The Washington Post

Drake shines as ‘SNL’ host, while Zamata is visible but quiet in her debut

Sasheer Zamata. (AP Photo/Cate Hellman Photography) Sasheer Zamata. (AP Photo/Cate Hellman Photography)

We may not have heard Sasheer Zamata much — though we certainly saw her — but one thing was clear at the end of last night’s “Saturday Night Live” broadcast: change has come to NBC’s famed Studio 8H.

After months of criticism and controversy, “Saturday Night Live” delivered a show that not only leaned heavily on the show’s black talent but featured repeated references to black culture. And rapper Drake, who was the host and musical guest, turned in scene-stealing performances that are sure to garner him a repeat invitation.

The only question that remained at the end of the genuinely funny episode: Why didn’t this happen sooner?

Zamata had one line in the first sketch, but you could hear the voices of new writers LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones in a bit that poked fun at Drake’s black-and-Jewish heritage by showcasing his family at his bar mitzvah. Zamata appeared as Auntie Rhonda, mistress to Drake’s Uncle Larry, played by Kenan Thompson.

“I’d like to thank my Uncle Larry and Auntie Kim who came all the way from Memphis tonight,” Drake said.

Uncle Larry: “Oh, dis is your Auntie Rhonda.”

Drake: “Um, what happened to Auntie Kim?”

Uncle Larry: “Oh, she back at the house.”

References to “all 150 cousins, both real and play-play,” Auntie Rhonda and a BET send-up entitled “Hip-Hop Classics: Before They Were Stars” demonstrated an intimacy with black culture that’s rarely been seen on “SNL,” and the Twittersphere took note.



While many tuned in just to see how “SNL” would handle Zamata’s first night, it was almost a relief to see Drake take command of the show. He played Jimmy Brooks on “Degrassi: The Next Generation” for eight years, and hosting allowed him to showcase his considerable acting chops. He delivered a side-splitting impression of comedian Katt Williams, and no one who watched will be surprised if clips of him in Indiana Jones tour guide shorts become a new Internet meme.

After weeks of anticipation, Zamata’s debut was bound to be fraught. “SNL” had a very fine needle to thread in presenting Zamata: If she appeared too much, it would seem that she was being paraded in order to silence those who had been angrily clamoring for a black female cast member; too little, and it’s easy to dismiss the showrunners as racists who hired Zamata only to relegate her to a corner.

It certainly robbed her of the luxury of a “normal” debut, but Zamata handled it with aplomb, though her dialogue was kept to a minimum. She didn’t say anything in a sketch about writing bad poetry in detention, and she sang the hook and danced in a “Resolution Revolution” music video. She also played a wordless Rihanna in the “Hip Hop Classics” bit. Most of Zamata’s lines came in a sketch about a pervy sleepover guest where she played Drake’s daughter. Still, the presence of Zamata and Drake, plus the addition of Tookes and Jones, seemed to elicit stronger-than-usual performances from Thompson and Jay Pharoah, who were especially visible. Casting for sketches is billed as a meritocratic process, and it was impossible not to wonder if executive producer Lorne Michaels purposefully stacked the episode with sketches that were heavy on black talent.



It will be interesting to see ratings for this show, and I’ll be sure to update this post with numbers as they become available. Kerry Washington’s turn as host came at the height of the diversity fracas. Her episode garnered the highest ratings of the season up to that point. Though we didn’t see much dialogue for Zamata, I’m reserving judgement and hoping this episode allowed her to get her sea legs. Everyone, including Drake, realized what an important moment it was for her to be there. He thanked her personally, noting her first show during his speech as the credits rolled.

UPDATE: As promised, here are the details on the ratings: numbers were strong, and beat many recent episodes, with the exception of the record numbers from the Jimmy Fallon/Justin Timberlake Christmas episode. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the episode had a  2.7 rating among adults 18-49 in the 25 markets with Local People Meters. For comparison’s sake, Washington’s was 2.6. The Fallon/Timberlake episode had a season-high 3.9 share in the same demographic.


Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture with a focus on issues surrounding race, gender and sexuality.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Republicans debate Saturday night. The New Hampshire primary is on Feb. 9. Get caught up on the race.
Heading into the next debate...
Donald Trump returns to the Republican presidential debate stage Saturday night. Marco Rubio arrives as a sudden star, but fending off ferocious attacks from his rivals. Still glowing from his Iowa victory, Ted Cruz is trying to consolidate conservative support, while Ben Carson is struggling to avoid being typecast as the dead man walking.
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote.
New Hampshire polling averages
Polling in New Hampshire has typically been volatile after Iowa's caucuses, but Bernie Sanders, from its neighboring state Vermont, has been holding a lead over Hillary Clinton.
55% 38%
Play Video
Upcoming debates
Feb. 6: GOP debate

on ABC News, in Manchester, N.H.

Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.