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Amidst controversy, Dave Chappelle hosts another post-election SNL

Maybe the strongest of the season, this episode was provocative and thought-provoking

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Image for article titled Amidst controversy, Dave Chappelle hosts another post-election SNL
Photo: SNL

This week marked comedian Dave Chappelle’s third time hosting a post-election Saturday Night Live following his stings after the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. A lot has happened since then. The announcement of Chappelle as host created a divisive response stemming from transphobic remarks he made during his controversial special The Closer on Netflix, as explored here. In addition, Chappelle found himself as a victim when he was attacked on stage at a Netflix event at the Hollywood Bowl. Eyes have been closely watching SNL this week with talk of writers boycotting the episode and suggestions that some cast members were upset by Chappelle’s participation in the franchise. What unfolded this week will likely entrench the gulf between Chappelle’s supporters and detractors. As a host, Chappelle appeared confident and unrepentant producing a polemic SNL episode that will get people talking, which may have been Lorne Michaels’ plan all along.

Best sketch of the night

Potato Hole - SNL

It was sort of hard to narrow this down to one. Many of the sketches of the night revolved around white discomfort, confusion, and ignorance interacting with Black culture as seen in “P.M. in the Afternoon,” “Barber Shop Talk,” and “Heaven Scene.” It was at its most succinct in the first sketch which juxtaposed the cheery landscape of morning television with Black trauma. The way that the correspondents boorishly use the term “Potato Hole” without a correct understanding and their dismay when they are enlightened by Chappelle’s musician made for a potent sketch about misappropriation. “Barber Shop Talk” reversed the racial dynamic of the first sketch to explore the disconnect between the white and Black perspectives with various touchy issues. “Black Heaven” furthered the theme by placing Mikey Day in a role supposedly meant for Chappelle, while Chappelle reveled in Day’s discomfort.

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 Both the best and worst of the night

Dave Chappelle Stand-Up Monologue - SNL

 Chappelle was given a sprawling fifteen minutes for his monologue which covered topics such as Kanye West, Trump, the war in Ukraine, and free speech. His relaxed and fluid delivery was a reminder of what a gifted comedic communicator Chapelle can be. It also served as a reminder of why it is so important how he expresses his thoughts. He opened the monologue by saying he wanted to read a statement. It would not be a leap to think he may address the transphobic remarks he had made in his last comedy special. In fact, The Closer actually begins with an apology to the city of Detroit. However, it leads to an examination of Kanye West and his recent anti-Semitic remarks. He remarked that one should never put “the” before “Jews,” but did not have the self-awareness, or inclination to acknowledge that he should not have used “the” before “transgenders,” or the term “transgenders” at all in The Closer. It was somewhat uncomfortable parsing some of his thoughts on anti-Semitism, mental illness, and how race impacts such issues. He gave an astute analysis of Trump as an “honest liar” and touched on how society comes down harsher on Black people for mistakes. At the same time, much of the monologue had a ring of trolling or mocking of those who have challenged Chappelle for his words. He lamented that “it shouldn’t be this scary to talk,” which could be read a myriad of ways. He could be referring to his attacker, it could be about cancel culture, and it could be about the lack of intelligent discourse surrounding controversial issues. It will surely have fans and critics, but it succeeds in getting people to talk and think.

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Most current sketch of the night

Fox & Friends Cold Open - SNL

This was one of the season’s best Cold Opens because of its immediacy. As elections drag on well beyond Tuesdays, the sketch felt fresh with the uncertainty of American democracy at this moment. It revolved around the Red Wave, or lack thereof, from this week’s midterm elections. It was underlined by Kari Lake’s shifting perspective on election integrity contingent on whether she is leading or not in her race in Arizona. It also touched on tonight’s revelation that the Democratic party will retain control of the senate while Trump is at his black-sheep daughter Tiffany’s wedding. Likewise, it touched on the conservative media’s turn against Trump in favor of Florida’s Ron DeSantis. Anchored with James Austin Johnsons Trump impression and Cecily Strong’s epic Kari Lake impersonation, it was a cold open that felt fresh and immediate.

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Best throwback sketch of the night

House of the Dragon - SNL

 While one of the least thought-provoking sketches of the night, “House of the Dragon” was one of the funniest. Building off the hoopla surrounding the response by some to the inclusion of Black figures in the fantasy program, Chappelle took us back to simpler times by including past beloved characters from The Chappelle Show, such as Player Haters, Tyrone, and Rick James. The joke that Ice T’s character looked like E.T. when they dressed him up for Halloween was perfect. It is also worth applauding the production value that SNL invests in these pre-taped segments.

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MVP of the Night

Image for article titled Amidst controversy, Dave Chappelle hosts another post-election SNL
Photo: SNL
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Love him or hate him, Chappelle was surely the MVP of the night. This isn’t an endorsement of any of his views, but rather an acknowledgment that his fingerprints were all over this episode. It felt like Chappelle’s vision of SNL. Defiantly smoking in his promo pictures and on set, Chappelle appeared confident and resolute in his comedy. The flip side of this was the sense that his point of view can give a false sense of a monolithic Black perspective, such as “Barber Shop Talk,” and some of his points during his monologue. This was certainly one of the most provocative episodes and arguably the best episode of the season. He made SNL feel like it was Chapelle’s show.

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Stray observations

  • I learned that Potato Hole is also a website to help find and support Black-owned businesses. I wonder how much traffic they might get after this episode.
  • Maybe it was because of the lengthy monologue but the sketches felt sort of short. It made them stronger and snappier.
  • “Sarah News” seemed to have divided social media. It was at times annoying and at others hilarious. I think it should come back in the future.
  • I thought you couldn’t really smoke on network television like that anymore. I also read that maybe Chappelle wasn’t censored during the monologue, but I’m not sure the protocol since I was watching on Peacock.
  • While none of the cast was completely M.I.A. I noticed that Bowen Yang, Molly Kearney, and Sarah Sherman were notably absent from the end of the show send off when the cast normally joins the host and musical guests for goodbyes.
  • It felt like a particularly strong “Weekend Update.” Maybe it was a midterm bump.
  • Marcello Hernandez is really distinguishing himself quickly.
  • I really didn’t feel like there was a ‘worst’ sketch of the night.
  • Could not be more excited for Keke Palmer to be the next host on December 3.