Saturday Night Live: Dave Chappelle back to see in the Trump era

The comedian returns to TV with a vintage performance to greet Donald Trump’s presidential victory

Saturday Night Live began its first post-election episode on a sombre note: Kate McKinnon, dressed as Hillary Clinton, singing several verses of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah (not just the ones that make the sanitised radio play versions) and playing piano.

“I’m not giving up and neither should you,” she said at the end.

But then, it was time for Dave Chappelle’s return to television, with a standing ovation from the crowd. For those people who remember Chappelle mostly from first- or reruns of Comedy Central’s The Chappelle Show and not his transcendent, ahead-of-its-time standup comedy … you missed out, go watch Killing Them Softly and then come back to this recap. Chappelle could’ve just stood up on that stage and bullshat his way through a staff-written monologue and you would’ve laughed but he didn’t. It was vintage, and it was real, and here are the words that he said.

“I didn’t know that Donald Trump was going to win the election. I did suspect it. Seemed like Hillary was doing well at the polls, and yet, I know the whites. You guys aren’t as full of surprises as you used to be. And I think I speak for all of black America when I say that we are all praying for Omarosa. I don’t even know what she’s doing in the news.

“I haven’t see white people this mad since the OJ verdict. I’m not saying I’m enjoying it, I’m just saying I’ve never seen this before” Chappelle explained. “I watched a white riot in Portland, Oregon, on television the other night. People said they did $1m-worth of damages, every black person was watching that like, ‘Amateurs’.”

“I’m staying out of it,” he vowed. “I’m going to take a knee like [the San Franciso 49ers quarterback] Kaepernick, let the whites figure this out amongst themselves. We’ve been here before. I don’t think it’s even the most important thing we’re dealing with. Don’t forget all the things that are going on. Shootings,” he said, then riffing on how the Pulse nightclub shooter was rumoured to have a Grindr account.

“You can’t even go to the goddamn zoo without seeing a shooting out there,” he added. “They shot a gorilla in my local zoo and the Cincinnati police said that shooting that gorilla was the toughest decision this department ever had to make. I said, you about to see a lot of n*****s in gorilla costumes in Cincinnati.”

“Why do we have to say that Black Lives Matter,” he asked rhetorically. “Now, I admit that’s not the best slogan, but McDonald’s already took, ‘You deserve a break today.’

“I get it’s kind of catching, because everyone else is biting it,” he said. “Even the police bite it. ‘Blue Lives Matter’. What, was he born a police? That is not a blue life, that’s a blue suit. You don’t like it, take that suit off, find a new job. ‘Cause I’m gonna tell you right now, if I could quit being black today I’d be out of the game.”

Returning to Trump, Chappelle had a confession to make. “I feel bad saying it, I’m staying in a Trump Hotel right now,” he revealed. “I don’t know if he’ll make a good president, but he makes a swell hotel suite I’m telling you that. Housekeeper comes in the morning, cleans my room and I’m like, ‘Hey, housekeeper’ grab a big handful of pussy. Say, you know, ‘Boss said it was OK.’”

He also admitted that, unlike some of his other wealthy black contemporaries, he’s not leaving but is going to stay to take advantage of the tax breaks. “First time I got some money, it didn’t work out like that,” he said. “Most unlikely thing happened ever, the first black president came out of nowhere like, ‘Come on everybody, let’s start thinking about everyone else.’ Aw, no, n***** I just got this money! I didn’t think you was possible.”

As a topic, though, Trump remained irresistible. “Trump went to go see Obama last week, you see that? Did you see Trump’s face when he came out of that meeting?” he asked the audience. “Trump got sonned. He looked shook. He looked like he got shook.”

But even Chappelle couldn’t resist an appeal to the emotion of the week, at the end of his monologue.

Did you need a skit? Fine.

The first skit was a too-real look at a Brooklyn results watching party at which Chappelle played the only black guy in the room. The white guests started off quite optimistic as the polls closed, while Chappelle’s character was increasingly cynical. For the white guests, who continue drinking and popping Xanax to get through, the results play against their beliefs in America while affirming Chappelle’s cynicism. At 10pm, when in real life it was clear that Clinton’s path to a win was incredibly narrow, Chris Rock appeared. “I don’t get you ladies,” he said. “The country is 55% women. If the country was 55% black, we’d have a tonne of black presidents. Flava Flav would be president.” Cecily Strong’s character, said: “Oh my God, America is racist.” Chapelle’s reaction: “Oh. My God. I think my great-grandfather told me something like that. But he was like a slave or something, I don’t know.” Aidy Bryant’s character echoed Strong’s, saying: “I can’t believe it, why aren’t people turning out for Hillary the way they did for Barack Obama?” Chris Rock had a response: “Maybe because you’re replacing a charismatic 40-year-old black guy with a 70-year-old white woman. That’s like the Knicks replacing Patrick Ewing with Neil Patrick Harris.”

At the end, as one of the actors declared the election “The most shameful thing America’s ever done”, Rock and Chappelle laughed and laughed.

