The Tony Awards may not have had any writers on Sunday night due to the ongoing strike, but host Ariana DeBose and some presenters had some pretty quick jokes off the cuff — including Denée Benton. She brought the house down when she referred to Florida governor Ron DeSantis as “the current Grand Wizard” in the state.
The moment came when Benton took the stage to present this year’s Excellence in Theatre Education Award from Carnegie Mellon University. The honor went to Jason Zembuch Young, who teaches at at South Plantation High School in Plantation, Florida.
“And while I am certain that the current Grand Wizard — I’m sorry, excuse me, governor of my home state of Florida…” Benton prefaced.
The actress wasn’t able to finish her sentence right away though, as the room burst out into laughter and cheers at the joke. After roughly 15 seconds of just loud cheering, Benton pushed on, saying that “I am sure that he will changing the name of this following town immediately.”
For those unaware, Grand Wizard was a title used within the Ku Klax Klan, referring to the man who led it. Benton’s words also drew praise online, with Twitter users lauding her for doing “what needed to be done.”
“It’s almost impossible to imagine the courage it takes for a Black woman to stand onstage and call Ron DeSantis the grand wizard of Florida,” one person wrote.
You can watch the moment in the video above, via Philip Lewis on Twitter.