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Aziz Ansari’s Gonna Host Saturday Night Live! He’ll Be the First Indian Actor to Do So, And the First Asian Host in Over 15 Years

aziz-ansari

Here’s some great news for the mega-talented Master of None creator and star: Aziz Ansari will be hosting the January 21st episode of Saturday Night Live, and he’ll be joining another first-timer, since musical guest Big Sean will be making his SNL debut on that episode as well. The only downside to all of this is that since Nasim Pedrad is no longer on the show, she won’t be able to bust out her Aziz Ansari impression, which she always wanted to use on SNL but never had the chance. (She told that story on Conan a while back.)

I have no doubt Aziz Ansari will be hilarious on his SNL episode, since I love his stand-up specials, his Netflix show, and his book Modern Romance (highly recommended for anyone who’s frustrated with dating apps, or dating in general). Here’s another cool thing about his appearance: he’ll be making SNL history.

Aziz Ansari will be the first South Asian American host ever on Saturday Night Live. Surprisingly, and sadly, he’ll also be the first Asian host in 17 years. Both Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan snagged SNL hosting gigs back in the year 2000, with Jackie Chan hosting on May 20th in 2000 and Lucy Liu hosting on December 16th of that year.

Since then, SNL has come under fire several times for the lack of diversity in terms of who gets asked to host the show. Last December, we noted that this season, SNL has come close to achieving gender parity among hosts, but that most of the hosts have still been white.

Last May, IndieWire calculated that slightly over 90% of all the hosts on SNL have been white. Since the show has been on since the mid-70s, one could at least understand the lack of diversity in the early days… except that SNL hasn’t actually gotten more diverse since then. As IndieWire’s results show, the hosts have nearly always been white, ever since the first season ever:

snl-diversity-chart-1

That’s pretty sad, right? You’d think that SNL would have demonstrated some sort of change since the 70s. Although the numbers have gone up and down, season to season, there really isn’t an upward trend. As IndieWire notes, this is an “industry-wide problem”—it’s difficult for non-white actors and comedians to achieve the level of success and visibility that is expected of a typical SNL host.

In spite of those institutional barriers and biases, though, Aziz Ansari has become an undisputed and well-known talent, having won an Emmy for Master of None last year (for Outstanding Writing), and having been nominated for two other Emmy Awards as well (Outstanding Lead Actor and Outstanding Directing). Ansari accepted his award alongside his co-writer, Alan Yang, and the two took the opportunity to speak out against Asian-American caricatures in media. In his career, Ansari has always managed to use his fame as a platform both for advocacy and comedy, often simultaneously. It’ll be great to see how he decides to use that platform on SNL this month.

(via Deadline, image via Eric Appel on Flickr)

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Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (relay.fm/isometric), and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (robotknights.com).