Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

It is not a joke that Elon Musk hosted Saturday Night Live

Elon Musk
Elon Musk
Photo: Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC

“Leron sounds pretty rich, I mean smart.”

“I’m not an actor. Full stop.”

Elon Musk hosted Saturday Night Live. That’s about as close an approximation of the comedy stylings of Elon Musk as I can get. But I kid the self-professed visionary in the language he himself used to explain away the predictably stiff and halting episode of which he was the unlikely focal point. “I don’t always have a lot of intonation or variation in how I speak,” explained Musk in his monologue, “which I’m told makes for great comedy.”

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Musk also revealed, apparently for the first time, that he has Asperger’s syndrome during his monologue, a public announcement that should, if nothing else, throw some much-needed attention toward that often misunderstood condition. (And, hey, if Musk wants to toss a few billion dollars toward research, all the better.) And while the internet will do its thing concerning a controversial famous figure making a vulnerable confession on live television, nobody here is laughing. Good on you, Elon.

Still, Musk’s was a deeply divisive booking for Saturday Night Live to make, and Musk’s night-long string of alternating jokey half-apologies and self-aggrandizement did nothing to dispel any suspicions that Lorne Michaels’ long-held policy of hands-off host coddling remains intact. Just as the plutocratic, problematic tech geek Musk is no Donald Trump, this particular, widely derided booking was no reprehensible entertainment black hole, but it was hardly great TV. And just as staff and cast discontent over Trump’s infamous 2016 hosting gig trickled out in the intervening years, look for this cast’s sniping show week tweets to be expanded upon when Shales and Miller put out another update of their book, or current cast members leave the show and feel empowered to finally speak their obviously Musk-skeptical minds.

And there’s trouble to be found in Musk’s appearance on Saturday Night Live. My colleague Jesse Hassenger did an adept rundown of what Musk’s booking says about Michaels and SNL’s ever-overstated “radical” comedy cred, and, having just viewed the actual episode, I’ll throw in my own annotations to Musk and the show’s 90-minute exercise in host-exonerating interference. Mostly a matter of owning the little things to deflect from the big ones, the show’s humor at the expense of its host was just a long run of ego-fluffing humblebrags, essentially.

Musk owned up to getting high on the podcast of NewsRadio second-stringer and MMA meathead Joe Rogan that time, but no need to bring up his subsequent memo to his employees that they’ll totally be fired if they show up high to work. Or Rogan’s history of letting white supremacists and other conspiracy loons run riot on his popular platform. On Update, Musk was himself (as cyrptocurrency expert Lloyd Ostertag), getting the mickey taken out of him by Jost and Che for not being able to explain what the fuck his current crypto boondoggle is, but the segment itself serves as basically a five-minute informercial for whatever it is. Later, Musk, as Old West ancestor Leron Musk, is lent some more blockchain by cowboy Beck Bennett’s assertion that their current system of digging up yellow rocks from the ground and then exchanging them for pieces of paper before anyone can shoot them is the perfect monetary system. That’s a genuinely funny joke, because, as Musk pooh-poohs Che’s proffered dollar bill on Update, what is money anyway, amirite?

Musk joked about his notorious online trolling, protesting that if he’d just have stuck to tweeting about humanity colonizing other planets and renewable energy, he’d be fine. (He complains about being “reduced to the dumbest thing I ever did.”) Which, sure, would be better than, say, throwing a libelous hissy fit because someone else saved some people from drowning instead of letting Musk play with his rich guy toys first. Or demeaning people who need government assistance while himself receiving exorbitant financial subsidies. Or aw-shucks joking in that 10-to-1 Old West sketch about his previous, murderously irresponsible and thoroughly wrong COVID and mask-wearing skepticism and misinformation, while the COVID-infected Tesla employees (and fired former employees) Musk forced back to work could only, presumably, fume impotently at home. (Without union representation.) Then there’s the SNL host’s anti-trans bullshit. And the reports of rampant corporate racism. And the airy manner in which he assumes less-wealthy peons will have to croak in order to make his Weyland-Yutani king of space dreams come true. (Something gently chided—again to pretty humorous effect—by the sketch where Pete Davidson’s eternally uninvested Chad sacrifices himself on Mars for the greater good of Elon and SpaceX.)

