The first Saturday Night Live episode of the Trump era aired on 1/21/17, and there couldn’t possibly be a better host for this particular episode than a Muslim-American comedian. Aziz Ansari is both that and also an Indian-American, and he delivered an excellent monologue (above) that all Americans can appreciate.
Not surprisingly, it was Trump-centric, and Aziz nailed it. “Pretty cool to know that he’s probably sitting at home watching a brown guy make fun of him though,” he said at the beginning. Aziz also gave a shout-out to the Women’s March, and described a phenomenon all of us are now witnessing, the kkk (“with a small k”) racism that’s crept up in the last few years, emboldened by Trump’s rise.
Piercing through the laugh, Aziz also voices hope. We applaud Aziz Ansari for a memorable monologue during a historic time.
I should probably begin this review of Aziz Ansari’s new show by unpacking my strong anti-Aziz bias for some years. This bias was a product of multiple things, some of which are admittedly unfair because they are personal in nature: (1) People sincerely mistake me for Aziz regularly, especially when I rock a little stubble, which can get really annoying; (2) I had an 11-year career at NYC Parks & Recreation and also grew up in Indiana for 7 years, prompting many people who know I’m not Aziz Ansari to compare me to his character Tom Haverford on the NBC hit show (“You’re Aziz Ansari!”); (3) Despite my background (mine real, his fake) I did not find said hit show Parks & Recreation funny or interesting at all, nor Ansari’s role in it, although many people inform me I gave up on it too soon; (4) I found Ansari’s standup comedy to be long litanies of un-funny cliches and crude slapstick; (5) I hold Indians in American media to unfairly high standards partially due to their lack of representation, my unfulfilled desire to idolize someone in it, and my own aspiration to be a voice in it; and (6) On top of all this SO many people like Aziz Ansari, especially girls I know or go on dates with.
They constantly ask me my opinion of him as a thirty-something Indian-American living in New York till I say I honestly am not a big fan. Then I have to explain why, after which (too predictably) the non-Indian girls especially would look at me, puzzled and like, almost hurt. Wait, don’t you, Bobby Jindal, Mahatma Gandhi, and Aziz Ansari HAVE to stick together at least in my head?
After hearing friends, family, and even strangers on the subway encourage me to give his new show a try, I did so with my best friend, sister, and cousin. We all LOL’d. My opinion changed in one fell swoop with the release of the new Netflix show, Master of None. For the first time, I thoroughly respect Aziz Ansari and am even looking forward to additional seasons, having completed the first season. Here’s why. Read the rest of this entry
There is a renaissance of sorts going on in American comedy for Indian and Indian-American actors. We have come a long way from the time when the only Indian characters found in American film and TV were deep-accented and exaggeratedly clownish minstrels whose entire purpose was to entertain audiences by mercilessly mocking Indian culture.
Even worse, the characters were sometimes played by white actors wearing heavy brown makeup, such as Peter Sellers in the (admittedly entertaining) 1968 film The Party. This was in form with Hollywood’s penchant in decades gone by for casting white actors into Chinese roles such as Charlie Chan or the Native American Tonto. Those days are now over, and the characters played by today’s Indian stars such as Kal Penn, Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, Russell Peters, and Jay Chadrasekhar sport American accents and mainstream western behavior completely in line with their white or black castmates. This transition says more about how America has changed than it does about the actors themselves. Read the rest of this entry