'SNL' Takes On Race And Politics Post-Election

Nov 13, 2016
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We have one more story about the election, this time from the entertainment world. Donald Trump's election prompted a burning question from fans of political satire. What will "Saturday Night Live" say? The show has a long history of defining pivotal elections through parody, and it earned some of its best ratings in years in part because of Alec Baldwin's devastating parody of Donald Trump. "SNL's" first post-election show last night featured one of comedy's most incisive voices on race in America, Dave Chappelle.

We wanted to hear more about it, so we called NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Hi, Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.

MARTIN: So this is the first time Dave Chappelle has even hosted "SNL," and I think, you know, it could have been a pressure moment for the comic. He's been largely out of the public eye in recent years. So how do you think he did?

DEGGANS: I thought - I was really impressed. I thought he did a great job. I mean, ever since he sort of left his Comedy Central show in the middle of production, people have wondered if he could handle another high-pressure, high-profile show-biz platform. And I thought he delivered the most consistent "SNL" we've seen in recent years. I mean, he acted really well. There were some great sketches. He even had a great monologue, where he said he would give Trump a chance. And I think we've got a clip from it. Let's check it out.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

DAVE CHAPPELLE: America's done it. We've actually elected an internet troll as our president.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAPPELLE: Whites are furious. I watched a white riot in Portland, Ore., on television the other night.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

CHAPPELLE: The news said they did a million dollars' worth of damage. Every black person was watching it like amateurs.

MARTIN: So, yes, there was inappropriateness.

DEGGANS: Of course.

MARTIN: I do want to mention that this was the clip that we could play on our air...

DEGGANS: Yeah, this is the one we didn't have to bleep (laughter).

MARTIN: But for those who have not yet seen it - spoiler alert - Chris Rock was a surprise guest. He showed up in a sketch where he and Chappelle were watching election returns with a group of all-white, presumably liberal anti-Trump friends. Let's play that clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

AIDY BRYANT: (As character) Why aren't people turning out for Hillary the way they did for Barack Obama?

CHRIS ROCK: (As character) I mean, maybe because you're replacing a charismatic 40-year-old black guy with a 70-year-old white woman. I mean, that's like the Knicks replacing Patrick Ewing with Neil Patrick Harris.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: Which, by the way, I would pay to see.

MARTIN: Yeah, me too. But did this show have that kind of a consistent through-line?

DEGGANS: Yeah. You know, I really do think it did. And what's interesting to me about that is, like, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, I feel like they've always had a little bit of a more cynical view about race and about society and about America than maybe even their fans have or especially their idealistic white liberal fans. And so we got to see a little bit of that in that sketch, and we got a sense of how black folks were reacting to this election where a lot of us were just kind of saying, well, you know, we kind of expected this.

And it also, to me, showed the value of diversity on "SNL" because "SNL" recently has been presenting some sketches where you see things from black folks' point of view, which is interesting. They had a "Black Jeopardy" sketch where Tom Hanks played a Trump supporter. And you saw how much in common white Trump supporters and black folks kind of had that they didn't realize. And maybe this election will force some of these anti-Trump satirists, you know, people that we've seen really take him to task - not only "SNL" sometimes but Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee - really up their game because they have something to push against now. And so the value of diversity and the value of pushing against something significant, I think we saw that in a lot of the sketches on Saturday.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, I want to ask you about what's called the cold open, where they open the show just right out of a commercial or whatever started before. "SNL" cast member Kate McKinnon, who has been playing Hillary Clinton, you know, throughout this season, she opened it sitting alone at a piano singing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." For those who don't remember, Leonard Cohen died Friday. And she ended the song by saying she wasn't done fighting and you should not either. Interested in your thoughts about that.

DEGGANS: Well, you know, part of me thought - I know she's getting a lot of praise, but I'm like now she's not giving up, you know? It's like "SNL" gave Donald Trump an important boost last year when he was fighting for the nomination, and they let him guest host the show and featured him in a way that they didn't feature the other contenders for the GOP nomination at a time when he was trying to stand out and win there. And so even though I thought she did a great job, part of me thought, well, this is "SNL," you know, trying to get on the right side of its liberal viewers once again.

MARTIN: That's Eric Deggans. Thanks so much for joining us.

DEGGANS: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.