Musk isn’t an entertainer, which isn’t his fault. SNL has worked around non-performers in the past many times, and if that rarely makes for great comedy, it’s sometimes an endearing exercise in host-carrying good sportsmanship. But the glee with which Musk took to Twitter in the run-up to tonight indicated that the problematic entrepreneur was looking to seize upon the gig as just one more destination in his ongoing huckster’s whistle-stop tour of self-promotion. Born on third (despite his online boasts about hard work and bootstrap-pulling) and headed for home in a dangerously driver-less rocket car (funded by Apartheid-era wealth) while pumping his fists in home run triumph is hardly sympathetic way to be—something, no doubt, Musk and minions will view as mere jealousy from an insignificant little TV critic. So be it.

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Best/Worst Sketch Of The Night

The Best sketches of the night worked in spite of Musk, naturally. Again, I don’t like the guy, but him not being funny on TV isn’t his fault. The filmed primer on how every conversation after COVID lockdown is going to go was genuinely smart and well-observed. Sure, Musk was in there, but the whole piece was about how nobody knows how to talk or what to talk about in person any more, so his stilted conversation with Heidi Gardner’s partygoer was just one of the humorously interminable interactions. Kate McKinnon (who did an earlier piece this season about awkward post-COVID flirting), gritted her teeth as she and Beck Bennett faked their way through trying to give a crap about how they’re doing (“Okay, considering...”), and trying to remember just who this person they’re talking to is. Chris Redd and Ego Nwodim have a sketch-long arc where Redd’s hesitant courtship of a woman who turns out to be his long-absent cousin turns out to be an opportunistic scam all along. And Gardner and Musk manage to make their smallest of talk an exercise in exhausted, barely concealed loathing, as Musk greets Gardner’s predictable complaints about second-dose side effects with an accidentally out-loud, “Wow, that seems like a unique experience that you should tell everyone about.” Look, we’re all going to be a little rusty when this is actually over (which it is, emphatically, not), so everybody try to remember we’re all gonna be equally hopeless at human-talking for a while.

Filmed pieces were Musk’s safe zones tonight, and the Chad sketch just let the private space corporation head look cool as he guided Davidson’s Mars-stranded Chad through the paces of restoring the first settlement’s air supply. It helps that Chad finds out that fellow settler Miley Cyrus’ baby is his (“No thank you.”) before he steps out into the irradiated Martian landscape, and that Chad is, on Earth or Mars, always Chad. It’s an expensive-looking, handsomely mounted way to take this one-joke character someplace new, so here’s to the effort. And to the show for giving us a gory bumper replay of how Chad’s empty (but for buckets of blood and goo) noggin reacts to Mars’ lack of atmosphere.

And since we’re sticking with the elaborate filmed pieces, the show’s take on the Mare Of Easttown knockoff Murdur Durdur was just all joy and guilty giggles. With Kate as the Pennsylvania/Maryland/other hard-bitten detective with “a messy ponytail that says, ‘Forget I’m actually British’,” and able, tonsil-twisting accent work from the likes of Beck, Bowen Yang, and Chloe Fineman, the whole thing is just plain goofy fun. There’s no real bite (it’s no Lesbian Period Drama), but sometimes funny is just funny. And Musk, showing up as the creepy, bike-riding priest who obviously murdured that durdur, was perfectly cast. Make of that what you will.

Kate also got to do her thing as Frances McDormand in the The Oolie Show. All bugged eyes and no-time-for-this-nonsense impatience, McKinnon’s McDormand was amusing (she’s just in the country to buy some more “grey sack dresses”), as was Pete’s barely-there Steve Buscemi, also unclear why he’s being interviewed by a Chloe Fineman’s pixieish Icelandic host. (Especially since he doesn’t have a movie coming out.) Fineman and Mikey Day (and Musk, as the show’s, again, creepy lovelorn producer Ragnarok) are all committed to the idea of creating a sprightlier Sprockets-style takedown of—Icelandic culture? I guess? Fineman is into the enterprise as only she can be, and finally Melissa Villaseñor got to do something in her wheelhouse as “Iceland’s most and only famous ‘musiskan,’ Bjork.” Basically, it was Saturday Night Live getting to play “look at those kooky, quirky foreigners and their pop culture” without having to answer for doing yellowface.

