Written by Melissa Jouben and Mark Henely
The Host – Aziz Ansari
Melissa: After 42 seasons, Aziz Ansari just became the first person of South Asian descent to host Saturday Night Live. He’s also only the third host of Asian descent, behind Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan, who both hosted in 2000 (17 years ago). Saturday Night Live has historically been a show with a huge impact around election cycles and, believe it or not, people tune in to the show specifically to see what it has to say whenever a big political story breaks.
Our new President likes to tune in just to see if they’re saying anything bad about him, and then complain accordingly. What I’m trying to say is that SNL has established itself as an entity with a leading voice in political satire and social commentary, and with that power comes great responsibility. It may have taken 42 seasons for the show to let someone who looks like Aziz Ansari host, but his voice is one of the most important voices to listen to, and by diversifying the hosting pool we’re going to start seeing things that are a lot more biting and, hopefully, a lot more unifying.
But how did Aziz Ansari do? He. Goddamn. Killed. It. He jumped into his monologue so seamlessly, wasting absolutely no time getting to his point. He didn’t scale himself down or hold himself back at all: this was him doing what he does, unfiltered for a national audience. And he did it without missing a single beat, or displaying an ounce of weakness. I’m hard pressed to name a host who appeared more confident and energized during their monologue. Ansari is a professional comedian, of course, but hosting a live television show that he knows is going to be watched by a huge chunk of the country (including, again, our current President) didn’t slow him down at all. His boundless enthusiasm for being on the show led to great performances.
Even when he was having a little too much fun – and judging by how many times you could catch a glimpse of him laughing, he was having a lot of fun – he wasn’t removing himself or anybody else from the scene. There is a parallel universe somewhere where Aziz Ansari started out on SNL as a cast member and is now the host of The Tonight Show and that’s probably a way better parallel universe to live in right now.
Mark: I agree with everything that Melissa just said. However, I would also like to point out that Aziz had an MTV sketch show for awhile called Human Giant. So, anyone surprised that Aziz would do a great job in these sketches hasn’t done their research on the man.
Melissa’s Highlight of the Night – Monologue
Melissa: I mean, really, is there any other answer? You have a standup comedian host the show and if their monologue isn’t the highlight of the evening, they really did something wrong. And not only was his monologue the best part of the night, it was one of the best-delivered monologues from a comedian I’ve seen in years. I mean, he really nailed this. He walked out on stage and he just went for it in the best possible way. For anyone who isn’t a big Aziz Ansari fan or doesn’t know much about him personally, I recommend reading the open letter he published in the New York Times entitled “Why Trump Makes Me Scared for My Family.” As the son of Muslim immigrants, Aziz Ansari’s worldview and comedic voice have no choice but to be shaped by his experiences growing up and experiencing racism, prejudice and discrimination firsthand.
Although he likely wouldn’t bill himself a “political comedian,” being political right now is less of a choice and more of a means of survival. Hearing Ansari tell these jokes and shining those lights during the monologue that would undoubtedly be viewed by many people who hold opposing viewpoints was inspiring. And because it was Aziz Ansari, it was also hilarious. I really enjoyed him taking a moment to call out the President directly and try to appeal to him as a human, knowing that he’d likely be watching, and his decision to leave off on a hopeful note. This monologue is a perfect example of one of those “if you don’t want the rest of the episode, please just watch this one clip.”
Mark’s Highlight of the Night – Bedroom
Mark: The monologue was great, but I really loved the Bedroom sketch. It’s a two person sketch where Aziz Ansari and under-utilized talent Melissa Villasenor are about to have sex, but Aziz wants to spice it up with some dirty talk and role playing. Each time they get into it, Villasenor screws it up in hilarious fashion. I really enjoyed this because it was fun to see someone who has been in the background take the center stage. I hope this leads to good things for her. It’s not easy to get on SNL and you want to see every performer get a chance to make his or her mark.
Lowlight of the Night – Weekend Update: Jake Rocheck
Melissa: Now I know that I’ve spent the rest of this review so far praising the direction the show has been taking in terms of being on the right side of issues, but I guess it wouldn’t be SNL if they didn’t also make a huge misstep at the same time. To air something like this on the same day as the Women’s March on Washington seemed incredibly tone deaf. It was also really defeating to see them end Weekend Update this way, since it is incredibly rare for me to enjoy a Weekend Update segment from beginning to end, and I was SO close this time.
The concept of this was that Michael Che interviewed Jake Rocheck, “live from the Friend Zone,” where a meek man in love with his female friend was helping her move, despite her continual dismissal of his feelings and lack of interest in him. The concept of “the friend zone” is something that’s actually extremely dangerous for women. Men are not owed the time or the attention of a woman simply because he is interested in her and suggesting as much has led to violence against women.
In this segment, the man in the “friend zone” mentions doing things like sleeping in bed with his female friend at her request and doing things that are increasingly demanding of his time and energy. Had the joke been at his expense in the sense that we all had a good laugh about how he was in the wrong to expect anything from anyone, this could have been better. But the joke was that at the end Michael Che moves in and gets a date with the girl Jake Rocheck is in love with and we all have a good laugh about how he’s never getting out of the friend zone. I don’t know a woman who was quite as careless with a man’s feelings as the woman in this segment is with Jake Rocheck, but I know plenty of women who ended up being stalked or harassed by someone like him. It’s hard to laugh at something that reminds you of the danger you and your friends have faced as women on the same night we’re supposed to be protesting danger against women.
Musical Guest – Big Sean
Melissa: I love when you can tell the host had an influence over who the musical guest is, and it seems almost like they’re coming in as a tag team. And when the host does well, the musical guest in that situation almost always does well too.
Mark: I watched this show with my Mom and she absolutely hated Big Sean. However, she hates all rap music, so I don’t believe this reflects on the abilities of Big Sean.
She was, however, teary eyed during the end segment where Cecily and Sasheer sang “To Sir With Love” to President Obama.