What a difference four years (and one presidential election) makes. When viewers tuned into the first Saturday Night Live after the 2016 election, which delivered Donald Trump into the Oval Office, they were greeted by Kate McKinnon, dressed as Hillary Clinton, performing an emotional rendition of “Hallelujah.” That was followed by an 11-minute barnburner of a monologue by comedian Dave Chappelle that captured the uneasy mood of the nation. “I'm wishing Donald Trump luck,” he said at the time. “And I'm gonna give him a chance. And we, the historically disenfranchised, demand that he give us one, too.”
Jump ahead to the first SNL after the 2020 election, which turned the keys to the Oval Office over to President-elect Joe Biden, and it was Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump singing the blues ... albeit in a more comic way. After his not-concession speech, SNL’s outgoing POTUS sat down at a piano to play a down-tempo cover version of the Village People’s “Macho Man.” (Since this didn’t happen at a Trump rally, we presume that the group won’t be shaving Ivanka’s head.)
Meanwhile, in what may be his last appearance as Joe Biden, Jim Carrey also reprised an oldie but goodie — channeling a little Ace Ventura to the delight of Twitter.
But true to form, it was Chappelle who offered a more complex comic take on the current state of affairs in his 16-minute monologue. On the one hand, he spoke directly to the elated mood of the Studio 8H audience by taking parting comic shots at the one-term president, making light of Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as his bout with COVID-19. “Trump getting coronavirus was like when Freddie Mercury got AIDS,” the comic said to a mixture of laughs and gasps. “Nobody was like, ‘How did he get it?’ This guy was running around like the Outbreak monkey; he looked like a 1970s penis just raw-dogging Earth.”
Chappelle also slammed Trump for taking advantage of specialized treatments even as some of his colleagues experienced their own bouts with the virus, including Chris Christie and Herman Cain. “Where was his secret serum,” Chappelle said of Cain, who died after contracting COVID-19 over the summer. “That’s your leader. Think about that: For four years, that’s your leader. What kind of man makes sure he’s OK while his friends fight for their lives and die? A white man. I don’t mean to put this on the whites, but I’ve been Black a long time — I’ve noticed a pattern.”
As that last joke suggests, Chappelle didn’t pass up his chance to make the crowd uneasy about what lies ahead for America. At times, his truth-telling — especially about the racial realities that will still be present post-Trump — seemed to get a little too real for the audience. After one joke met with an uncomfortable reaction, Chappelle teased, “Did I trigger you?” He then exasperatedly appealed to SNL producer Lorne Michaels, saying, “I’m sorry Lorne, I thought we were having a comedy show — it’s like a woke meeting in here!”
Looking beyond Trump, Chappelle described some of the very real pain he’s seen among white families in his Ohio hometown, and how that has been transformed into animus against people of color and coronavirus restrictions. “I don’t know why poor white people aren’t wearing masks,” he said. “What is the problem? You wear a mask at the Klan rally — wear it at the Walmart, too!” He also noted the way that the same “welfare people” that Ronald Reagan once railed about in the 1980s look a lot more like his white neighbors in 2020. “You guys aren’t ready. You aren’t ready. You don’t know how to survive yourselves. Black people, we’re the only ones who know how to survive this ... You need our eyes to save you from ourselves.”
In addition to identifying problems, Chappelle also indicated he hoped to be part of the solution. And so he announced his new plan, the Kindness Conspiracy. “It’s random acts of kindness for Black people,” he explained, laying out the ground rules. “You gotta make sure they don’t deserve it. The same way all them years they did terrible things to Black people just because they’re Black and didn’t deserve it.”
Even if they don’t take part in the Kindness Conspiracy, Chappelle’s ultimate recommendation is that people — particularly white people — find more constructive ways to work through their private anguish than hating others in public. “Here’s the difference between me and you: You guys hate each other for that, and I don’t hate anybody. I just hate that feeling. That’s what I fight through. That’s what I suggest you fight through.”
If the in-studio SNL crowd seemed to have mixed reactions to Chappelle’s monologue, the Twitter audience at home gave it rave reviews.
After this command performance, we can’t wait to see what truth bombs Chappelle drops when he hosts the first SNL after the 2024 election.
Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. on NBC.
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