29Rooms is Refinery29's funhouse of style, culture, and technology. Find out more about this year's event here.
Sasheer Zamata is serious bestie material. The funny lady starred on Saturday Night Live for three years, and she collaborated with Refinery29 on an installation for 29Rooms, our annual funhouse jam-packed with interactive art. For her room, she created a rainbow comedy car wash that you're certain to see all over your Instagram feeds this weekend.
She chatted with our very own Arianna Davis about the installation, as well as her laugh projects after leaving SNL earlier this year. She's got an upcoming role in Amy Schumer's new flick, but that's not all — Zamata wants to take over the world, and we are so here for her dominion.
So what made you want to team up with Refinery29 to create a room for 29Rooms?
I’ve done a few things with Refinery29. You guys post my videos a lot and have promoted me a lot and I appreciate it. I’d heard about 29Rooms before and how cool, exclusive, and artsy it is, and those are all things that I like. So when I was approached about doing one, it sounded like a cool idea, so I was like "absolutely!" I want to work with Refinery29 as much as possible.
Can you tell our readers who aren’t able to attend what your room is like, and the inspiration behind it?
My room is like a laughing car wash, so people will be able to walk through the room while these spinning washers are happening around them, they’re kind of going to be assaulted...well, maybe that’s too harsh of a word. It’s more like, they’re being washed over with laughter. And it’s my laughter. You’ll hear my actual laugh in the room and it was a kind of maddening experience recording it because I had to record 5 minutes of straight laughter, which was insane. There were so many waves of emotion where I was like, "Wow, this is fun!" Then I feel crazy, but it’s fun, [and] now I’m tired physically because I was laughing for five minutes! But it was super fun.
29 Rooms is all about finding inspiration and creativity. What’s your creative process like for your comedy?
Honestly, I just recently started getting organized. I used to be pretty all over the place. I would carry a lot of different notebooks and write down any idea that came to me and look back and try to connect different ideas. But now I have an app called Evernote. I like it because it has different folders. I have one for movie ideas, book ideas, and television ideas, and I’m able to separate things out. I’m able to write whatever comes to my head. I won’t know what they are yet, they’ll just be phrases of things or something that happened to me. I try not to throw away too much stuff so I can use it whenever I need it.
I also get inspired a lot by music. I’ve been listening to Kesha a lot, I think her new album is so inspiring and powerful and I’m glad she’s able to get her voice back out there in a new way. Her voice sounds so much stronger, strong and powerful, like her literal voice is stronger. I’m all about it.
You make people laugh for a living. What makes you laugh?
Anything truthful makes me laugh. When I’m trying to find an immediate laugh, I go to Instagram and look for memes like, animals making weird noises. [That] always makes me laugh. You know, like those goats that sound like humans.
I want to talk a little bit about the state of comedy right now. There are a lot of women in comedy doing their thing at the moment, which is great to see, but I think we also still have a long way to go to being equally represented in comedy. How do you feel?
I agree with all of the above. We have a long way to go, but I also think we are in a good place. Thankfully there are so many ways comedians can be seen now. You can have so many different specials on different networks and then on social media there are live platforms that are being created. So there’s more space for women to be seen and heard. I think people are actually hungry to hear different types of viewpoints and voices. Of course, there is always room to grow. We’re still the minority in comedy. Hopefully that will even out over the years. It takes time. But I do think we are farther along than we ever have been, and that’s really exciting to me.
Well, on Saturday Night Live, you were the only female Black comedian at the time, and you’re also still one of the few in comedy in general. Does that ever feel like a lot of pressure?
I don’t actively think about that while I’m working. Sometimes I’ll think about it, because other Black women will come up to me and say they’re excited to see someone who looks like them in the public eye and performing. That motivates me and keeps me going.
I think it would be too much pressure though if I thought about it every time I wrote a joke, that I was the representative of my culture. But I am so grateful that I’m in the position that I’m in and that I get to use my platform to say certain things. I want more of us, I want more women to be in the public eye and able to do comedy. We don’t all have the same opinions, we all have different opinions. I’d love to have more voices out there telling our stories, because it’s exciting. You’d be able to learn more about our culture in general.
Obviously the world is in a crazy place right now — there’s a lot of heaviness. How do you find ways to address those issues, but also provide an escape?
I do think that a lot of comedy comes from tragedy. We’re used to this. Not that we crave having negative energy or a heavy atmosphere all the time.
It’s likely that a lot of comedians or people who are funny have gone through something in their life that makes them funny. So we [use] sad, angering, or confusing events and find a way to analyze that in a way that isn’t so depressing and turn it into comedy. That’s our job. How do I do it? I do it because I’ve always been doing it.
Earlier this year Kathy Griffin caught a lot of flack for doing a photoshoot with a beheaded Donald Trump. Do you think there’s such a thing as going too far in comedy?
I don’t want to say that you can go too far with a joke, because I think you can make a joke about anything, you just have to make it funny. It depends on the joke and how you’re delivering it. I’ve heard funny rape and domestic abuse and race jokes. It depends on how you’re delivering it and who’s the butt of the joke. I think if it’s a mean spirited joke, it’s hard for the audience to get on board with it or feel okay with laughing with you. It depends on the package. But I do think you can make a joke about anything. As of now, I think you should be able to joke about anything. Maybe I’ll change my mind about that a year from now, but that’s my opinion right now.
What other projects do you have in the works that we can look forward to in the coming months and year?
I’m in the new Amy Schumer movie coming out next summer called I Feel Pretty. I’ve worked with Amy before, she’s put me in a couple sketches for her sketch show. I’m also in a movie called Ghetto Planesman; it’s more dramatic for me, [it's] about a gay man [in] the 80s and 90s. I’m his best friend trying to help him figure himself out and navigate the world. I like the story a lot and I’m really excited about the journey.
Stand-up, Saturday Night Live, movies. What else is next for Sasheer Zamata?
More movies and TV shows. I want to write more, produce more, even direct. I want to have my own empire. I want to do it all. I don’t even think that’s the end goal! I don’t have an end goal, because I don’t want to think of the end. I just want to keep expanding and growing and blossoming.
Reporting by Arianna Davis.