Sasheer Zamata’s comedy career has been anything but typical.
The funny-woman left Saturday Night Live without much fanfare just two years ago. For plenty of comics, the long-running sketch-comedy series is the pinnacle of their career, the job everyone wants, but it Zamata seems to have found success and a certain amount of creative freedom away from the show.
She’s spent the last year touring extensively, honing her stand-up routines with specials like Pizza Mind while guesting on shows like Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, hosting a live variety show, serving as ACLU’s Celebrity Ambassador for Women’s Rights, and creating her own podcast (due sometime this year).
She’s also taking her talents to the big screen, starring in Stella Meghie’s The Weekend, which played at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. The film sees Zamata play a stand-up comic named Zadie who goes on a weekend trip with her ex-boyfriend (Tone Bell) and his new girlfriend (DeWanda Wise). It’s a sarcastic, quietly-brilliant exercise in awkwardness that touches on relationships and how to rebuild yourself when they sour.
UPROXX spoke with Zamata about evolving — not reviving — the rom-com, why she might regret finding her filter, and if she’s tired of being asked to comment on controversy in the comedy world.
People like to say there’s a rom-com revival happening. I don’t know if rom-coms really ever went away, but I do think they’ve evolved a bit. Where does The Weekend fit into that?
I agree. We used to have really good rom-coms that portrayed women in a very human light, where they were strong or determined or had good jobs or whatever, but then we went to this weird phase where people were falling down a lot or literally running into a man or waiting for a man to save them or they’re a maid. And those were still entertaining, but I don’t know what happened where we just went through this phase of these women, they aren’t in control of their own destiny. What I like about The Weekend is Zadie, even though a lot of her decisions may not be positive, they’re at least her decisions. And she is making active choices throughout the whole movie, and then we get to see how the other characters react to those active choices.
Also, we don’t really see a character that’s so sarcastic or negative or carefree I guess, someone who doesn’t care about what other people think. A lot of roles that are written for women are women trying to impress somebody or change so they can make someone fall in love with them or get someone’s approval, and Zadie’s kind of like, “Yeah, this is it, here it is, and if you like it great. If not, I don’t have room.”
Speaking of Zadie, she makes the bizarre decision to spend the weekend with her ex and his new girlfriend. Why in the hell would someone do that?
I mean it seems wild, but also, I have totally seen it happen in real life, where you’re like, ‘Why are you making these decisions?’ Or your logic goes out the window when you’re in love, or you’re heartbroken, or you’re feeling these strong emotions.
Do you think it says something about how women hold onto relationships too long?
I think it’s something that a lot of people go through, and I know men who’ve held on to friendships/relationships for way too long and couldn’t let go, too. But yeah, I think it’s more this character is just wallowing in this self-pity, and if people relate to that, that’s great. But I don’t know if this is a common thing. Because I also know people who have their shit together and don’t do that at all. And I envy them, and I’m proud of them.
Zadie’s not one of those people.
She’s not thinking of her health. She’s got this like, “Woe is me,” when it’s like, “Girl, you can just forget about him and take care of yourself and that would be cool, too.” Just shower. Comb your hair. Call your mom. You don’t have to be a pathetic wimp because this man, who wasn’t even that great, broke your heart.
Zadie’s a comedian but she’s also a woman lacking a filter. Did you relate to her on any level?
I’ve been known to be too blunt in my life. For the longest, my New Year’s resolution was to be kinder because I would have people sort of be like, “Hey, you’ve got to calm down and stop being such a bitch.” Now, when people meet me they think I’m sweet, but I still have those thoughts where I want to say things that would probably hurt people’s feelings. But I have learned how to create a filter, whereas Zadie didn’t. She comes off really harsh in this movie, but I’m kind of envious of that freedom, where she can just say whatever she wants and keep moving. People will call her out, but no one’s leaving her. She still has these relationships, and they’re just like, “Well, that’s just Zadie.”
It’s like, “Oh, man. If only I didn’t care.” I have that instinct to say whatever I want, but then I have the aftereffect of being like, “Oh no, was that the worst? Was I being awful? Do they hate me now?” Which is a thing that Zadie doesn’t have, and that’s kind of inspiring.
The past couple of years have seen you branch out quite a bit with your comedy. You’ve toured, done guest-spots on shows, done podcasts, now you’re working on another movie and a Comedy Central show. Why explore these different mediums?
I mean, I think artists should know how to do a lot of stuff and know how to perform and get your voice out in a lot of different ways. Because the industry’s evolving and changing so much, and the audience is evolving, and the way they consume things is evolving. So, if I’m just doing one thing, I might be outdated next year. I might get lost in the shuffle because people don’t know what to do with me if I’m not doing anything but the one thing that I do.
Speaking of the industry, as a female comic, do you feel pressure to address all of the controversies happening, not just in the comedy world, but in general. Do we put too much of the burden on fixing all of the shit in the world on women?
Yes, and yes. I don’t need everyone’s opinion on every single topic. It’s not necessary. If you have a great take on something, go for it. If it moves you to talk about it, absolutely. But, just because something’s a hot topic or in the news or something, I’m not always compelled to talk about it because I might not find it funny or I don’t even know what my opinion is yet.
When people are asking, “Well, what do you think about this thing or this event or this person or whatever,” I’m kind of like, “Why are you asking me? Ask that person.” One of the questions like, “How do you feel about producers not casting women for this or clubs not hiring women for that?” I’m like, “Why don’t you go talk to those producers or those clubs?” We don’t know. I wish I knew, but we don’t know how to fix it. The people in charge know how to fix it. Go interview them and figure out why they’re not doing it.