The humor of “Saturday Night Live” arrived at the University of Virginia a little late this weekend, when the show’s newest cast member, Sasheer Zamata, a 2008 U.Va. graduate, performed Sunday night before a standing-room-only crowd in the Chemistry Building auditorium that included her father and a few of her drama professors.
The University Programs Council hosted Zamata in an hourlong stand-up comedy performance. Students began lining up at 7 p.m. for front-row seats for Zamata’s 8 p.m. show.
Zamata’s performance introduced audience members to both her comedy and her life, following her traditional style of intertwining humor with stories of real-life experiences. “Weaving storytelling into standup, that’s my jam,” Zamata said.
She joked about typical family problems, race, awkward sexual experiences, her life in New York City and her recent experiences at “SNL.”
Zamata joked about her first kiss, which happened at age 17.
Her best friend gasped when she told her she had yet to be kissed the summer before their senior year of high school, saying, “‘Oh my god! Well, we need to fix this,’” recalled Zamata in a mocking tone.
“She made me feel like I made some egregious error, like evading my taxes or something, like ‘Oh my god ... If you don’t fix this by the end of the summer, they’re going to come after you,” she joked.
Following her performance, she opened the floor to questions for almost another hour. Eager audience members posed questions; a few even offered to be her best friend. Zamata kindly accepted one offer of friendship, but joked off the second offer, quipping that her best friend quota was currently full.
Many were interested in her experience as an “SNL” cast member.
“My favorite thing about being on ‘SNL,’ I guess is … being on the show,” Zamata honestly joked.
“They treat us like kings, it’s nice,” she added.
Zamata said she recently met fellow U.Va. alumna and former “SNL” cast member Tina Fey. Zamata said that having a Cavalier connection was cool – as was Fey – but also joked that talking to someone about a shared experience you had at different times can be awkward – like talking to someone who has also eaten lunch at some point.
“Oh you know lunch – yeah, I had that, too. Yeah, lunch was cool for me and I’m glad you had it too,” she joked.
Zamata gets to work with celebrities each week on the show, and said that her first show, with rapper Drake, has been her favorite thus far. “We were both experiencing this new thing with fresh eyes,” she said.
While Zamata is among one of the faces of the “SNL” performing cast, she also proves valuable behind the scenes as a writer. She told stories of late-night-turned-early-morning writing sessions during which random things like alligators and toilet seats join together to create comedy.
“It’s like the wild, wild West. You can write whatever you want,” she said.
When one student asked, “How can I do exactly what you’re doing?” Zamata cautioned that the journey was not easy.
“Everyone’s first year in New York is awful,” she said. “I cried so much in public. I’m not even a crier, but as soon as I got to New York I was on the train crying, in the park crying, always crying.
“It’s hard. You have to decide for yourself if it’s worth it.”
While comedy is the focus of her career at the moment, she admits to wanting to be cast in movies as well.
“I’m interested in doing movies,” she said. “I would love to be in action movies. I just want to kick ass and break stuff and drive fast cars and blow stuff up. That’s my thing.”
But she rates at least one professional goal even greater than her desire to be an action hero. “I’m dying to play Beyoncé. She’s my favorite celebrity of all time,” she said.
Zamata then performed a skit about Beyoncé’s former band, which she titled, “Destiny’s Child Does a Three-Legged Race.” Audience laughs and cheers seemed to confirm that she would succeed in a role as the R&B artist.
Asked about her experience streaking the Lawn, Zamata admitted that she never participated in the U.Va. tradition as a student. Audience members unanimously agreed that she should partake in the tradition following her performance.
“If I do [streak the Lawn], I’m not telling any of you,” she said. “I don’t want any of you to see it.”
Amuse Bouche, the University’s only long-form improvisational comedy troupe – which Zamata co-founded during her time on Grounds – opened the night.
For fourth-year troupe members, the opportunity to share the bill brought their experience full circle. Zamata visited U.Va. in 2010 and performed with the group, giving them insight into her then-fledgling career.
“It’s been a really interesting experience to watch it all come about, because we’ve all followed her comedy as it’s gotten to this point,” Kevin McVey said. “It’s cool to see it really work out for her.”