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Dave Chappelle brings laughs and a sense of unity to ‘SNL’

Chappelle hosts for the second time in first post-2020 election episode

Comedian Dave Chappelle returned to "SNL" to host the first episode after the 2020 election.
Comedian Dave Chappelle returned to "SNL" to host the first episode after the 2020 election.

“Saturday Night Live” has spent its last few years in a rating and critical uptick because of its commentary on the American political environment. It received praise for Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of President Donald Trump, which he won an Emmy for in 2017. When SNL announced comedian Dave Chappelle as its host for the post-Election Day show, expectations were high. 

The show has been a source of relief for millions of people across the world who do not support Donald Trump. In 2016, Chappelle also hosted the first episode after the election and Trump’s surprising victory. Then, Chappelle ended his monologue by saying, “So, in that spirit, I’m wishing Donald Trump luck. And I’m going to give him a chance, and we, the historically disenfranchised, demand that he give us one too. Thank you very much.” He later recanted this statement. After that controversial episode, viewers were interested in what Chappelle would bring in 2020. 

The timeliness of the cold open was one of the highlights of the episode. It was a parody of the Biden-Harris victory speech in Delaware that occurred the same night. The wardrobe department always does amazing work on “SNL,” but the fact that they were able to assemble Maya Rudolph’s wardrobe as Kamala Harris within a few hours is unthinkable. 

Jim Carrey is a passable Biden. Sometimes he does his typical comedic techniques that are very vibrant and energetic, but don’t work very well with a subject known by many Trump supporters as “Sleepy Joe.” Rudolph continues her hilarious impersonation as Harris. 

Alec Baldwin should be relieved Trump lost the election because it may mean he doesn’t have to do his irritating impression of Trump anymore. Baldwin’s impression — although award-winning — is pretty tiresome. However, the homage to Kate McKinnon performing “Hallelujah” as Hillary Clinton –– another controversial move from the first episode after the 2016 presidential election — was another bright spot for the episode. Here, Baldwin as Trump sang “Macho Man” by the Village People.

Chappelle did an interesting take on his opening monologue. Instead of having a prepared speech read off cue cards, he decided to treat the monologue like an open mic-night by playing off the audience and rambling instead of having typical jokes. He reflected on the 2020 election and celebrated the expected removal of Trump from the Oval Office. 

He also called for a sense of unity in his monologue by saying the struggles of white people who voted for Trump and the struggle of Black people who have dealt with oppression for generations is not that different. Chappelle argued that the anger Trump supporters feel — that they are being left behind by the government and the private sector — is very similar to how Black folks feel.

It’s an interesting way to start the conversation, but it is important to remember how truly different the struggles of white and Black people are. It’s okay for Chappelle to start from here, but he should make sure to emphasize the point that Black people have always been treated as lesser than or even subhuman when compared to white folks. The grievances of Trump supporters simply do not compare with a history of political and social oppression based on race and the continued power of white supremacy in the United States. 

For the Weekend Update segment, Michael Che and Colin Jost were able to bring out a lot of good humor from the election. McKinnon — one of the best impersonators “SNL” has ever seen — did a great job as Rudy Giuliani, balancing a perfect level of stupidity and weirdness that only Giuliani has.

As we approach the end of the Trump Presidency, the show’s response will be critical in order to preserve ratings and critical reviews. During Clinton’s presidency, years of jokes about the sex scandal brought in viewers. During the Bush years, the president’s perceived incompetence was able to satisfy the audience. “SNL” often falls back on political comedy and relies on the more obvious and gaudy points of critique available. When the more reserved, polished Biden takes office, the series may have trouble getting the easy laughs delivered by Baldwin’s Trump. 

The slower parts of the episode were the Hailstorm and Super Mario skits. Both sketches had only one joke each, and they just kept beating it into the ground. It’s an unfortunate pattern “SNL” has — the skit starts out funny, but it quickly loses its humor as they continue repeating the same joke over and over again.

Overall, the episode was respectable, but not exceptional. In the aftermath of the Trump presidency — and after focusing on the soon-to-be former president for the last five years — it will be interesting to see not only how the show will change but how comedy as a whole will progress — especially late-night TV. The vast majority of late-night television has received an increase in viewers and critical praise based on their reactions to the Trump presidency. SNL –– one of the oldest shows in late-night — sets the precedent for the rest of television in this genre. How will stand up and late-night comedy react to a post-Trump world? If this episode was any indication, it will not be an easy task.