TODAY   |  January 18, 2014

Sasheer Zamata to make her debut on ‘SNL’

“Saturday Night Light” endured recent controversy due to the show’s lack of diversity, and after a nationwide search they are now adding a new feature player. TODAY’s Joelle Garguilo reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> that's right, " snl " returns tonight with live episodes after a brief hiatus, and all eyes will be on sasheer zamata. joelle garguilo has more. good morning.

>> hey, good morning, guys! excuse the voice. i think it was from jenna's workout that we were doing.

>> thank you. thank you very much.

>> must have been. listen, there was a huge public outcry over this, specifically the fact that " snl " did not have any female black cast members . so, after a coast-to-coast search, sasheer zamata is ready to make her debut. there's a new kid on the " snl " block, but the casting didn't come without controversy.

>> i think they're not doing the work to find funny women of color.

>> reporter: 39 seasons, only four african-american female cast members ever and a six-year gap since maya rudolph left the show, a combination catapulting the longstanding sketch comedy 's lack of diversity to the forefro forefront. two of its male members addressing the issue. keenan thompson playfully vowing not to play any female characters anymore, and jay ferrell saying "they need to pay attention." even " snl " pokes fun at " snl ."

>> the producers at "saturday night live" would like to apologize to kerry washington for the number of black women she will be asked to play.

>> reporter: the answer to the backlash? sasheer zamata. a relative unknown likely to become a household name.

>> she's a stand-up comedian, she's an improvisor, she's a sketch comedian, which are three very different skill sets, so somebody that can do them all is pretty impressive. lorne has a great eye for talent.

>> reporter: she saz spent years perfecting her skills and does a mean beyonce, a wonderful lady obama and has performed with the upright citizens brigade .

>> good thing i practiced that!

>> reporter: an improv group whose influence is everywhere.

>> i'm not a regular mom, i'm a cool mom.

>> that's where she met fellow comedian kisha zahler.

>> it's her talent and work ethic , all that combined with all the natural beauty she has that makes her just meant to be a star.

>> reporter: while drake is the host and musical guest tonight, all eyes will likely be on sasheer. i don't think you're ready for this

>> i love that! don't you love that? this girl is a rising star . she graduated four years ago from uva, which is tina fey 's alma mater , and the upright citizens brigade where she performs was founded by amy poehler , so this is true. she threw a going away party for