Dave Chappelle returned for his third stint as host of “Saturday Night Live,” which gave the controversial comedian a starring role in an episode dominated by the midterm elections and the fallout from Kanye West’s antisemitic remarks.
As Chappelle walked onto the stage for his opening monologue, he pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket and said he was going to “read a brief statement” that he had prepared.
“I denounce antisemitism in all its forms, and I stand with my friends in the Jewish community,” he began.
“And that, Kanye, is how you buy yourself some time,” he said, to laughs from the live audience.
The choice of Chappelle, who hosted “SNL” after the presidential elections in 2016 and 2020, to anchor the post-midterms episode raised eyebrows because of his past jokes about trans people.
The release last year of his Netflix special “The Closer” sparked a walkout by some employees of the streaming service who viewed his jokes as transphobic. Last week, Page Six reported that some “SNL” writers were planning a boycott in protest of Chappelle. In a statement to CNN, a representative for Chappelle said “we’ve seen nothing to support media reports of a writer’s boycott.” NBC did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Sunday.
Chappelle has repeatedly joked about trans people over the years in ways some have deemed ofensive and dangerous. He has blamed the media for framing the backlash “as though it’s me versus (the LGBTQ) community, that’s not what it is.”
In Saturday’s episode, Chappelle did not directly address the controversy over his jokes about trans people but touched on several other hot topics. He dedicated almost half of his opening monologue to the backlash over antisemitic statements and material shared by Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, and by Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving.
Chappelle joked that he had learned in his decades as a comedian that “there are two words in the English language that you should never say together in sequence – and those words are ‘the’ and ‘Jews.’ I’ve never heard someone do good after they said that.”
In recent weeks, Ye lost a plethora of lucrative endorsement deals and attracted condemnation from all corners of the entertainment industry for his remarks about Jews, including a threat on Twitter to go “death con 3” on them. And the Nets suspended Irving after he tweeted a link to a documentary the Anti-Defamation League described as including “extensive antisemitism.”
In his jokes, Chappelle appeared to pull from the same themes that landed Ye and Irving in hot water, alluding at one point to the unfounded antisemitic trope that Jewish people wield disproportionate power in some industries. Speaking of Ye, Chappelle said he broke “the show business rules [of perception],” which Chappelle described as: “If they’re Black, then it’s a gang. If they’re Italian, it’s a mob. But if they’re Jewish, it’s a coincidence, and you should never speak about it.”
He also said he understood how someone with “some kind of issue” – Ye has bipolar disorder – could “adopt the delusion” that Jewish people “run show business,” another antisemitic trope.
“I’ve been to Hollywood, this is just what I saw. It’s a lot of Jews. Like, a lot,” Chappelle said. “But that doesn’t mean anything, you know what I mean? There’s a lot of Black people in Ferguson, Missouri – doesn’t mean they run the place.”
The other half of Chappelle’s monologue – and much of the rest of the episode – was dedicated to politics and the midterm elections, whose outcome came into sharper focus after the episode began as a Democratic win in Nevada allowed the party to retain its Senate majority. Control over the House of Representatives is still being decided.
The cold open lampooned the “Fox & Friends” morning news show, in which hosts, not including Chappelle, framed former president Donald Trump as a loser. “Mister President, I don’t know how to tell you this, but we’ve moved on. We can’t have you on the show anymore,” “SNL” cast member Heidi Gardner, playing co-host Ainsley Earhardt, told an irate Trump, played by comedian James Austin Johnson.
In his monologue, Chappelle also took aim at Herschel Walker, the Republican candidate for Senate in Georgia, whom he called “observably stupid,” and said Trump is an “honest liar.”
Many of the sketches walked the line between comedy and discomfort that Chappelle has honed since “The Chappelle show,” poking fun at White people and their perceived cluelessness about Black culture and history. In one skit, Chappelle, playing a blues musician, explains to stunned White talk show anchors and reporters that “potato hole” is not, as they seemed to infer, a word with sexual undertones, but rather describes the holes in the ground in which enslaved people in the United States buried food.
Another, one of the sharpest in recent history, found white cast member Mikey Day replacing Chappelle in a sketch about heaven. A specific heaven. As Day, carrying a silver cane and dressed in a pimp’s leopard-print fur, announces, “You in Black heaven, biyotch,” before scrunching his face in a manner suggesting he’d rather be anywhere else on Earth. Throughout, Day continuously breaks the fourth wall to say things like, “I can’t say that liiiiiiiine,” growing more uncomfortable with every joke. “I shouldn’t be doing this skeeeeetch,” he says at one point. Like most of the night’s comedy, the humor comes from the discomfort – only this time, instead of the audience squirming in their seats, it’s Day who wants to look away, but can’t.
But Chappelle’s jokes about the backlash to Ye’s and Irving’s antisemitism appeared to be have attracted the most attention, and he was trending on Twitter early Sunday as a split audience debated his performance and shared unsubstantiated rumors that some “SNL” writers refused to work on the episode. At the heart of the heated online debates was whether Chappelle was endorsing antisemitism along with Ye and Irving’s recent statements – or if he was lampooning all of it.
“That Dave Chappelle ‘SNL’ monologue probably did more to normalize anti-Semitism than anything Kanye said,” argued Time Out New York theater editor and critic Adam Feldman on Twitter. “Everyone knows Kanye is nuts. Chappelle posits himself as a teller of difficult truths. It’s worse.”
Television producer Jonathan Goldman seemed to think the opposite, tweeting, “Dave Chappelle has offended everyone in his career bc it’s his job, to address the uncomfortable. There’s a diff btwn bigotry and social commentary. It’s not for the faint of heart but if we’re gonna survive, we have to understand nuance.”
Some even fact-checked the monologue. Wrote InsideHook managing editor Bonnie Stiernberg, “Dave Chappelle’s ‘SNL’ monologue (which felt a little too ‘tee-hee, you can’t even say the Jews control the media anymore these days’ to me) had a line about how Adidas dropped Kanye ‘immediately,’ which … no, they didn’t? They dropped him after two weeks of public pressure.”
The only certainty is that the monologue was divisive, but, as musician Felix Kay opined, “Dave Chappelle is a comedian. You either like his jokes or you don’t. He doesn’t care.”
The comedian appeared to acknowledge the divide over his humor and role in popular culture toward the end of his monologue, saying, “It shouldn’t be this scary to talk – about anything.”
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