Dave Chappelle Dropped Some Truth (With a Little Help From Chris Rock) on This Week’s ‘SNL’

©2016/Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC

No matter which way the election went, there was no doubt that Dave Chappelle would be the perfect host for the first post-election episode of Saturday Night Live, and that turned out to be true. With new material, insightful stories, cameos from his roster of beloved characters, and — maybe most importantly — with his very distinctive counterpoint to the middle-of-the-road messages of togetherness the show’s spent most of the season focusing on, Chappelle tackled a tough subject and armed us with the tools we need to start understanding it better. And the first step isn’t saying “it’s OK, everyone’s just trying their best” — it’s to admit we’re disconnected from some fundamental realities, and that’s exactly what this episode showed us, over and over.

But before we get into it, there’s some Really Important Stuff to address.

Earlier this week, Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani shared a story, in a Twitter thread, about how he and co-star Thomas Middleditch were targeted by Trump supporters in the unlikeliest of places (a bar in Silverlake, Los Angeles). The story is frustrating and upsetting for so many reasons, and Nanjiani came away from it concluding:

Which brings us to SNL. This week, many people were moved by the show’s emotional response to the election, but lots of people were pissed off about it, too — how dare a show that welcomed Trump and failed to skewer him with the full force he deserved decide it’s suddenly making a statement? Comics including Judah Friedlander and James Urbaniak weighed in on Twitter:

Josh Androsky, an LA-based standup, Vice contributor, and host of Comedy Central’s “Trolling for Greatness,” was particularly upset about the somber tone of this week’s show, so we asked for his take on SNL‘s accountability issue:

Here’s the problem with SNL (and with the national media in general): they make fucking fistfuls of money by maintaining a false sense of balance. This has never been more apparent than in this election. One of the candidates was an accused rapist, a confirmed racist, and a misogynist who employs men that are openly fascist (that’s a lot of “-ists,” and none of them are good). But despite his undeniably extreme views, the media overwhelmingly portrayed him as normal — fun, even — and there is perhaps nobody more culpable of this than Lorne fucking Michaels.

SNL gains and loses popularity among “cool people” with each season, but Middle Amerca has never stopped watching. So when someone like Trump is shown hosting SNL or joking around with Jimmy Fallon, it’s a dangerous distraction; it tells tens of thousands of Americans — who enjoy shows like SNL but may be too busy working two jobs to watch as much “woke news” as we “smart liberals” do – that he’s ultimately an ok guy.

Through his stewardship of SNL and Fallon, Michaels has presented Trump as a guy who is capable of laughing at himself, and with all of us — and, hey, if he can laugh at himself, he can’t be that bad! Michaels isn’t doing this for political gain – he’s doing this because it makes him money. So to then turn around and present an emotional moment like this week’s cold open is duplicitous and hollow. Lorne Michaels doesn’t give a fuck who’s president, and he doesn’t give a shit if you’re sad that all of your civil rights are about to be rolled back – he’s looking for ratings, and he gets them. In summation: fuck Lorne Michaels, fuck SNL, and fuck Jimmy Fallon.

Point. But also, counterpoint:

Election Week Cold Open

So, with all of that said: this week’s cold open was one of the most emotional and raw performances I’ve ever seen, and Kate McKinnon was clearly singing from her own heart and forcing a smile through very real tears as, in full Hillary uniform, she sat alone at her piano and belted “Hallelujah” (an uncannily fitting song from — and in tribute to — the late Leonard Cohen).

Monologue

In this 11-minute set, first-time host Chappelle muses on the election, and reminds us that this is just one of a million horrible things happening in the world right now. He pokes fun at Trump, calling him out as an internet troll and working in a pussy grabbing joke; but he also shares a story about a recent trip to the White House, where being surrounded by black partygoers (and Bradley Cooper) made him hopeful for the future. Monologue aside, it was a strong, meaningful set from a comic whose sharpness has been sorely missed these past few years.

Election Night

A bunch of (white) people who are very proud of being friends with bloggers (along with their pal, Chappelle) are gathered together, watching the election results come in: it’s 6pm, and they’re running outcomes, wondering whether Hillary will win by a landslide or, in a “nightmare scenario,” if she’ll just get enough votes to sweep the electoral college. As the night goes on, the mood changes and they start running out of reasons why the results might be misleading. Bayer, Bennett, Bryant, and Strong are all totally shocked when they realize Trump might win, but Chris Rock walks on just in time to join Chappelle in pointing out that, actually, this kind of upset isn’t surprising — not for people who’ve spent their lives knowing for absolute sure they’re outnumbered. White Democrats are so incredibly shocked, this sketch says, because they’re finally realizing that America is racist — or at least, they’re starting to realize what being marginalized feels like. “Do you even know what it’s like to be a woman in this country?” Strong asks Chappelle and Rock, “where you just can’t get ahead no matter what you do?” Disconnect!

Walking Dead Chappelle’s Show

This is the sketch die-hard Chappelle’s Show fans were waiting for: the one with plenty of familiar, obligatory nods to some of Chappelle’s most memorable characters. Blending two cult hit TV shows (and the artful editing of the Nutty Professor franchise), Chappelle plays a bat wielding villain — a la Walking Dead’s Negan — and the entire lineup of men he’s holding hostage. All our old pals are there: lovable crack addict Tyrone Biggums, panicked white newscaster Chuck Taylor, ultimate player hater Silky (and bff Beautiful, in a cameo by former Chappelle’s Show cast member Donnell Rawlings), and — in a comparison that’s just a bit too on the nose — the black white supremacist Clayton Bigsby is there, too, wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat.