As far as making fun of how those crazy [fill in the sub-group] talks, the Gen Z Hospital sketch made its hard, hard pitch to be the next “The Californians,” which, no thank you. Musk’s first live sketch, the piece of generational jibing went on and on and on with everybody using terms like “bestie,” “catch hands,” “squad,” “cringe,” “extra,” “kronk,” and “took a major L*” to dramatize the recent car accident of one of their number. Kate, Bowen, Heidi, Mikey, Ego, Melissa, and, yes, Musk are all into it, but I was much less so, sadly. It’s not that building an entire, destined to be run into the ground premise around lazy stereotypical speech patterns can’t be funny. Oh, wait, never mind. Let it die, bro. (*Only one of these is not an actual, SNL-approved Gen Z-ism. Can you spot it? Ha, ha, haaa—let it die.)

Then there’s the courtroom sketch, where—look, it’s Wario on trial for killing Mario on the go-kart track, and everyone got to dress up in the costumes, and judge Cecily made that 1-Up noise with her gavel, and then the whole thing turned out to be a stealth Italian-American anti-defamation league ad on behalf of embattled New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. This is something that happened. Musk was Wario, who got in some more self-defensive self-pity by noting that “people are so mean online” as he complained that he’s been “unfairly painted as a villain.” So that’s subtext, I guess. Look, this sketch happened, we all saw it, and let’s move on.

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Weekend Update Update

Here’s where host stunt-casting really cuts Saturday Night Live’s satirical legs out. Yeah, Jost made a joke about Musk needing the gig as an alibi for the Chinese rocket crash (during the show—sorry, Maldives) that, for once, wasn’t his fault. But those are the sort of feeble jabs that just bounce off Musk’s self-designed Iron Man (sorry, Irony Man) armor of self-regard. You’ve got to crash a few rockets and maybe kill a few astronauts to guarantee your status as a visionary. Anyway, Jost and Che each got in one Musk-related joke each, with Che’s being the better, as he asked why all these incalculably rich white men keep spending untold billions on fleeing to other planets. (Instead of, and just spitballing here, paying Earth taxes and striving to improve the lives of billions of Earth-humans.) As Che noted to potential first contact aliens greeting Jeff Bezos and/or Elon Musk landing craft, “When you see a bunch of foreign ships pull up on your land, take it from a Black dude, don’t get on them unless you want to be a Martian with the last name ‘Washington.’”

The rest of the jokes landed fine, with actual, non host-related shots being taken at white evangelical anti-vaxxers (“I know you want to get into heaven, but it’s not a race,” smirked Jost), and South Carolina’s recent addition of firing squad to its roster of execution methods. Che got someone to actually blurt out “Hey!” amidst the sought-for uneasy groans when he enthused, “And I think it’s nice that people will finally get the chance to get shot after they’re found guilty.” Che also pissed off the right people by following up a story about what a million dollars worth of meth looks like with a shot of the white supremacist terrorist chuds Trump supporters storming the Capitol. Che can be a dick, but Che at his best don’t play.

Three correspondent pieces this week, and one was Baby Yoda, so let’s get that out of the way first. Not that I don’t enjoy Kyle Mooney’s efforts in the makeup chair as the now ’roided-out Grogu, gabbling on like a YouTube influencer as he boasts about his new MMA career and his running posse. (Amusingly including Lightning McQueen, the Paul brothers, Chalamet, and “the kid from Minari.”) It’s such an out-of-nowhere showcase for Kyle that I can’t help but laugh. But I do try.

Musk was in there, shilling his made-up currency, which his blockchain expert eventually admitted was “a hustle.” Here is where I tell the crypto faithful, I get it—I don’t get it. I’m content not to get it. I’m sure the joke will be on me when I’m begging for [insert nonsense word]-coin to exchange for some Elon Musk-branded bottled water in the after-times, so be happy, fellas.

Ego Nwodim got her shot and knocked it into the cheap seats as “A Weary Mother In Her Darkest Hour,” that being the hour after taking her brood to the recently reopened Disneyland. Update is a place where great characters in search of a sketch get to just be, and Nwodim gives one of her finest characterizations ever on the show here. It’s all character work, as the beleaguered mom’s complaints about her kids spoiling her body and life and having to sit in “foul Disney water” on the stalled flume aren’t themselves especially noteworthy. Instead, it’s just Ego’s chance to shine as a character actor, as she, her expensive park flair drooping, complains to Che about how men, “used to buy me appetizers—multiple appetizers!” Outstanding stuff, right up there with Heidi Gardner’s Update best.

