

Behind the scenes, though, "SNL" founding executive producer Lorne Michaels was busy holding comedy showcases across the country, searching for a black woman to join the cast.

"It's not like it's not a priority for us," Michaels said two months ago. "It will happen. I'm sure it will happen."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.