Saturday Night Live recap: Dave Chappelle returns for 2020 post-election episode
Welcome, Coneheads, to yet another momentous SNL in Review. Across the country, cities are erupting in celebration to news that Donald Trump has been defeated in his bid for re-election. The joyful images being shown are not unlike the end of Return of the Jedi. Mere hours ago, President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris addressed a crowd in Wilmington, Del., promising unity and calm. It has been an eventful week, and the nation's eyes now turn to Studio 8H. Dave Chappelle — who hosted the memorable first episode following Trump's shocking 2016 victory — returns to host, and his monologue will surely be heavily covered.
I am joined tonight by former SNL cast member Gary Kroeger, who has previously run for office and knows the rigors of a campaign. He also contributed some of the show's best political material during the 1984 election.
It's CNN — America's Choice, election week. Beck Bennett is Wolf Blitzer, and Alex Moffat is John King. They've been up for days. The crowd erupts when Bennett calls Fire Marshall Biden as the next president. "Goddammit that feels good!" (Previously, Blitzer was impersonated by Mark McKinney in 1997, then Chris Parnell four times, followed by Darrell Hammond and Jason Sudeikis.)
Incredibly, the show cuts to Biden, spoofing the speech he only gave hours ago. Maya Rudolph appears as Kamala Harris, and the audience loves it. She's even wearing the same suit. "I don't give a funt!" she hollers. They celebrate before CNN cuts to seeing Trump sad. Kayleigh McEnany (Chloe Fineman) helps him before Alec Baldwin's Trump begins serenading everyone with a somber cover of Village People's "Macho Man." (Obviously this tweaks the show's "Hallelujah" performance from 2016. This is maybe the only part of the cold open that actually works. Downtrodden covers of pop songs are such a staple of movie trailers now, ya know?)
Next: Jim Carrey obliterates any illusion he is trying to actually portray Biden by invoking his famous "La-who-ser" catchphrase. Ace Ventura and Joe Biden? Welcome to the next four years, America.
Gary Kroeger: "I won't miss Baldwin's Trump at all. That doesn't mean I didn't like it, I did, and still do, but there hasn't been a new twist on his characterization in a couple of years. How could there be? It was done to death. I liked Carrey's Biden the moment he debuted, even though heavy criticism was leveled at him. I will continue to enjoy it, but, again, it will be overdone and new twists will dry up. It will get stale."
Usually Kroeger says he watches the cold opens "when they show up on my feed on Sunday morning. As well as highlighted sketches and the news. I rarely stay up anymore, unless it's an event show like with Eddie Murphy."
He says Rudolph's portrayal of Harris "is, perhaps, the best of all of the cast members doing an impression and making it funny. I feel that it's more of an impression, however, than it is a characterization that illuminates darker regions of the subject."
Kroeger played Walter Mondale during the '84 election cycle. Regarding the current show's political coverage, he says: "Comedy is comedy, and SNL has no obligation to do anything but make people laugh. And/or think. The celebrity imitations have been fun. That being said: It is nice when the cast is perceived as capable of doing everything that's necessary. It also opens up the options for ideas when your cast is given the latitude to do everything. But I get the celebrity draw. I'm glad we didn't do that when I was on the show, but I have no big issue with that angle on the show today."
It should be noted, for the historic record, that this episode was significantly preempted by the Clemson-Notre Dame football game, to the consternation of SNL Twitter.
Chappelle grabs his mic in a slick blue suit, smoking. There are few voices in entertainment who can command attention like this. He cops to being nervous. Chappelle's great-grandfather was born a slave — he later dedicated his life to education, Jesus Christ, and saving Black people. Chappelle jokes that his show was bought and sold as much as his ancestor was. He thanks COVID-19 for stopping murderous white people, which is brilliant. He's been performing shows in his neighbor's corn field, and kids the farmers in his community. Maybe he's missing more than hitting, but such is modern Chappelle. He swings for the fences.
"Now Trump is gone. I thought the guy was at least an optimist?" he says. It's hard to even unpack all his truth, and punchlines, all intertwined. "Did I trigger you?" he gleefully asks. Walter Reed, Freddy Mercury, the Kindness Conspiracy, Chris Christie, it's an amazing tapestry, like a profane state of the state. "What kind of man does that" he growls, indicting the president. It ends with a stirring call for forgiveness, and commonality, and joy.
Kroeger says, "Dave Chappelle is, in my view, the greatest living comedian. In fact, comedian is too confining a category. He is a satirist, a storyteller, an illuminator, and a commentator.." He adds that someone described Chappelle as "poetic and unfiltered and sociopolitically introspective and interrogates agonizing and poignant topics. That sums him up pretty well, I think."
We're back on the main stage, with Chappelle addressing the crowd. He sets the stage for a serious, racially tinged sketch about the economic impacts of the pandemic.
We cut to: Alec Baldwin firing Aunt Jemima (Maya Rudolph). "It's not what you did, it's how you make us feel about what we did," says Baldwin. Shades of classic Chappelle's Show here — a lot broader, of course. I wonder if Neal Brennan was involved. Kenan Thompson is Uncle Ben, being shamed by a fleet of politically correct ad executives: Alec Baldwin, Heidi Gardner, and Mikey Day.
