Write Better: The Genius of Sasheer Zamata


I love this piece for two reasons: It is perfectly structured, and it’s compassionate.

Structurally, we’ve got a clean three-part structure (which, established, I believe in with a passion that is sort of embarrassingly open and sincere) that conforms to my workhorse Setup-Tangle-Resolution formula. Although it doesn’t strictly hew to my favored 45/45/10 distribution (in terms of time devoted to each of these three sections), I do note that the gag itself Resolves at the final 10% mark, with the line “It was like a date, with a lot of stuff missing out the middle.” (I’ve got a sort of vest-pocket theory that having the Resolution drop into gear as you round the last 10% is fairly consistent across stories and storytelling modes).

More importantly, she offers us this perfectly structured, perfectly delivered story in the service of compassion. I mean, there’s really no way around it: in telling the story, Zamata inhabits a man who sexually assaulted her (however mildly, by some measures) and brings us to the point of identifying with and feeling pity for him. This is a joke, but it is an incredibly powerful joke, and even if it is an absolutely 100 percent factual account, it is also in its perfect craft an excellent example of moral fiction.

I’ve watched this over and over and over again, and I love it every single time. It is an excellent primer on storytelling. Watch and learn, Oh My Best Belov├ęd, watch and learn.


For another piece that deals compassionately with sex crime–albeit to more explicitly political ends, and in a more elliptical manner–check out this short French film:

UPDATE: For more on the role of this sort of sympathy in enduring art, you might wanna check out this next post: Write Better: The Coyote, the Road Runner, Sympathy, and Craft as the Art of Constraint