In Conversation with Sasheer Zamata

In preparation for 2018's JFL NorthWest comedy fest, SAD writer Liam Siemens chatted with two festival headliners. More information on JFL NorthWest, including event times and tickets, can be found on their website.

Sasheer Zamata performed as a cast member on Saturday Night Live (SNL) for four years, until she decided she wanted to do more. First, she produced Pizza Mind, a genre-bending comedy special about Star Wars, Walt Disney World, mispronunciations, and living in Trump’s America. Still tireless, she toured, and with her time on the side she was featured on This American Life, became an American Civil Liberties Union ambassador, and contributed her voice for a zombie-slashing character in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. It’s a pleasure to see a favourite comedian pop up in such diverse places. Lucky for us, she’s now taken the time to visit Vancouver. Zamata will be performing at the Biltmore Cabaret on March 2, as part of this year’s JFL NorthWest comedy festival. Sneak peak interview below!

Photo courtesy of JFL NorthWest

Photo courtesy of JFL NorthWest

Liam Siemens: You write material that’s quite personal. Have you ever written a joke that you later decided was too personal to include? Or, conversely, have you ever included a joke you later regretted?

Sasheer Zamata: I've written jokes about my family that I no longer tell. I have one perspective of how I grew up and my parents have their perspectives, and I was choosing to talk about my childhood and the affects it had on me as an adult in a comedic format, but I didn't necessarily take my parents' feelings into consideration during that process. I haven't said anything detrimental on stage, but now that I've been doing stand up for nine years I'm approaching jokes in a different way and analyzing who’s actually at the butt of my jokes, and what purpose the bit is serving. So I wouldn't say I regret those jokes; I had to tell them and learn lessons, to get to where I am as a writer and performer today. But there are definitely jokes and topics I used to talk about that I wouldn't now.

LM: What does your pre-performance routine look like? Do you deal with nerves? Do you drink too much water and regret it? Or are you jitterless, calm, and totally in control?

SZ: Before I go onstage I try to have a moment alone. I usually recite a sonnet (from Love's Labour's Lost) quietly to myself to get my mouth moving and work on my diction, and also to centre myself. I still get jitters—not as much as I used to—but I'll get them right before I step on stage and then they go away as soon as I grab the mic. But I like that; feeling nervous means I'm excited for the show. I'd be worried that if I'm not nervous it means I don't care, and that may reflect in my performance.

LM: Comedians always seem to have great dramatic stories about their best and worst sets. Do you have an all-time favourite performance? Least favourite? Have you performed a show that almost convinced you to quit comedy, or a show that convinced you to never quit?

SZ: Every show is a learning experience. I've had really amazing shows and I've had shows where I left the stage not feeling great. But I usually leave the stage feeling like I learned a new thing. I recently did a show where the mic cut out as soon as I started talking into it. The producer of the show fixed it and then I could hear myself, but when I asked the audience if they had heard anything I said before that moment, they said no. I realized I'd been speaking for [several] minutes and only the first row heard what I said. So I told them I would start my set over—I introduced myself, ran off stage, came back on and went through my set again (while also being self aware and talking about how trippy the moment was for me and the audience). It was so fun, and the audience liked my set probably more than they would've if they just heard the jokes straight. I’d never done that before, but now I know I can. Even if there's a screw up in my performance or the show, I can learn from it and I know how to handle it the next time it comes up.

LM: I’m always interested in comedians’ influences outside of comedy — do you have a few favourite artists, musicians, writers?

SZ: Beyoncé, Kanye West… Yeah, that's pretty much it.

LM: I read in another interview that you’re named after a flower-like crystal in Star Trek. I have to ask: Do you have a favourite Star Trek episode? Are you a fan of anything else that’s considered nerdy?

SZ: I watched Next Generation growing up but I can't remember having a favourite episode. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) was my first TV crush, and he'll always be in my heart as an example of a powerful man.

LM: Any final words? Something new you’ve been thinking about, something you’re excited about in 2018?

SZ: I'm excited to perform and create more, so people can hear more of my voice and see what I have to offer!


Sasheer Zamata will be performing at the Biltmore Cabaret on Friday, March 2 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets can be found here. Follow Sasheer on Twitter: @thesheertruth. See you at the fest!