Weekend Update

It’s a bummer that, the week after the election, Weekend Update’s finally throwing some sharp barbs — hammering in the fact that Trump’s got fewer job skills than a Target greeter, and defining him as a figurehead who’s basically “Beyonce for white guys.” But there’s also something unsettling about Update basically saying — like the “Election Night” sketch did — that of course this happened, no shit we got too cocky, like it’s something they called all along. In retrospect, the soothing messages of hope (like the optimistic and humanizing Times Square cold open, and Tom Hanks’ fatherly monologue, among others) over the past few weeks seem wildly off base — not just falsely comforting, but, it turns out, sadly misleading. “If anything,” Che says, “this election shows just how disconnected we are from each other.”

Also, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (McKinnon, who’s a real rockstar throughout this episode, as usual) stops by to talk about how the election’s affected her retirement plans, and to dance a little, which always cheers us up.

Jheri’s Place

It’s about time a sketch show got its own post-game-style wrap up, where cast members can wipe the sweat from their brows and reflect on the choices they’ve made — like, whether the wigs they wore were just too much, or if their bold accent choices paid off. Or, maybe that would be horrible, like it is for the cast when they face the press after fumbling through a weak premised scene in this fun, meta sketch. Jones defends her ongoing difficulty with cue cards — “SNL knew what they was getting into when they hired me” — and Thompson just can’t even — “I ain’t got time for this, man, I’ve been on this show for 62 years and you’re gonna dwell on this?”

Kids Talk Trump

Dave’s daughter, Sonal Chappelle, makes her SNL debut alongside her dad in this clip where Kids Say the Darndest Things about Trump. Reporting the news — as filtered through their parents — kids conclude he’s “kind of a bully” and has “weird, fake hair,” and also that “he unleashed racism and xenophobia” across our country (guess which kid’s cool dad is already training her to “[drop] some truth”?) The been no shortage of “how do I explain the election to my kids?” thinkpieces this week – maybe parents should take a cue from Chappelle and just drop some truth?

Last Call with Dave Chappelle

It’s last call at the only bar in America that serves scotch and Pepto (for when you’ve got a case of the squirts, but still want to drink), and once again poor Sheila Sovage (McKinnon) is still on the prowl. Nursing a gin and Sonic — complete with tiny hamburger garnish, which actually doesn’t sound terrible? — Sheila reels in her perfect match: a legally blind drunk (Chappelle) who’s as bad a kisser as she is.

Love and Leslie

This beautifully scripted, beautifully shot short is sweetly, tenderly funny, a faux behind-the-scenes peek at cast members Jones and Mooney’s blooming romance. “If I’m being honest,” the sketch opens with Jones confessing, “it’s really hard for me to connect with guys, cause I kind of have a big personality.” She describes her bad luck with blind dates, her one long-term relationship, and her desire for something like the love other women seem to attract so easily. It’s truthful and heart-wrenching, and it makes the payoff even greater when Jones smiles shyly, saying she’s finally found someone special: SNL co-star Mooney, as awkward as ever and, apparently, a virgin (much to Lorne Michaels’ dismay). They’ve got some obstacles to overcome – like Leslie’s constant flirting with Colin Jost, and Kyle’s inability to keep their secret – but these crazy kids just might make it.

Football Party

An adult man (Chappelle) shocks all his friends (minus the always unflappable Mooney) when he admits that he still lives at home with his mom (Jones) – and that he still breastfeeds. Their football party gets seriously derailed when he starts to snack and ends up with a face full of milk, and that’s pretty much the whole joke.

Etc

– Sasheer Zamata shared a heartfelt note about how the show responded to the election on Instagram (also revealing that Bradley Cooper was at the SNL afterparty, because I guess him and Chappelle are best friends?):

This is at the SNL after-after party Dave Chappelle put together. Here he is on stage with Black Thought, Kardinal Offishall, A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, Lenny Kravitz eventually got on stage, and I’m probably missing more legends I couldn’t see. Just a beautiful sea of talented black folk on the stage, and Bradley Cooper jammin on the side. It was a really special night. I’m so glad Dave was here this week. We had our read-through on Wednesday and I didn’t know how I was going to find anything funny. Before we started, Lorne gave us a great pep talk as we sat around the table, basically saying the best thing we can do is our jobs. And then Dave read us a Toni Morrison quote saying “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” And then we went to work. That was one of the best moments of my week, and I needed it. I’m really proud of the show we did last night, and I’m thankful. Thankful for the show, thankful for Toni, and extremely thankful for Dave. Thank you thank you thank you ❤️

A photo posted by Sasheer Zamata (@thesheertruth) on


– Chappelle smokes everywhere he goes (so far, he’s only gotten in trouble for it in Toronto), so of course he had a 🚬 onstage during the “Jheri’s Place” sketch, and the goodnights 😇

Neal Brennan – standup comic / Chappelle’s Show co-creator / longtime Chappelle collaborator – was listed in this week’s writer credits (btw, Brennan’s still performing his highly acclaimed solo show, 3 Mics, so keep an eye on his tour dates).

-This episode was the season’s most viewed, so far – but it still didn’t reach as many viewers as Donald Trump’s Season 41 episode did.

– Speaking of which, notably no Trump this week…

– Next week: Kristen Wiig hosts for the second time since leaving the SNL cast, with musical guest the xx.

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