Sasheer Zamata Would Rather Keep Her Faith in the Algorithm

Sasheer Zamata
Courtesy of Kim Newmoney.

In the years since Sasheer Zamata starred on Saturday Night Live, she has built an increasingly stacked résumé, appearing on Comedy Central’s workplace satire Corporate, in Stella Meghie’s indie rom-com The Weekend, and Hulu’s semi-animated series Woke. Now, she can add a few more shows to her list, like ABC’s family sitcom Home Economics, in which she stars alongside Karla Souza, Jimmy Tatro, and Topher Grace, and Best Friends, the podcast she co-hosts with BFF and fellow comedian Nicole Byer.

It’s all gravy for someone who always knew she wanted to be a performer. “I think I tried to get a ‘real job’ and I remember shadowing a broadcast journalist in high school, but the thing I was attracted to was being on TV,” she admitted with a laugh over the phone. Zamata’s father was in the Air Force so she moved around frequently, growing up in Indiana, going to college in Virginia where she realized she could change her major to reflect her acting ambitions, and landing in New York City, where she gained notoriety for her performances at Upright Citizens Brigade and on SNL.

She spoke with W just before moving into a new house in Los Angeles, where she’s settling down after moving there two years ago. In her Culture Diet, she explains why she keeps faith in the Instagram algorithm, her biggest comedic influences, and reveals the No. 1 thing she’s been missing during the pandemic.

When you were starting out as a comic, who were some of your biggest influences?

I definitely got a lot from Whoopi Goldberg and seeing her being a comedian, a movie star, and a Black woman. I watched I Love Lucy a lot as a kid and loved Lucille Ball. I love Fran Drescher from The Nanny. Carol Burnett, I feel like I stumbled upon her stuff in college and loved her style and humor, and her interaction with an audience. Sarah Silverman is a big influence on me, too. A lot of great women to look up to!

You co-host a podcast with your best friend Nicole Byer. How did the two of you decide to share your best friend origin story in podcast form?

For a long time, people kept telling us we need a show and we couldn’t think of a theme. We were like, Why don’t we just talk about our friendship and other people’s friendships? It's turning out to be really, really fun. We try to give advice as best we can. We've had a 12-year-long friendship that has had ups and downs, so we're not experts, but we do have some insight as to how to maintain a strong friendship. And also, I think there are so many things that highlight romantic relationships and what that's like, or the relationship with your child or a family member—but not a ton on friendships.

Let’s get into some of these Culture Diet questions. What’s the first thing you read in the morning?

Instagram, which I guess is not really reading. [Laughs.] I scroll through memes of dogs and posts about home goods.

What are some of your favorite social media accounts to follow?

I actually don’t follow any accounts—I try to keep my timeline clean. I mean, I still see stuff because I can go to the Explore page; the algorithm is smart—probably a little too smart—so it does know what I like. So it's like, here's another puppy tumbling down the stairs and I'm like, thank you, algorithm. That's what I wanted.

That’s smart to not follow anyone! Beyoncé doesn’t follow anyone either and it seems like it’s working for her.

Yeah. The closer I can get to whatever Beyoncé is doing, the better.

How do you get your news?

Through Twitter. I do the same thing, I use the Explore page to see what’s happening in the world.

Are there any good books on your bedside table?

I've been reading Julia Cameron's The Artist’s Way lately, doing the exercises with a group of friends. It's a 12-week book that’s an aid to help you tap into your creativity. I did it years ago after I graduated college, when I didn't know what my next step was going to be. In the pandemic, I can't tour, there are no standup shows to do—I needed a boost to reinvigorate this creativity that I was dying to get out.

That must be really encouraging to do it with friends, too.

It really is. I recommend for anyone doing anything creative, collaborating with other people and hearing their experiences and their journey. Doing things by myself seemed harder and more of a drag. And now it's nice to meet on a day to talk about this thing and we can keep each other accountable.

What is the last thing you Googled on your phone?

That could be a dangerous question for some people. I’m pretty sure it was a day bed, because I’m trying to figure out a couch or guest bed situation. I was having a hard time because I didn’t want to have a room with just a bed in it that no one used, because I don’t really love people being in my house. [Laughs.] But I know we will have guests at some point in time so I should have a place for them to sleep. I came to the conclusion that we’ll get a bed but dress it up. I found a nice Urban Outfitters bed frame that looks like it could be a day bed, and we’ll get a cool cover on Etsy and a bunch of pillows, and when we do have guests we can take all that stuff off to make it a bed. I think I figured out something that will make my guests happy and also make me happy as well.

Are there any good TV shows keeping you up at night?

I actually binged Behind Her Eyes on Netflix in one day. Those are hour-long episodes! But I powered through. I couldn’t go to sleep until I figured out what the heck was behind her eyes. It was also scary and suspenseful, so I knew if I went to bed I would have nightmares.

What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?

I’m pretty sure it was The Invisible Man. There’s a moment in the movie where Elisabeth Moss has found something, and we weren’t sure what it was yet. She’s reaching and touching, and then the screen went black. Then, the lights in the theater went up and an alarm went off, and we were like, is this interactive? What is happening? We stepped outside with everyone, and finally a manager came out and said everything was fine, it was a fire drill—but it was, like, 9 PM, so why were they doing fire drills?

Do you listen to any other podcasts besides your own?

I don’t listen to a ton, but I have been listening to ‎The mindbodygreen Podcast. They have a range of health and wellness episodes about eating clean, the body, dreams, and the afterlife. It doesn’t necessarily seem so cut and dry. I like that they cover things that some people may not believe in, but they bring in experts.

What’s the last song you had on repeat?

Joji’s “Slow Dancing in the Dark.” I’ve been listening to Joji so much for the last several months. I keep trying to listen to something else, but I just need to go with my gut and listen to Joji because it feels good. It makes me feel cool. I feel like I’m late to the Joji train, but I’m fully on board now.

What about the last concert you went to?

Yola at the Troubadour with Nicole [Byer.] She had never heard of Yola before, but was all in when we were at the concert. I miss concerts the most: live music, being close to the stage, feeling the music in my body.

What is the last piece of art that you bought or ogled?

I have these paintings that I got at a street fair in New Orleans. They’re mash-ups of different pop art, like Uma Thurman as her character from Kill Bill, but wearing a Star Wars helmet, or the Super Mario Bros. wearing the suits Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta wear in Pulp Fiction.

Are you into astrology at all?

I am. I’m a Taurus moon, Gemini rising. I feel a little silly liking it as much as I do—but I feel like it helped me get my house. I took a moon magic class that taught us about the moon and how you can align your actions and thoughts to what it’s doing when it’s in certain positions. At the end of class, the instructor asked if anyone had anything big coming up. And I was like, well, I'm looking for a house right now. She said the best time to purchase a house was during a Taurus moon, which was that Friday. I found a house I really liked on Wednesday but someone had already put an offer in for it, so I started mourning it. But then the offer fell through and the house came back to me! I was like, was this the moon? I think it might’ve been.

Finally, what is the last thing you do before you go to bed?

The last thing I do before I go to bed is fall asleep on the couch. And then my man shoves me and tells me to go brush my teeth, and I finally do, and then I get in bed. It’s an epic journey.