There’s a hilarious episode of the Best Friends with Nicole Byer and Sasheer Zamata podcast where the two close friends sit around and reminisce about how ladies used to hit on their dads. It’s pure comedy. It doesn’t feel like some written bit, though. No, these funny anecdotes about overenthusiastic teachers are outrageous and off the cuff.
Zamata has been riot for as long as ladies around the neighborhood have been driving out of their way to see her father outside doing yard work. A sharp, storytelling sense of humor has done her well, too, as she’s stayed busy with stand-up comedy gigs, movie roles (I Feel Pretty, Sleight) and a four-year stint on Saturday Night Live.
The Indianapolis native’s latest project, The Weekend (debuts September 13), is a quirky comedy where circumstances force Zamata’s character, Zadie, to spend a few days at a bed and breakfast with her ex and his new girlfriend. During a recent chat with Forbes Travel Guide, Zamata talks about the film’s long gestation period, life on the comedic road and taking trips with her bestie.
Where in the world are you right now?
I’m in Los Angeles.
I noticed on your Twitter feed that you’ve been performing there for the last few weeks.
Yeah, I live here now. Have been here for a year.
What’s it been like on the West Coast for you?
I like it. I thought there would be more of a transition, because I lived in New York for nine years and I never lived in L.A. before. But I already had a ton of friends who made the New York-to-L.A. move, so it wasn’t really hard for me to pick up where they are and be like, “Oh, we go to this restaurant? Great. We go over here to see a movie? Great. I’ll do that.” I just do what my friends do. I like it.
When it comes to audiences at comedy clubs, does it feel different?
You know, it varies. Depending on the club and the night. I can’t make any like general statements like, “Oh, New York is like this and L.A. is like this” because sometimes I do shows in New York that feel like an L.A. show, or a show in L.A. that feel likes a New York show. But I definitely miss the amount of stage time that there was, and still is, in New York.
There are more spaces available, I guess. It’s kind of like a renegade culture. People will throw a show up anywhere. You’ve got a basement? We’ll do it there. You’ve got a roof? We’ll do it there. You’ve got a bathroom that can fit 15 people? We’ll do a show there.
In L.A., there is a little bit of that, but people will go home [afterward], which I also love, because I’m getting older and I love going home as well. People will be like, “Yeah, we’ll do a show for an hour and then we’re done.” Go home. Go take care of your kids or go walk your dog. Whatever you need to do. But I appreciate that.
How do you feel knowing that The Weekend is so close to its release?
It’s been a long time coming. We shot it in 2017, at the end of the year, and we did the whole festival run. We went to the Toronto Festival. We’ve been touring this thing for a while and trying to get it out there and now it’s finally going to be available for people to see. I’m so, so excited because I think it’s going to be so fun. I think everyone in it is so talented. And I’m just excited for people to see me do something different.
Where did you shoot it?
We shot it in Malibu. I don’t know how much of it is still there because this was around the time of the fires and all that. But we were on this beautiful persimmon orchard and just shot everything in and around the orchard. It was really nice. It just kind of felt like summer camp. We all stayed in that area and chilled.
How did things go off screen?
It was a real blessing. Stella Meghie is the writer/director and she is very good at choosing talent and really found a good group of people who really have the same kind of sensibilities.
We all got along really well. We laughed on camera a lot. We laughed off camera a lot. We just felt like a team, because even if we weren’t in the scene, we’d watch what was going on just because we know that what’s about to happen is going to be so funny and we don’t want to miss it.
When did you know that you had a special comedic talent?
I think it was in high school because I was also a shy kid, and I would whisper jokes to my friends to make them laugh. But the first time I did it in front of a crowd was for this government camp that I did. It was a bunch of girls from around Indiana. They would pick a few girls from each high school, and we would all go to this college during the summer. And we learned about the government, and we had to run for office and stuff like that. I ran for lieutenant governor and you had to write a speech and do all these town halls.
I spent a lot of time on my speech and I put one joke up at the top of the speech. There was a rickety elevator in one of the dorms and I was like, “You better vote for me before you die in this elevator,” and everyone lost it. It destroyed. Eight hundred girls my age and the camp counselors. People already thought that was funny, so they laughed throughout my whole speech. Even though there weren’t any other jokes, they just thought what I was saying and how I was saying it was funny.
And yeah, people were coming up to me and were like, “Oh, you should do something where you speak in front of people and make them laugh.” No one knew that stand-up comedy could be a job. No one knew to say, “You should be a stand-up comic.” They were just like, “You should do something where you’re talking and people laugh. You’ll figure it out. Bye!”
I knew I was funny, but I didn’t know what to do with it at that time. It wasn’t until I moved to New York where I was like, “Oh, yeah, comedy is really what I want to dedicate my time to right now.”
You bring a lot of joy to people with your comedy. What things put a smile on your face?
Spending quality time with my friends. I have a really great family that I’ve chosen over the years. I like to do one-on-one dinners [with friends] or sit on someone’s couch and just talk until like 3 in the morning.
What else do I like? I like being outside. I’m not like an outdoorsy person, but I do like sitting next to a lake or being under a tree. I do like being near nature. I guess it makes me realize that everything I’m doing is part of something else, if that makes sense.
Will I catch you at Runyon Canyon running around?
Maybe, I don’t know. My man is really outdoorsy and he is always trying to get me to go outside. I’m definitely better than I used to be, but I have limitations. He took me camping in Missouri one time and, boy, did I hate it. All the animals were so loud. I heard bullfrogs. I had never heard that before. They wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t go to sleep. It was just a lot going on.
Do you have any plans for a getaway this summer or fall?
Yeah, I’m actually going to Hawaii soon with my best friend, Nicole Byer. We like just taking vacations every year because we can and it’s fun. But I’ve never been to Hawaii before so I’m excited to go.
When you’re touring, are you able to explore the cities a little bit between sets?
I do try to go somewhere in a city, because I want to know the kind of things that happen in that city or the kind of people that are there, just so I know who I’m talking to when I’m doing my show.
One thing that I do, or I try to do, when I travel is thrift shop. I love thrift shopping. And I get some really great finds on the road. Sometimes I might go to a secondhand store and there are these great ugly sweaters there or some great overcoats that someone didn’t want anymore. Yeah, whatever your cool things are, I will take them from your town.