Though Alec Baldwin’s famous Donald Trump character sat out the first episode of “Saturday Night Live” since the inauguration, the 45th president did not get a pass and was even directly addressed in the most political monologue of the season.
Aziz Ansari, relishing the idea of Trump "watching a brown guy make fun of him," used his monologue to make a serious plea to the president to speak out against racism and hate. “Don’t tweet about me being lame or the show being lame,” he said. “Write a speech. A real speech, because these [racist] people are out there and it’s pissing a lot of people off."
In a lighter cold open—though one that still kept the focus squarely on Trump—Beck Bennett was back in character as a shirtless Vladimir Putin with a message of reassurance for nervous Americans: “Relax, I got this.”
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The nearly four-minute pep talk kept the spotlight on persistent allegations that Trump is too cozy with Russia, while delving into new territory as well—resistance to Trump’s presidency and his performance in his first days in office.
Though the mock-Russian leader admitted he wasn’t impressed with Trump's first public statements as president—“I thought you’d be better at this!” he complained—he assured Americans that it was in Russia’s best interest to make sure the U.S. succeeds. “It’s the most expensive thing we’ve ever bought,” he said.
So his critiques of Trump were constructive. “Today you went to the CIA and said one million people came to see you in Washington D.C.?” he asked, referring to the controversy around turnout for Trump’s inauguration. “If you’re going to lie don’t make it so obvious,” he implored. “Say you are friends with LeBron James, not that you are LeBron James!"
This pair of photos shows a view of the crowd on the National Mall at the inaugurations of President Barack Obama, above, on Jan. 20, 2009, and President Donald Trump, below, on Jan. 20, 2017. They were both shot shortly before noon from the top of the Washington Monument. (AP, 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee)
He also criticized Trump’s inauguration address (“a little bleak, no?” and “kind of heavy on the God stuff, huh?”) but spent most of his time reassuring Americas—particularly the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets in opposition to Trump the day after his inauguration—that “Putty is going to make everything okay.”
“Many Russians were skeptical of me at first too. But today nobody ever seems to hear from any of them,” he said. “It’s like they’re gone.”
He also wondered, aloud, why so many women were protesting Trump. “In Russia, women have no reason to protest,” he said.
To prove it, he invited a Russian woman, played by Kate McKinnon in a kerchief, to testify, apparently under duress, about how great life is for women in Putin’s Russia.
“Hello,” she read from a script. “I am so happy. Each day I wake up with big smile on my face like this,” she said, demonstrating a tortured scream.
She also identified some of the perks of living under Putin’s rule. “I sleep in bed not in carcass of dog. My president is number one hottie for all time,” she said, eliciting a faux-modest protest from her shirtless leader. “Whoa whoa whoa, that’s a lot,” he said. “But it’s fair.” He then handed her her pension.
Later in the cold open, she made another appearance—this time covertly—as Putin made a final bid to calm American nerves. Appearing in Putin’s window in a pink “pussyhat”—the ubiquitous knit hat donned by many women’s march participants—she pointed threateningly to her eyes and then to Putin, signaling that, perhaps, things weren't as rosy as she had claimed. He, meanwhile, left American viewers with a dark prediction intended to lift their spirits: “One day your country could be as happy as we are here in Russia!”
Ansari had a much more direct message in his monologue. The actor talked about "this tiny slice of people"—the "lowercase kkk," he called them—who have become more vocal as Trump has risen to power. Ansari appealed for Trump to denounce them, suggesting he emulate the sort of speech President George W. Bush made in the wake of 9/11.
"He said, Islam is peace. The perpetrators of these attacks—they don’t represent Islam. They represent war and violence," Ansari said, paraphrasing the historic speech.
"Everyone applauded," Ansari recalled. "Democrats, Republicans. It didn’t matter. 'Cause it’s not about politics, it’s about basic human decency and remembering why the country was founded in the first place."
Lightening up the serious moment, Ansari, a well-known Obama supporter, reflected on the oddity of looking back at Bush's old speech as a model to emulate. "Sixteen years ago, I was certain this dude was a dildo. Now I’m sitting there like, he guided us with his eloquence."
And, like Bennett's shirtless Putin, Ansari signed off with an uplifting message for Trump opponents: "If you look at our country's history, 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," he said. "Good luck to you."
Rapper Big Sean was the show's musical guest and performed "Sunday Morning Jet Pack" and "Bounce Back."