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Interview: Sasheer Zamata 

The Saturday Night Live star comes to Publiq House July 26

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Since joining the cast of Saturday Night Live in January 2014, Sasher Zamata has impersonated Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna on the show, and has run into all of them — though only Rihanna disapproved, Zamata says; the pop star gave her a cold shoulder while appearing at an event together.

  "Taraji Henson didn't seem to mind," Zamata says via phone from New York. "Or at least she didn't say anything to me. ... Beyonce didn't say anything, but I don't know if she saw it."

  Zamata joined the show mid-season, after an uproar over the cast's lack of a black female comedian — which dated back to Maya Rudolph's departure in 2007. Zamata had made short videos of herself as Michelle Obama, Beyonce and others and posted them on the Internet. She was ready to step right into SNL's steady stream of topical sketches.

  "I did a bit with Michelle Obama on Queen Latifah's show at my audition," Zamata says. "Like Latifah was interviewing her."

  She reprised the role in an SNL Mother's Day sketch with Vanessa Bayer playing Hilary Clinton. As the two deliver a joint holiday message, a cheery Obama offers Clinton a cookie and waits till Clinton is struggling with a chewy bite before noting that it's low fat and made with flax seeds and dates. Eventually Clinton's competitiveness spills over and she compares her work as U.S. Secretary of State to the First Lady's efforts to reduce obesity: "For years I have been flying around the world dealing with all sorts of humanitarian crises, but hey, I suppose it's tough to make a chubby kid eat an apple."

  While Zamata waits for the SNL season to begin in late September, she's touring at mostly rock clubs and alternative venues, including a show at Publiq House July 26.

  Also this summer, she and comedian Nicole Byers are working on the third season of their web series Pursuit of Sexiness, which focuses heavily on dating, sex and racial stereotypes but ranges into other topics about New York life. Both seasons and some of Zamata's solo videos are posted on her website (www.sasheer.com).

  Zamata also performs at New York's East Village Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) as often as her schedule allows, she says, including two competitive improv events in recent weeks. Many SNL cast members performed at UCB, and it helped propel Zamata into comedy.

  "I thought I would be doing more theater," she says. "When I moved to New York (in 2008), I was auditioning for plays and trying to get my (Actors) Equity card and all that. I kept going to UCB to watch shows and I felt so connected there. After a while I thought, 'I have to take a class.' ... (I) took another and another and blew through all the classes."

  While she liked sketch and improv at UCB, she started her standup act on her own.

  "I overheard people in my classes saying they wanted to try standup but it scared them," she says. "So then I was like, 'I like doing scary things.' I went to some open mics and didn't tell anyone. I didn't die. It wasn't awful. Then I caught the bug and kept wanting to get up there. Seven years later I am still doing it."

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