Sasheer Zamata Casts Her Spell With ‘The First Woman’

Sasheer Zamata has never seemed more radically free and confidently at ease than in her latest comedy special, The First Woman — an hour-long, joke-per-minute feminist history lesson that quietly became one of 2023’s best stand-up offerings when it dropped late last year. Soaking up the spotlight in a stylish tangerine jumpsuit, surrounded by jungle plants, and miming how one empties their silicon menstrual cup, Zamata manages to make her brand of social commentary sincerely funny — a rare feat given the current stand-up special churn, but one that shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone who’s been paying attention to her upward trajectory.

In the seven years since departing Saturday Night Live, the comedian has bounced from actress to writer to podcast host, starring in indie films and network comedies, and headlining her own show with friend and fellow funnywoman, Nicole Byer. She’s graduated from supporting player to singular talent, ditching the formulaic constraints of sketch comedy to broaden her hysterically funny horizons. And The First Woman, her second stand-up venture, filmed in D.C., is the culmination of that years-long odyssey. Filled with deeply intimate musings on racial inequality in our nation’s healthcare system, bizarre anecdotes about public masturbation, and a surprising amount of fact-checking punchlines on everything from witches to Amelia Earhart, Zamata’s set is bold and unapologetic, brimming with what she labels “female energy,” and born from a COVID lockdown that sparked growth and an abundance of material.

UPROXX chatted with Zamata about the feminist themes of The First Woman and the strange kismet of her casting in Marvel’s Agatha.

What’s the catalyst for doing another stand-up special? What has to happen to convince you that now is the right time?

I wanted to release new material. The last special I put out was in 2017, and a lot has happened with the world, with me. I feel like I’ve grown so much since then and this material and this performance reflects that. It’s very woman-heavy. I’m talking about women’s health and our bodies and history, and it just feels very rich with female energy.

This special dives into a bunch of zeitgeisty topics – women’s health, the erasure of Black women, and reproductive issues. Do you ever look at the social climate and think, ‘This could be a good time to put out these jokes.’?

I don’t think I really write material like, ‘Oh, this is a hot topic, I’ve got to jump on while the goings hot.’ But unfortunately, women’s health has been, is, and continues to be an issue concurrently, for all time. So it’s timely now. It’ll probably be timely next year. It has been timely for the last decades of our lives. I think if you just do work that feels very personal to you, it will feel timely because other people can find something to relate to within it. And yeah, we are in a moment where people are talking a lot about women’s rights health-wise. I actually shot this special in D.C. Something about it felt really refreshing and cathartic — to scream about my pussy in D.C.

At one point in the special, you quiz the audience on which household items they’ve sexually experimented with. That feels like a risky move. Why do it?

It’s genuinely fun. I can’t remember when I started doing that on stage. I am sharing the first time I masturbated with a household object — it was the handle of a lint roller. I’ve talked to other people who are like, ‘Oh yes, I use a filter of a fish tank. I use a hairbrush. I use whatever.’ And I’m like, ‘Other people have wild stories too. I want to know.’ So I just kind of opened it up to the audience and I was like, ‘Please give me your stories. This is a safe space.’ And the more I did it, the wilder the answers got. I think it’s beautiful because then people start feeling comfortable talking about that stuff.

We’ve been repressed to feel like that kind of sexuality or exploration is reserved for men or straight men. They’re encouraged to masturbate or be sexual beings at a young age because of the media that we’re given. But women, we kind of have to button up and not even address our own body parts or our own desires because it’s icky or it’s gross or it’s weird. So I wanted to create an opportunity for people to loudly admit something they may have never told anyone. It’s a wonderful moment because I feel it brings the audience together. Like, ‘Hey, I’m not the only one. We’ve all done stuff like this.’

Has anyone ever shouted out an answer that surprised you?

Someone said a Spirograph pen during the special, and I’ve never heard that one before. It vibrates, so I was like, ‘She’s innovative. I appreciate that.’

Are there topics in this special you worried might not land? Maybe they’d be too political or divisive?

Yeah, I do talk about pussies and our reproductive organs a lot, and I think there have been times where I’m like, ‘Am I talking about it too much? Are people going to be like, ‘Oh my God, get out of here. Can we move on to a different body part or a different thing? Anything?’.’ But I think once I did it a bunch on stage, I realized that I was getting a response from women, just people in general, who were craving this, who were craving someone talking about this stuff out loud and acknowledging it because we don’t in our culture. So I think I was like, ‘I want to dig deeper into this stuff, but I don’t know if people are willing to go there with me.’ Then I would do it more and be like, ‘Oh, they are ready.’

I think I also attract a crowd that’s way more open to that kind of stuff than I think other comedy crowds. I feel like my crowds are just down to be radical.

There’s plenty of witch lore in this special. Was that a result of working on Agatha?

I actually finished the special before I got cast on Agatha, so it was kind of magical kismet. When they hired me, I emailed the director and I was like, ‘Did you know you actually hired a witch?’ They saw me perform and do some of these jokes and they were like, ‘Oh, wow. We didn’t even realize how good of a fit this was.’ But yeah, it is nice that I get to be in witchy things — that aligns with the work that I was already doing in my stand-up. It just feels very much like this is the right time.

Did you suggest they include the history of the broomstick in the show?

Yeah, [Kathryn Hahn] was down and the creator of the show was like, ‘We have thought about using the history of broomsticks and how women have masturbated with broomsticks, and that’s kind of the imagery of a woman riding a broom, but it’s still a Disney show. It’s still on Disney+.’

As a woman in this comedy game, how have you grown and how do you feel about your place within this world now?

I feel like I’m in a good spot where I get asked to do things that feel like they align with my own values. I play a lot of characters that are hippie-dippy or social justice warriors or just things that feel good to me, and that’s how I like to present my voice in the world. I feel like my standup represents who I am as a person, and I love that people can also see that and put me in roles that align with that. So yeah, I feel very fortunate that my career has turned out to be one that feels right to me.

You can watch ‘The First Woman’ streaming now on YouTube