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“What do you call that act?” “Tales Of Ribaldry!”—Recurring Sketch Report

Grogu, Chad—I wish I could quit you. Either of you.

“It was my understanding there would be no math”—Political comedy report

It’s Mother’s Day as I write this, as the cold open last night went to SNL’s traditional parade of real-life cast moms, so politics got the night off, for better or worse. I’ll say better, as, hey, it’s always adorable and shamelessly heartwarming to see nearly everybody doing bits with their mom. Aidy’s mother shilled for Shrill. Kate and her mom paid sweaty tribute to Molly Shannon. Mikey’s mom hit on Beck. Mrs. Davidson was up all night playing video games with Pete’s pal Timothée. (The first of two Chalamet jokes for the night). Bowen’s mother squirted his just-smooched face protectively with Purell. Lauren Holt and Punkie’s mom pounded some wine. Heidi didn’t get a joke written for her and her mom, so she tried to borrow one from Cecily, who was too overcome with the long-forgotten feeling of hugging her mother on national TV to say anything funny and, excuse me, I think there’s something in my eye. Look, I’m not made of stone here. Hello Kathy P—talk to you in the morning, and (as soon as this second Moderna has time to settle) hug the hell out of you soon.

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I Am Hip To The Musics Of Today

Miley Cyrus got a sneaky three songs tonight, as she opened the show by crooning a heartfelt cover of godmother Dolly Parton’s elegiac, hopeful “Light Of A Clear Blue Morning.” (Again—something in my eye.) Cyrus, with her mighty vibrato warble, is an inimitable imitable, a full-throated former child star who’s unapologetically her own artist at this point, and I’m sort of into it. There’s something so admirable about Cyrus’ unabashed commitment to her whole thing that even I can’t find fault, grumpy as I remain.

Most/Least Valuable Not Ready For Prime Time Player

I almost gave the top spot to Ego last episode, so I have to give it up this time. Her Update piece was stellar, and she did able work fending off cousin Redd’s advances in the party sketch. It’s a tough road from featured player to featured cast star, and here’s to you, Ms. Nwodim.

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Everybody was on hand for mom, so nobody’s getting any hate from me. I’m a momma’s boy, and proud of it.

“What the hell is that thing?”—Dispatches From Ten-To-Oneland

If it weren’t fashioned as a cloyingly ass-kissing exit showcase for Musk, there’s the kernel of a funny sketch in the cowboy number. I liked that the whole thing turned out to be a tribute not to Musk’s know-it-all ancestor, but Kyle Mooney’s inconsequential, gut-shot bartender. And thank you to the brave and glorious Saturday Night Live props department—that is one fine buzzard puppet last seen feasting on Mooney’s entrails.

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Stray observations

  • In his monologue, Musk joked about being in “human-in-emulation mode,” and he brought out his own mother to shore up the illusion. (That was a joke—I learned this technique from Elon.) Mrs. Musk comes off like a fetching version of a Glenn Close role in a Marvel movie.
  • Twitter has been quick to call out Musk’s claim to be the first SNL host with Asperger’s syndrome, as original cast member and eventual host Dan Aykroyd has been open about being on the spectrum for years. Just sayin’.
  • Assuming that Ego had to have a little talk with S&P before settling on “my pushy and my crack.”
  • Che and Jost did some fine deadpan work pressing the smug Musk (sorry Ostertag) by repeatedly asking, “So what is [nonsense word]-coin?” (Musk got plenty of free advertising for his whatever-it-is already, thanks.)
  • It is kind of messed up that the mushroom dudes in the Mario-verse are called “goombas.”
  • “Sure, I do like electric horses, and self-driving horses. Which are just horses.”
  • Musk once took over The Simpsons, too. I didn’t get it then, either.
  • Next week: An actual person who knows they’re called “sketches” and not “skits” is in the house, as Keegan-Michael Key hosts, alongside musical guest, Olivia Rodrigo. (Who’s already found SNL adulation this season.)
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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.