Aziz Ansari knew when he walked out on Saturday Night Live’s stage to host — for the first time! — that he had a bit of a taller task than most SNL hosts, given the fact that he was doing it the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration.
But the comedian and Master of None star came out with a microphone in hand, signaling that he wasn’t about to do a wacky musical number or pithy intro, as is the usual SNL way. He was going to do a standup set, and so he kicked off his 10-minute monologue with a little wink of self-awareness about the president’s tendency to watch (and hate) the show.
“Pretty cool to know, though, he’s probably at home right now watching a brown guy make fun of him, right?” Ansari said with a grin, and from there, he was off.
He didn’t hold back, but in his true standup style, he made all his sharp jokes with that same grin, the one that says he believes what he’s saying about some very serious issues but would rather ground them in something ridiculous.
He compared the majority of Trump voters to Chris Brown fans: They love Trump’s greatest hits but might not agree with his “extracurriculars.”
He addressed the “casual white supremacy” emerging out of the internet woodwork with Trump’s rise — what he called “this lowercase KKK” — and implored those who felt like they no longer had to pretend not to be racist to please reconsider. “Thank you for your service, I had no idea how much effort you were putting into pretending,” Ansari added, “but you gotta go back to pretending.”
He examined the roots of Islamophobia, placing some of the blame on the many, many movies and TV shows that will only include Muslim characters to reveal them as terrorists. He singled out Showtime’s Homeland as a series that loves to show Muslims praying with the most sinister of music creeping in underneath. “You want to end Islamophobia?” he said. “Honestly, just change that music.”
The entire monologue was a deft showcase for Ansari’s skill at filtering significant issues through his own mischievous lens. But he’s also very good at knowing when to bring things back down a notch, and so the monologue’s most powerful moment wasn’t a punchline at all.
Ansari ended his monologue with some more solemn — yet encouraging — words for the millions who marched in protest of the new administration that same day. “If you look at our country’s history,” he said, “change doesn’t come from presidents. Change comes from large groups of angry people — and if day one is any indication, you are part of the largest group of angry people I have ever seen. Good luck.”
You can watch the full monologue in the video above.