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Former Saturday Night Live castmember and actress Sasheer Zamata quietly left the sketch comedy show after four seasons in 2017 and hasn’t spoken much publicly about the reasons for her departure.
But she opened up about her time on SNL on Monday during a daylong series of panels presented by New York magazine’s The Cut vertical, titled “How I Get It Done,” held at the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge. Other speakers included current SNL star Aidy Bryant, Padma Lakshmi, Robin Roberts, PEN15 co-creators and stars Anna Konkle and Maya Erskine, and Russian Doll stars Natasha Lyonne and Greta Lee.
“I’m actually glad it happened, and the way it happened,” Zamata told New York contributing editor Lisa Miller about her time on SNL. “I feel like I left being a better performer, a better writer, a better communicator, a better team-worker.”
Still, the comedian, who has been doing pilots and working on movie scripts over the last year, said her choice to leave was ultimately about the work and how it made her feel.
“It was not what I thought it was going to be, and I don’t think anyone really thinks it’s going to be that way because it’s not like any other job,” Zamata said. “So it was a couple years of figuring out, ‘Am I OK with this?’ Do I want to just accept it as is and be like, ‘That’s just a job and I guess I’ll just stay and take it like everybody else?’ Or do I want to try something else that makes me feel really good and work with people who excite me and who are excited about me and want to create things that make us feel fulfilled?”
During the panel, which also featured Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins, the first openly transgender African-American woman elected to public office in the U.S., Zamata recounted how her experience on an upcoming Netflix project was also not what she imagined before explaining how she turned it into something fulfilling.
“I came in for the read-through [and] I did not like what they wrote at all,” Zamata said. “But I just stayed there. I was like, ‘We’re gonna fix this.’ I’m not in that writers room; that’s not my job; they only needed me for that week and then I was leaving, but I was like, ‘No, we’re gonna fix this ’cause I want to look good, I want to come off looking good.'”
“We just stayed there for hours and we went line by line and I ran the room, and I haven’t done that before, but I was like, ‘I’m just gonna tell everybody what jokes work and what don’t,'” Zamata continued. “And of course, I was listening and collaborating, and thankfully I’ve had experiences in writers rooms to do that before.”
Earlier in the day, Top Chef host and executive producer Padma Lakshmi also discussed the ongoing challenges of working in television, including pitching a new show, facing down self-doubt as a host and dealing with difficult Top Chef guests. Lakshmi revealed that one of those guests was restaurateur Sam Nazarian, whose behavior, she said, made her think even Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio “was going to punch him” on her behalf.
“It was in Napa and there was a restaurateur who was just being really — just negative — and really, really mean just to get sound bites because he thought that’s what would get him on the air,” Lakshmi said before name-checking Nazarian, who appeared in the finale of the show’s Emmy-winning sixth season, Top Chef: Las Vegas.
“I said, ‘Look, we flew you all the way over here, you should at least be positive. He’s like, ‘Oh, you didn’t fly me here. I came on my own plane,'” Lakshmi said about their conversation, in which she told Nazarian the show could simply cut him out. “I said, ‘All the more reason not to waste the fuel.'”
During Lyonne and Lee’s panel, both women recounted details around the seven-year process of bringing Russian Doll to life, as well as Lee’s work on her upcoming series K-Town. Maya Rudolph video-messaged in during the Q&A to talk about her experience working with Lyonne.
“She really wants to get it done and she wants to see things happen and she cares and she’s on it,” Rudolph said of Lyonne. “And it’s really exciting because I work with a lot of people and I collaborate with a lot of big people, but on a personal level, I always feel like I have a lot to take away from my time with Natasha.”
While Roberts made headlines for her comments about her much-discussed Jussie Smollett interview, she also spoke about another major interview she recently conducted, with actress Selma Blair, who opened up about her multiple sclerosis diagnosis. Roberts said that Blair had proposed sitting down again in a year, and the Good Morning America host was all for it and more.
“I want to document the year,” Roberts said. “I don’t want to just show up. I want people to be able to see the highs and the lows. She, hopefully, will be willing to do that.”
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