For the second skit, Chappelle, in a call-back to the trope of his Comedy Central show in which he stood on stage and introduced his sketches, stood on stage and introduced a sketch featuring many of the characters from his show as part of a homage to The Walking Dead. Crack head Tyrone Biggums, Playa Hater Silky Johnson (with an assist from Donnell Rawlings) Lil Jon, who was pleased to see Chappelle doing him again, and the black white supremacist (clad, for course, in a Make America Great Again hat).

Then, it was time for an amazing performance by A Tribe Called Quest, which ended with then standing in front of a large portrait of Phife Dawg, a member of the group who died earlier this year.

On Weekend Update, which came next, Michael Che admitted: “I didn’t want Trump to win, but as a comedian, it’s a little encouraging.”

The jokes generally hit the mark (like Jost’s “A 70-year-old holding a new career is not how a president’s supposed to work. It’s the plot of The Intern, a plot which Rolling Stone called ‘pure fantasy’” – and Che’s “Donald Trump made white guys feel special again”), except for a totally random dig at fellow castmate Leslie Jones and her supposed interest in dating white men, which should be a reason she never agrees to play to that stereotype again.

The best joke of the night was probably Jost’s: “Despite Donald Trump’s campaign promise to drain the swamp, many of the people in line for his administration are long-time Washington insiders and lobbyists. Because even if you drain the swamp, it’s still full of Newts,” at which point a picture of Trump ally and former house Speaker Newt Gingrich appeared,” a sleepy little turtle” (Trump opponent-turned-surrogate Ben Carson)” a hissing possum” (former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani) “and a pile of wet garbage” (New Jersey governor and Trump sycophant, recently demoted from the Trump transition team, Chris Christie).

Then Kate McKinnon made an appearance as US supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “I’m never gonna step down now,” she revealed, pouring Emergen-C in her mouth.

“I’m eating an apple a day to keep Ben Carson away and, by apple, I mean pure human growth hormones” she said. “And if that doesn’t work, I’ve hidden Horcruxes in all the tablets in the DC metro area.”

“Is that ghoul Giuliani really going to be our attorney general?” she asked. “Though, if I really want to live forever, maybe I should just let him bite me. Bite me Giuliani! You just got Ginsburged.”

On Mike Pence, though, McKinnon hit her stride. “To me, he kind of looks like the neighbour who kisses Kevin Spacey in American Beauty,” she said. “Hey, Mike Pence, sorry you looked at Magnum PI once and got a quarter chub and you’ve been haunted by it ever since.”

Usually after Weekend Update comes the less explicable sketches – though, with Chappelle involved, they were way better than usual. First was something that seemed like a typical post-WU sketch: Jheri’s Place, where all the employees use Jheri Curl. But instead of trying to make it work, the sketch turned into a meta statement on how sketches go wrong, with a post-game style press conference

Then, the first pre-taped segment, Kids Talk Politics, which featured kids saying cutely funny stuff about Trump, until the last girl, who was African American, went off. “He unleashed racism and xenophobia,” she said to cast member Vanessa Bayer. “We now return to the Dark Ages of white presidents.

“Also, my dad said that Donald Trump will stop and frisk my cat,” she said innocently. “We have a black cat. His name’s Pussy.”

Surprise! She’s Dave Chappelle’s daughter. “Sounds like someone’s dropping some truth.”

After that, we arrive at Donnelly’s, a dive bar in which Kenan Thompson is calling last call. Chappelle and McKinnon play the kind of unreconstructed drunks you used to be able to find at dive bars in New York before “dive bar” became a trendy way to describe a place and not a description of the kind of bar in which you’d find maintenance alcoholics, heads down, sleeping standing up. “Give me one more of those Scotch and Peptos” said Chapelle’s character. “I’ve got a case of the squirts, but I still want to drink.”

They make out in various disgusting obvious ways, and Thompson has trouble holding in the giggles. Then the sketch ends … with the bartender killing both customers.

A Tribe Called Quest returned for the second song, which was great and, for the end, Busta Rhymes joined them.

Post-Tribe, there was a pre-taped with Lesie Jones about the difficulties of dating, setting up a mockumentary about her supposed romance with fellow castmate Kyle Mooney – who, it’s revealed is a virgin. (He’s 32 in real life.)

It ends with Chappelle: “Goddamn, did you all fuck in my dressing room?”

In the final sketch, Chappelle has his boys over to watch the football game in his basement, only to reveal that he lives with his mom, played by Jones. The twist: she’s still breast-feeding her 43-year-old son. He does a shot of fresh breast milk, she brings milk and cookies for his friends to their barely disguised disgust, he feeds and he comes out with a face covered in milk, to the disgust of the characters (and the barely suppressed laughter of the actors.) Then the character’s sister comes down, they feed together, Jones squirts milk on everyone and it’s all anyone can do not to laugh.

It’s probably the weirdest and yet most hilarious end-of-night sketch in a long time. But, that’s what happens when you have Chappelle on.

• This article was amended on 30 November 2016. An earlier version said that A Tribe Called Quest were standing in front of a poster of Mike Brown, the unarmed teenager shot by police officers in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. This has been corrected to say the poster was of Phife Dawg, a member of the group who died earlier this year.


Megan Carpentier

The GuardianTramp

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