In his new Netflix special, Michael Che Matters, Saturday Night Live cast member Michael Che jokes he could be friends with Donald Trump. But Che performed that bit on Aug. 5 — before the Republican candidate was elected president, and prior to the release of the 2005 Access Hollywood tape where Trump says, among other graphic remarks, he can grab women “by the p—y.”
“I didn’t know he grabs vaginas at random,” Che tells EW now, laughing. “I mean, that’s a strange friend to have.”
But when Che did tell the joke initially, he explains he was showing the difference between someone a person trusts and someone a person can chill with. “Just because you dislike a candidate and just because you think a guy would do a terrible job doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hate him and you have to treat him like garbage and he loses all his humanity because he doesn’t agree with your politics,” he says, before adding, “But also, this was way, way before we found out that he had pending sexual assault cases and all that stuff. That changes things a bit.” (Trump has repeatedly denied any sexual misconduct, and threatened to sue his multiple accusers following the election.)
Che also talked to EW about how Weekend Update is going to cover Trump now that he’s about to officially be in office, his feelings on the word “offensive,” and what effect internet outrage has — or doesn’t have — on him. Watch Michael Che Matters when the special debuts Nov. 25 on Netflix.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How’d you end up with the title Michael Che Matters?
MICHAEL CHE: It just felt timely, and it also felt like it made sense. What it means to me, is just that: What I’m saying isn’t crazy, and even if it is crazy, I feel like I matter enough to myself to be honest — even if you don’t like it. People aren’t being honest with their feelings. They’re holding things in; they’re not saying it plainly. I’m saying, “Listen, my feelings matter. And I’m going to say it this way, even if it’s politically incorrect, quote-unquote, or if it’s not woke, quote-unquote, or if it’s offensive, quote-unquote, whatever it is.”
So you’re kind of saying, let’s look at all sides of everything.
I’m always looking at all sides, because my objective is to figure it out. The objective is unity. The objective is people coming together and coming to an understanding, so you always have to hear all the sides. I’m not into the mean comedy that’s just, “Everybody is stupid.” It’s more like, “Listen, we all got our problems, and let’s figure out how we can stop being so obnoxious to each other.”
Is there anything that offends you?
Yes. But, also, I’m okay with it. I think “offensive” is a weird word, where people think if it’s offensive, it needs to cease to exist. And I don’t believe that. If something offends me, I’m just offended, and that’s about it. I can deal with that. It’s okay. I’m not going to explode, I’m not going to die. [Laughs] I have the right to be offended, and you have the right to be offensive.
You caught some flak for your comments on that catcalling video, which you address in the special. What was going through your mind when all that happened?
First of all, I had just gotten the job at SNL, so I had never seen that much attention for something. It felt like everybody was talking about it. Even though everybody wasn’t talking about it. But in my world, it felt like everybody was. It was a little bit weird to just to be on that side of that. You’ve seen people get in quote-unquote trouble for stuff, but I had never been really a part of it. But also, I really always felt like what I was saying was honest and right. I never feel bad for being honest. You could disagree, you could say it’s terrible, you could say whatever you want, but if I’m being honest, then it’s fine. Just like I would never be offended by women who have honest experiences — how could I be offended by something that’s really part of your life? I’m just telling you a different side of it. At that point, I always felt secure in the fact that I was telling the truth. I wasn’t just saying something to be mean, and I wasn’t just saying something to be contrarian, because it came from an honest place. It also came from an understanding place. I never really got too down on myself because I knew where I was coming from.
Did you change your position at all on the catcalling video once you started seeing women criticizing you?
My position was always that catcalling sucks! [Laughs] I never changed my position because I always understood that. It’s very awkward and terrible and makes everybody involved uncomfortable — or it should. That’s what I talk about in the special. Nah, I never changed my position. I truly believe it sucks.
Do you hold back at all now that you’ve seen what the internet will do to you for stuff like that?
No, because they don’t do anything to you. They just talk. The internet is World of Warcraft: Everybody is who they imagine themselves to be, and it’s not real. I go outside, I buy a coffee from the deli guy; he has no idea. [Laughs] Cars don’t stop for me and say, “Hey, aren’t you the guy who did that thing?” Internet outrage that would affect my life is if Amazon stopped selling me products because of what I said about catcalling. [Laughs] I don’t care about what somebody in their basement or whatever says. Believe it or not, there are audiences of people across the country who buy tickets to my shows and we laugh and we have a great time. As long as I can keep doing that, I really don’t care what anybody on the internet says.
In the special, you say it’s a crazy time to do comedy because so much is going on right now. Is that a positive?
It’s always a positive thing. I think comedy is always changing and sensibilities are changing and sometimes peoples’ ears are changing. I think a lot of times, we would tell jokes about Hillary Clinton and people would be upset — not talking about the jokes weren’t funny, but they didn’t like that we were making jokes about Hillary Clinton in a time where Donald Trump existed. What’s expected is different. But as a performer, for material, yes, it’s a golden age. It feels like the world is on fire. Somebody’s gotta tell the truth. It’s not going to be the news.
On that note, how does Weekend Update plan to tackle Trump now that he’s president?
I think we make a conscious effort to judge it and cover it honestly. If he’s done something good, make fun of it; if he’s done something bad, we’ll make fun of it. Our job is to make fun of people. That’s what we do. We’re nobody’s friend. If Hillary Clinton won, we’d rip her apart too, just because that’s what we do. That’s our job. Trump is a little more fun to cover. It’s a little bit easier to get people on our side, and he does a lot more crazy things that make you say, “What in the hell?” [Laughs]
But it doesn’t matter who it is; we have to cover it honestly and fair and do the part that not everybody’s going to do. It’s so easy to just to get on a Trump-bashing [spree] all season or his entire presidency. But is that interesting comedy? Do you really just want to hear 90 minutes of “Trump is orange” jokes? And “Trump’s got a little d—” jokes? Like, who cares? Let’s see past that. I think we’ve done that for decades already; we’ve made fun of Trump for decades. And I think what’s more interesting than Donald Trump, actually, is just the part of the country that voted for him feels ignored and unspoken for; they felt like they needed a Donald Trump. They also watch our show. And this show is for everybody. We’re not here to just play to the college liberal kids. We’re here to play for everybody. And we’ve got to find a way to get everybody to laugh at the same time.