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Sasheer Zamata, the First Black Woman on 'SNL' in 6 Years, Makes Her Debut

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Sasheer Zamata smiles for the cameras. (Getty Images)

Her first line? "Mazel tov!"

All eyes were on Sasheer Zamata, the new, featured player who was hired in response to a public outcry for more diversity on "Saturday Night Live," particularly more black women. As expected, she did fine; after all, she couldn't possibly do worse than Jenny Slate — who dropped an F-bomb on her very first episode — so the pressure was off.

An interesting fact that has received far less attention than Zamata's hiring is the addition of two new black female writers — Lakendra Tookes and Leslie Jones. While it's a good thing to see greater diversity on the stage, it may be even more important to see it in the writers' room where the sketches are actually generated.

Zamata appears in half the sketches on her first episode, thanks in part to a number of big group scenes. The high point of the night was "Before They Were Stars," a sketch that demonstrated what's possible with a more diverse cast. It features, in quick succession, six different black hip-hop stars playing "forgotten" versions of classic TV characters. Lil Wayne as Steve Urkel from "Family Matters," Rihanna as a Barbadian version of "Blossom," Rick Ross as a Teletubby, a spin-off of "That's So Raven" called "That's So 2 Chainz," Jay-Z on "Mr. Wizard's World" and Flavor Flav as the narrator on "The Wonder Years."

Though Zamata as Rihanna is only a small part of the sketch, her role is vital. If Jay Pharoah or Kenan Thompson (the other two black cast members) or even Drake had played the role, the joke would have been "awful versions of old TV shows" instead of the more specific and fun "safe old TV shows infused with a dangerous urban vibe." It's subtle, but things like that can be the difference between a mediocre sketch and a great one.

She has a small role as Auntie Rhonda in Drake's monologue sketch – which features a pretty stellar comedy verse from the rapper.

She's also the featured singer in the song about failed New Years resolutions, appears as a student in detention, and plays the daughter of a hot dad at a slumber party. Her addition brings the total number of women on the cast to seven and it's nice to see a sketch featuring all of them onstage at the same time.

The "SNL" cast now has seven women which may, in fact, be the most women the show has had simultaneously in its history. It will be interesting to see how that affects the dynamic of the show as it inches towards its 40th season.

The reaction to Zamata's first time on the "SNL" stage has been overwhelmingly positive online.

But, of course, it's good to remember that it's not really fair to judge her on anything but whether or not she's funny.

 

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