“I’m thankful to be alive, but I’m not good” could very well serve as the comedian’s credo. What exactly “not good” means depends upon the set. In Sasheer Zamata’s very first stand-up special, Pizza Mind, it’s a quick fire summary of the ills and issues still facing, among other things, her gender and her race in 2017. Her marvelously crafted responses tackle everything from the ineffective claim “I don’t see color,” to the bogus history of women shaving, to her inner Angela Davis and its surprising appearance while watching the seemingly innocuous Big Hero 6.
Zamata—whose time at UCB and on Saturday Night Live broadened her spotlight—begins her special innocently enough. She talks about doing mushrooms in New Orleans and her boyfriend, but those are casual sleights of hand in her well-honed magician’s bag of tricks. There’s a bristling hostility that underlies her set, but it’s so carefully woven into the purpose and point of her jokes that she uses it to present the audience with clever discussions about complex topics. In one set-up, she invokes the seriously head-scratching existence of VH1’s Bye Felicia to discuss life coaches and race. Who would choose two black women, given their place in society? She would choose a white man, and from that revelation she builds a framework with which to disparage their selfish and poor choices. It’s an oblique comment on whiteness and power done to howling effect. Then there’s her comeback to the grating descriptor “resting bitch face,” “resting rape face,” which should absolutely be the phrase du jour whenever women are confronted with that belittling term. Zamata speaks truth to power.
Pizza Mind originally streamed on Seeso, and the visual cues that pepper certain jokes (like, for instance, the fairytale world she imagines as a child to explain why her mother doesn’t like white people) haven’t been scrubbed out. Those are more bumps in the road than any significant sidetracking, but it’s a reminder that Zamata’s comedy lies beyond her voice alone. Stand-up comedy is about the craft of words and storytelling, which have made the comedy album standard fare for any rising artist, but Zamata succeeds when she can be seen as well as heard.
Different perspectives have so much to teach listeners about the world and the variety of experiences that go with it. With her first special now under her belt, Zamata not only proves herself to be a sharp-witted comic, but an important voice detailing the bullshit that arises when “people haven’t caught up.” She’s more than willing to share a piece of her mind (hence the title)—thankfully for listeners it’s deliciously hearty.
Pizza Mind is now available on Amazon, Spotify and iTunes through Comedy Dynamics, and can also be watched on Seeso.
Amanda Wicks is a freelance journalist specializing in comedy and music. Follow her on Twitter @aawicks.
Watch Paste’s interview with Sasheer Zamata, and catch her stand-up at our next comedy night on Facebook on Tuesday, June 13 2017, at 8 PM ET.