A new era for 'SNL'

NEED TO KNOW
  • On Saturday, Sasheer Zamata makes her debut on 'Saturday Night Live'
  • She becomes 'SNL's' first African-American female cast member in almost seven years
  • A comedian who auditioned for 'SNL' along with Zamata tells Showbiz Tonight about the experience

This Saturday night, all eyes will be on Sasheer Zamata as she makes her debut on "Saturday Night Live." She'll  become the show's first African-American female cast member since Maya Rudolph left in 2007.

One person who'll definitely be watching: comedian Simone Shepherd. Shepherd, along with Zamata, was among the roughly two dozen performers who tried out for "SNL" last month, when the show held special auditions at the height of a controversy over its lack of black women in the cast.

If you think Shepherd is bitter after losing the "SNL" part to Zamata, think again: "I'm so excited for her," Shepherd tells Showbiz Tonight. "She's opening a door that I hope stays open for many other women to go back through."

If anything, Shepherd feels a little bad for Zamata. Usually, new cast members begin "SNL" with relative anonymity and zero expectations. But when Zamata steps onto Studio 8H on Saturday, there'll likely be more attention -- and pressure -- on her than any other cast member, or the show's guest host (FYI, it's rapper Drake).

"In an ideal world, [Zamata] could go in there and just be funny," Shepherd tells Showbiz Tonight. "But of course she feels pressure. This is the most public 'SNL' audition ever. So for her to get on that show, she is holding a torch that she shouldn't be carrying. She should just be able to be funny. But now she has to represent all the black people -- on Martin Luther King weekend!"

So what was it like to audition for "SNL" during such a public time? And what bit did Shepherd perform for her audition (hint: it would have gone well with Jay Pharoah's hilarious Jay Z impression)? Watch Showbiz Tonight at 11 p.m. ET/PT.

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