When Aziz Ansari hosted Saturday Night Live in January, it included, of course, the monologue segment. One problem: Ansari had just finished Master of None Season 2 and hadn’t done stand-up since his 2015 Netflix special. He had to put something together in just a month. On the latest episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast, he explained how he did it.
"I’m not even exaggerating, the night when I finished the cut [of Master of None], I went to some Christmas party and I ran into one of the people in the talent department at SNL," Ansari said. "She was like, ‘I’ve been trying to get you all day! We want to have you host!’ And I was like, ‘Oh my god!’"
He had never hosted SNL before, so this was a big opportunity.
"It was something that I had always really wanted to do. Of course I was like, ‘Forget everything else I had planned, I’m going to do this.’"
But the show was in a month, and Ansari had been on a stand-up hiatus while working on Master of None. He had only a short amount of time to get back into the groove. As a result, he often found himself at the Comedy Cellar in New York City practicing his routine. He wasn’t the only famous face that showed up.
"That was a really crazy month of stand-up comedy. Because [Dave] Chappelle was dropping in, Louie [C.K.] was dropping in, [Chris] Rock was dropping in. Everyone was working on stuff. You would go to the Cellar, there was one time — they wrote a whole New York Times article about it— where it was [Jerry] Seinfeld, Rock, me, [Amy] Schumer, and Chappelle. And there were so many nights where someone would go to the Comedy Cellar and it’d be like, me, Louie, Rock. That happened all the time.
"That night, when they wrote the New York Times piece, that was the craziest thing I had ever seen."
All of these comedians have hosted SNL. Ansari took the opportunity to grab some advice.
"So, I saw Louie, and I was like, ‘All right man, what do I do? How do I pull this off?’ And he said, ‘No one will watch any stand-up set you do more than this. This will be the most watched stand-up set you’ve ever done.’ And he said, ‘Don’t try to write a set for this. Just do your best stuff and you’ll be fine.’ And I said, ‘Louie, I have no stuff, I’ve been shooting my show!’ All my stuff was in my last special. And he’s like, ‘Oh, well you need to be here [at the Comedy Cellar] all the time.’"
What followed was a whirlwind of stand-up events for Ansari.
"The Comedy Cellar had all these shows for the holidays. So, they would do three shows a night in all of these [different] rooms. I would just do as many as I could. I would do like eight, 10 a night, just running back and forth. I came to L.A. and I would do the same thing at The Comedy Store. I was here for a few days and I would just go one after another. Someone would just grab me and I would just do all of the rooms."
Ansari’s SNL appearance was scheduled for the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. After that Friday, the mood shifted.
"The day before was the inauguration. Everyone was just so down on that set. I’ve never been there, it was like something truly awful had happened. Everyone was so sad. … I was like, ‘Oh my god, what’s going to happen here?’ And then the next day, that Women’s March boosted everyone’s spirits. I changed a few things because of that. I had to change it the day of, because everyone’s mood was totally different that day."
Chris Rock gave him the final boost he needed to make his monologue sing.
"I was constantly talking to Rock and would send him files of things. He was super nice and very helpful. He sent me a text that I will never forget. He was like, ‘Look, it’s the day after the inauguration, you’re doing the monologue. Be big. Seize the moment.’"
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.