Saturday Night Live is banking on Sasheer Zamata to add laughs and help take off some of the growing pressure over accusations that the show has a diversity problem.
Zamata, an alumna of the University of Virginia and the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York, also becomes the first female African American cast member on SNL since Maya Rudolph left the show in 2007.
Members of SNL's cast had raked producer Lorne Michaels over the coals for the lack of diversity, with Keenan Thompson refusing to play black women in drag any longer and Jay Pharoah calling the cast "too white."
Then, when Scandal star Kerry Washington stopped by to host, the cold open attempted to turn the criticism into a self-deprecating joke. Washington began playing Michelle Obama, then was asked to hurry off set to switch into Oprah drag, then later appear as Beyoncé, while a written message from the producers apologized.
"The producers of Saturday Night Live would like to apologize to Kerry Washington for the number of black women she will be asked to play tonight," the message half-joked. "We made these requests both because Ms. Washington is an actress of considerable range and talent and also because SNL does not currently have a black woman in the cast. As for the latter reason, we agree this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the near future…unless, of course, we fall in love with another white guy first."
Zamata, who was selected from a nation-wide search and was brought to test on the SNL stage with 11 other finalists on December 16, will fill in the gaps -- comedic and otherwise -- for the longtime sketch show.