"What we saw in Orlando was one of the ugliest cocktails of problems that we still see here in America," Hasan Minhaj told congresspeople at an event on Wednesday

By Tierney McAfee
Updated June 17, 2016 03:30 PM
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Dan Hallman/Invision/AP

As Democrats were carrying out an impassioned gun-control filibuster on the Senate floor Wednesday, comedian Hasan Minhaj launched his own powerful call to action before a room full of congresspeople and media at the Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner.

After delivering the usual jokes about politicians like John Kasich and Hillary Clinton, the Daily Show correspondent devoted the last few minutes of his speech to speaking somberly about Sunday’s shooting massacre that killed 49 people at a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, criticizing the congresspeople in the audience over their failure to fight for true equality in the U.S.

“What we saw in Orlando was one of the ugliest cocktails of problems that we still see here in America – a cocktail of homophobia, xenophobia, lack of access to mental healthcare and sheer lack of political will,” Minhaj said.

“All of us satirists, we’ve all been yelling out, crying out for change. But the sad reality is that we are all complicit in what happened,” he continued. “Every day in our workplaces, in our homes, in our religious institutions, there is cover or overt discrimination or phobia towards people of different religious, racial or sexual walks of life. And we just sit there and we let it happen, because it doesn’t affect our bottom line.”

“The sad reality is that stuff like this is going to continue to happen unless we realize that civil liberties are an all or nothing game So whether you like it or not we all have to step up and fight for each other, otherwise the whole thing is a sham.”

“And until we do that, hijabis are going to get harassed in the streets, members from the trans community are going to be demonized for using the bathroom, and my brothers and sisters in the African-American community, their spines are going to continue to get shattered in the backs of paddy wagons until we stand up and say something.”

As Minhaj spoke, the C-SPAN broadcast cut several times to the black-tie-attired dinner audience shifting uncomfortably in their seats, checking their phones – doing anything but laughing.

Addressing the congresspeople who sat silently and stone-faced in the crowd, Minhaj said, “We look to you guys as our leaders. You make almost $200,000 a year to write rules, to make our society better. Not tweet, not tell us about your thoughts and prayers. To write rules to make our society better.”

“And ultimately it comes down to money and influence. Right now, since 1998, the NRA has given $3.7 million to Congress. There are 294 sitting members of Congress that have accepted contributions from the NRA, and that doesn’t even include the millions of dollars from outside lobbying.”

“So I don’t know if this is like a Kickstarter thing, but if $3.7 million can buy political influence to take lives, if we raise $4 million would you guys take that to save lives?”

Minhaj concluded by calling on the politicians to be more than “a ‘could have done something’ Congress.” “Please persevere,” he said, “Because our ‘thoughts and prayers’ are with you.”