As an elected speaker at his Senior Assembly, Zach Cherry ’10 drew laughs from his classmates with a list of jobs he wanted to try after Commencement. He figured he’d make a good bouncer, because “all a bouncer really has to do is make up reasons people aren’t allowed to walk through a door,” he said. “I’d like to work at a cat factory, and if that doesn’t exist, I’d like to found a cat factory.”
Seven years later, neither of those aspirations has come true, but Cherry is still entertaining people, often with odd, spur-of-the-moment ideas. If you can’t make it to the UCB Theatre in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood to see him perform on Saturday nights with the improv team GOAT, you can spot him on Comedy Central’s Broad City, HBO’s Crashing and the forthcoming film The Big Sick, among other TV series and movies.
“I got interested in comedy stuff pretty early on. I did this performing arts summer camp in middle school that offered improv as an ‘elective,’ and I was pretty hooked,” Cherry says. “My high school had a really great performing arts program, including an improv class that I took so many times they made me stop taking it.”
In college he joined the student troupe Mr. Gad’s House of Improv, which became “probably the most important part of my Amherst experience.” He loved having an “automatic group of friends” and performing weekly in Keefe Campus Center. “But I think my favorite shows were the weird extra shows we did,” he says. “One year we performed on the track at 3 a.m. as part of a fundraising marathon, but the only people there were running/walking, so no one could see more than 10 seconds of the show.”
Today, in addition to GOAT, Cherry is in a comedy trio called Richard, whose projects have included online parodies of the podcast Serial and a three-hour stage show consisting entirely of the other members reading a Harry Potter book to him while he asked questions about it. “We love trying to see how dumb, or how simple, or how small of an idea we can take and turn it into a thing that works,” he says.
Now this improv performer is racking up more and more scripted screen roles. In fact, he plays a TV scriptwriter on several episodes of TBS’s dark comedy/mystery Search Party. On Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, he appears as Kimmy’s GED exam proctor. He says he got to improvise the most in Crashing, where he’s credited in two episodes as “Chicken Wing Man.”
For Cherry, one tricky thing about working in TV and film has been curbing his “addiction to laughs”—to the immediate feedback he’s used to getting from a live audience. “I’ve learned to remind myself that it’s OK if people aren’t LOL’ing on set,” he says. “Now I wait until the thing comes out and then secretly watch other people watch it through their windows, and I only freak out if those people don’t laugh.”
He’s joking, of course.
Katherine Duke ’05 is the magazine’s assistant editor.