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Nicole Byer, Keisha Zollar and Sasheer Zamata are Doppleganger | Photo: Keith Huang

By: Lucas Hazlett

Every year the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre hosts Cagematch, a long-running improv competition where UCB Harold teams and indie groups compete head-to-head with the winner determined by audience votes. So far this season, a triumvirate of ladies (Nicole Byer, Sasheer Zamata and Keisha Zollar) called Doppelganger have made a name for themselves by defeating a pair of UCB Harold teams and accumulating the fourth highest "Votes Per Show" margin in the tournament's history. I spoke with the ladies about their Cagematch experience and what it's like to be a black women in the predominantly white, male New York City-improv scene.

How did you guys meet and form Doppelganger?
SASHEER: We met last year through the [UCB] diversity program. Nicole and I had the same mentor [Christine Nangle]. I met Keisha through the diversity meetings as well. After Harold team auditions we were all texting each other, "Did you make it? Did you make it?" [ed's note: They didn't]. We started talking about getting more active and doing more shows.

What's the origin of your name?
KEISHA: Originally our name was "Rainy Boots." I think what happened is we each had a story about being mistaken for each other. I thought it would be funny to call ourselves Doppelganger because the only reason we were mistaken for each other is we're black girls who do improv!

Most teams in the UCB community perform the Harold or whatever form is en vogue, which lately seems to be monoscenes. What do you guys do in your shows?
SASHEER: We do a Deconstruction with organic transitions. [Our coach] Ashley Ward saw us do [an improv exercise called "Follow the Follower"] and she was like, "Why don't you just do that in your show?"
KEISHA: The most important thing for us is that we have fun and have fun with each other...organically.

What were your thoughts when you defeated a UCB house team in your first CageMatch appearance?
NICOLE (laughing): I was really excited because I don't think anyone anticipated us doing it. And I don't think anyone thought we were going to win by the amount we won by [Doppleganger def. Badman, 97-63]. It meant a lot to me personally because three of the team members were my coaches for a long time. It was nice to show them that they did teach me well.
KEISHA: Someone actually said to me, "When I first saw you three black girls step on stage I thought you could never be funny, and then when you killed it, I had nothing but respect for you."

How has being black and female helped, hurt or frustrated your experiences in classes and performing?
SASHEER: It has hindered people from saying certain things to me as a character, or they will say it but they won't realize what they're saying. I was in a scene where a Hitler class president was classifying people in groups, "We'll put the blacks over there and the Jews over here." As soon as he said that everybody in the front row looked at me. I was like, "I'm not even in the scene! Calm down!"
NICOLE: I don't think being black or a woman has hindered me, or helped me, only because I'm so aggressive I make myself the man most of the time. I play dudes most of the time and I very rarely play black people. Except for once in 101, someone named me Bo'quetha but then I was like "Hey Buffonda," so we were both black people. [Everyone laughs].
KEISHA: Being a part of a female group of strong black women has really helped me to see that my voice is just as valid. If there can be all male groups, why can't I be in an all black female group?

What would your ideal community look like if it were perfectly diverse?
NICOLE: Like a bag of Special Edition M&Ms.

 -- Lucas is a comedy geek who improvises with anyone he can. He can be seen Sat, July 24, with Nobody's Token at The UCBT-NY.

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