Chappelle plays the Allstate Guy, a.k.a. Dennis Haysbert (a.k.a. "Fake Denzel," as Kanye once rapped.) "My deep Black voice makes white people feel safe." Pete Davidson is Count Chocula — Chappelle breaks the fourth wall to call out his ridiculous costume. The satire here is smart and thoughtful, but it quickly descends into schtick, and does not truly click like it needs to. You might even say it's half-baked.
Super Mario 35th anniversary
Bowen Yang and Ego Nwodim describe their first experiences with Nintendo. Mikey Day and Kyle Mooney talk about their horrifying ride to the store. Kenan Thompson and Melissa Villasenor are disgusted. Mooney has crashed and been taken to surgery. "That boy was neutered!" laments Kenan. This is a good cast sketch, which makes sense since the Jemima sketch was very guest-heavy.
Take Me Back
Keith (Beck Bennett) is visiting Ego Nwodim, who has dumped him. He's changed — quit drinking, no more cocaine or pills. This is another excellent spotlight on Bennett: oblivious, absurd. He has herpes, and a gun. He was deep into acting in gay porn, the apologies and explanations keep spiraling. "He loves me," she coos, as he sprints into the night.
Foo Fighters: "Shame Shame"
Earlier, Foo Fighters shared new videos teasing their upcoming 10th album on Twitter — they dropped "Shame Shame" online during tonight's episode. The band first performed on SNL in 1995, when they performed "I'll Stick Around" and "For All the Cows." (Of course, Dave Grohl first appeared as a member with Nirvana during the Charles Barkley episode in 1993.)
Kroeger has been a fan since the group's inception: "Loved their grunge-post-grunge-hard-rock sound since they formed in the mid-'90s. Clearly Grohl is the driving force, but that's okay with me since he loves the Beatles. Foo Fighters are [the] Beatles meets Nirvana to me."
Colin Jost jumps in with the announcement of Joe Biden's victory — and the footage of people celebrating around the globe. He is gleeful. Meanwhile, Che is back drinking — he admits his friends had plans to kidnap Jost as part of the pending race war. "Hey, Colin, did you know my tie is a clip-on?!" This is peak Che.
McKinnon is back at Rudy Giulani, discussing Trump's legal challenges to the election. She's giggling — I hope this is the last time we see this impression. His power comes from Kate's fingers. (And mugging, glorious mugging.) It ends with Rudy getting hit in the face with lettuce.
Kroeger adds: "Nothing about Trump says that he will go away quietly. In fact, he will insinuate that he will run again in four years. I'd love to see pictures of him with a Big Mac out on the golf course, snorting Adderall inside his golf cart, but he loves the attention and the power. His base has deified him, and so he will tweet away to undermine Biden with false accusations, and he will be effective as a disruptor."
Ego Nwodim and Alex Moffat are local news anchors. A hail storm has hit Pebble Falls. Kate, Kenan, and Heidi are town residents, describing the golf-ball-sized hail. Turns out, in the heat of the excitement, Kenan and Kate kissed. "Okay, that happened," confesses Kate.
Meanwhile, Heidi was less affected by the hail, and more her two friends kissing. "I'm done searching," says Kate. Kenan's wife is missing, but he is unfazed.
Wow, Ego Nwodim is another anchor, back to back — Lisa. She went from Albany to D.C. in one commercial break. Dave Chappelle is Howard, etching out Trump's extensive criminal liability once he leaves office.
Suddenly, breaking news: Trump is on the run in a white Ford Bronco, with Don Jr. at the wheel. It's a volatile situation, a la O.J. Simpson and Al Cowlings. While this sketch does not reach its full attention, I respect how lean it is. Keep it simple and leave — plenty of Chappelle's Show greatest hits were executed similarly. And it's a much more creative use of Baldwin and Mikey Day as Donald and his son than the cold opens.
Foo Fighters: "Times Like These"
Very resonant and poignant performance of one of the band's best and most well-known songs. This bare, acoustic version strikes at the moment we're in — and this is particularly fitting, as I am old enough to remember when this was originally released post-9/11. In the waning days of Trump's America, the lyrics take on a new significance — and then the rock kicks in. Explosive.
It is always fun when classic acts perform some of their all-time songs (I'm thinking of Eminem and David Byrne). SNL continues with its streak of stealthy rock acts this season.
Folks are wearing Chappelle's Show masks in the audience.
- What did you think? The monologue was powerful, but long and off-kilter, right? Weigh in below!
- "Chappelle's Show is streaming on Netflix — God bless America."
- "You're welcome," reads Baldwin's sign. Is it over?
- I mean, the stakes tonight were huge, even before the football game preemption. This is the show's sixth consecutive episode, by far a record. Let alone during a pandemic. We can quibble about the political coverage, or one sketch versus another, but what a time for our favorite late night franchise. What's next? Is this it for SNL this year?
- Thank you to Gary Kroeger for his valuable thoughts tonight!