Perhaps under the heading “too soon” — or “too much,” or “too easy,” or “too depressed to get outta bed to find my way to the studio” — Alec Baldwin and his Donald Trump double were no-shows on “Saturday Night Live.”
Instead, “SNL” punted the cold open to Beck Bennett and his shirtless Vladimir Putin double, while ceding the rest of the post-inaugural edition last night to a Kate McKinnon digital short of her latest double, Donald Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway, and guest host Aziz Ansari.
And it was all just fine. Less was more. And while Baldwin’s absence was perhaps a surprise — a big, unexplained one, considering the material he had to work with — at least this means reporters won’t be scrambling on Sunday to update stories with Twitter evaluations from the new commander in chief.
Or maybe they will. The day is young.
In his first outing as “SNL” guest host, Ansari made a case that experienced stand-ups should guest-host “SNL” from now on. (As a practical matter, it’d be too impossible to find many as experienced as Ansari every week, but at least the case was made.)
He filled most of Madison Square Garden for his last Netflix special in 2015: How would he do before a national audience on the same day when millions of women gathered in cities around the world to protest the new president? Should be a piece of cake. (Right?)
During an eight-minute monologue, Ansari made a pitch for national unity, refused to criticize all of those who voted for Trump, and even quoted a speech by former President George W. Bush. While apparently genuine, these were also setups for jokes — which themselves masked serious concerns and issues. Ansari, in plain-speak, accomplished what virtually no guest host ever does: Forced viewers to think before they laughed. His shots were measured, even balanced, as opposed to cheap. But they were shots nonetheless.
Coming at the end of a bitter, angry, divisive day on the cable news networks, the tone felt like a Goldilocks one — just about right.
“We can’t demonize everyone who voted for Trump,” he said. “Were talking about 63 million people, some who voted for him with reservations ... We’re divided. It’s OK. It’s fine, as along as we treat each other with respect, we’re all Americans, we’ll be fine.
“But the problem is, there’s a new group — I’m talking a tiny slice of people who, as soon as Trump won, (said), ‘We don’t have to pretend we’re not racist anymore ...!’
“No, no, no, no. Go back to pretending. Sorry we never thanked you for your service, and all the effort you put into it. But go back to pretending.”
This slice he called “the new lowercase kkk.” They have slogans like:
“ ‘Trump won! Go back to Africa ...’
“ ‘Trump won! Go back to Mexico ...’
“They see me, ‘Trump won (beat) go back to wherever you came from ...’
“Yeah, they’re usually not geography buffs.”
The comedian wrapped up quoting a speech by Bush — seriously — who after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, said, “Islam is peace ... our enemies are networks of radical terrorists.”
Ansari: “I was sitting there and watching the speech, and — what the hell — I’m sitting here watching an old George W. Bush speech, thinking what a leader he was. Sixteen years ago I was sitting there (thinking), ‘This guy is a (expletive deleted),’ and now: ‘He guided us with his eloquence ...”
Bennett’s cold open reprised his Putin, sitting at a desk with largely predictable stuff like “Hello America, we all made Donald the 45th president. Hooray. We did it.”
But blood was drawn in that elaborate cold open with McKinnon. It was a mocked-up variation of a "Chicago" showstopper: In this, McKinnon — amid a chorus line of a few dozen dancers — as Conway, in a red sequined dress, singing: “Ooooh, I’m a star, the audience loves me and I love them for loving me ... this time last year, I supported Ted Cruz ... but hey, that’s showbiz ... When the world goes up in flames for now they know my name ...”
Maybe Conway will be the one to offer that Twitter critique later today.