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2017: 3rd Asian to host Saturday Night Live
Indian-Americans have been taking a crack at the glass ceiling in almost every profession of note in the US, from political office to corporate leadership, with chart-topping performances in areas ranging from academia to entertainment. Now, a “desi“ performer has burst to the acme of the comedic world, cracking what is considered the ultimate laugh ceiling in the humor business.
Comedian Aziz Ansari, son of immigrants from Chennai, will become the first person of Indian-origin to host the acclaimed “Saturday Night Live“ on January 21, the network NBC announced this week. The gig comes on top of a rocking year for Ansari, won his first Emmy (outstanding writing for a comedy series) after earning a total of four nominations for his Netflix series “Master of None“.
Saturday Night Live (SNL) has been panned in the past for lack of racial diversity, its hosts typically being White entertainers. Only two celebrities of Asian descent -Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu -have hosted the show before, according to demographic breakdown put out by IndieWire, although several Black performers, notably Oprah Winfrey , Janet Jackson, Dave Chapelle, and Chris Rock, have hosted the show.
Ansari's break comes not so much on account of any affirmative action as his growing popularity and rising profile in the high-wire comedy world. “Even though I've sold out Madison Square Garden as a standup comedian and have appeared in several films and a TV series, when my phone rings, the roles I'm offered are often defined by ethnicity and often require accents,“ he had written in an NYT OpEd in 2015 on the lack of diversity in the entertainment industry .
Born in Columbia, South Carolina to immigrant parents from Tamil Nadu (his mother, Fatima, works in a medical office, and his father, Shoukath, is a gastroenterologist), Ansari was studying at New York University Stern School of Business when he fell into comedic ways, performing in Big Apple clubs and weekly shows. He won the Jury Award for “Best Standup“ at HBO's 2006 US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado, after which there was no looking back.
In June 2008, he was named as the first cast hire for NBC's new comedy Parks and Recreation, in which he portrays Tom Haverford, an underachieving government official with extreme selfconfidence and dreams of being mainstream. Critics praised his performance, calling him a “scene stealer“ and “breakout star“, as he held the role for seven seasons.
In 2015, Ansari teamed with Parks and Recreation writer Alan Yang to write and star himself in the Netflix original series Master of None. Playing Dev Shah, a 30year-old actor who attempts to make his way through life in New York City , the series became a major hit, pitchforking him to the frontlines of the entertainment business and on to SNL, whose recent hosts include Donald Trump, who has lately fumed against the show because it has mocked him mercilessly , as it does everyone.
Indian-Americans have made immense strides in the comedy world with more than a dozen performers making a mark in the tough business. Among top stand-ups of Indian-origin are Canadian Russell Peters, son of Anglo-Indian immigrants from Kolkota, who is considered one of the top-grossing comedians earning around $ 20 million annually , and Mindy Kaling (nee Vera Chokalingam), star of the Fox sitcom The Mindy Project.
2018: first PIO to win a Golden Globe
Aziz Ansari, the US-born son of immigrants from Chennai, became the first Indian-American and first Asian to win a Golden Globe for best actor on a night the awards ceremony was steeped in unspoken politics, with minorities and coloured people holding centrestage. Ansari won the award for comedy series ‘Master of None’ in which he plays the role of 30-year old actor Dev Shah. He had already won an Emmy for writing the series and hosted Saturday Night Live last January, both signal and unprecedented honors for an entertainer of Indian origin.
Born in Columbia, South Carolina, to parents from Tamil Nadu (his mother, Fatima, works in a medical office, and his father, Shoukath, is a gastroenterologist), Ansari was studying at New York University Stern School of Business before he began performing in weekly shows. He won the Jury Award for “best standup” at HBO’s 2006 US Comedy Arts Festival in Colorado after which there was no looking back.