Dave Chappelle brings the controversy to ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live
Dave Chappelle & Black Star
November 12, 2022

The first time Dave Chappelle, the brilliant and controversial stand-up comedian and star of Chappelle’s Show, hosted Saturday Night Live was the Saturday following the existential shock that was the 2016 Election. Chappelle handled that episode with a degree of calm and maturity that I don’t think a lot of us expected; giving even the most anti-Future President Firestarter among us pause when he asked us to give the man a chance. (That turned out to be a mistake, but I digress.)

Chappelle was then the obvious person for Saturday Night Live to have host following the 2020 Election, which everyone knew would be controversial no matter what happened. (Of course at the time, we had no idea HOW controversial, but, again, I digress.) It ended up being a largely anticlimactic and unmemorable episode — but for his monologue, in which he showed us a glimpse of where his career would take him next.

I had this to say about his 16-minute-long 2020 monologue:

Dave Chappelle is funny, and his delivery — especially when he is talking about racial issues — is confrontational in a mischievous way: looking White America directly in the eye and calling us racist while making us laugh at the same time. It’s a trick that he pulls off beautifully.

What he doesn’t pull off beautifully are jokes that punch down. Dave Chappelle is a straight male comedian of a certain age, and what I have learned in the past four years is that many straight male comedians of a certain age feel pretty sure they are under attack from cancel culture and political correctness and that it is their singular job to fight back. Fighting back, to these guys, means unapologetically making sexist, homophobic, and racist jokes and then yelling at the audience that they are being too sensitive if they don’t laugh along with them.

Chappelle does it twice here: using Dr. Birx as an excuse to “joke” that women shouldn’t receive equal pay (and literally asking the audience if he “triggered” them) before making a “joke” about Freddy Mercury contracting AIDS, a joke that would have been considered offensive in the 80s. More than being offended by this, I’m just so fucking bored with comedians relying on shock value and then claiming that somehow they are the victims because society has moved on without them. Far from making them heroes who “dare to say what ‘everyone’ is thinking” — everyone being straight men — it just shows how lazy they truly are. The bottom line: Dave Chappelle is better than this, and if he’d just let down his defensive posturing for half a goddamned second, he’d realize that.

As I’m sure you know by now, in October 2021, Dave Chappelle released a Netflix special, The Closer, in which he mocked and belittled trans people so much that it created a firestorm within Netflix itself and the culture as a whole. But instead of being apologetic for once again punching down on a marginalized group and taking some time to do some self-reflection, Chappelle has spent the past year doubling down and positioning himself as the real victim, a martyr to “cancel culture.”

Unsurprisingly then, upon the announcement that Chappelle had been invited back to host Saturday Night Live, there were reports that some of the writers were going to boycott the show in protest. In fact, looking at the list of writers for this episode, it is noticeably short on women writers, including transwoman Celeste Yim.

Perhaps this is cynical of me, but ultimately what does SNL care if some of their writers (and cast) feel personally attacked by the invited host? As when Elon Musk hosted in season 46, SNL will only benefit from the ensuing controversy. Both fans and detractors are sure to tune in to see if Chappelle continues spewing his offensive positions on gay and trans people either out of so-called principle or sheer perverseness.

In the end, and much to the relief of NBC, I’m sure, Chappelle avoided the trans issue altogether, while also managing once again to suggest that it is he who is the real victim; the victim of cancel culture.

To that, I will merely point out that the only reason I am writing any of this right now is because one year after being paid millions of dollars for doing a comedy special that specifically and relentlessly attacked gay and trans people, last night “cancel culture victim” Dave Chappelle hosted Saturday Night Live for the third time.

In the wake of a wild midterm election, this week’s cold open pays a visit to Fox & Friends to measure how the right wing-o-sphere is handling the disappointing news that a red wave never materialized. And the answer to that appears to be by blaming Former President Natural Disaster. After a visit from (losing) Arizona Governor candidate Kari Lake (who Cecily Strong was born to parody), the Former Bad Actor in Chief calls in from the middle of Tiffany’s wedding to insist that he’s still relevant. (And honestly, y’all, I wouldn’t be writing that man’s political obituary just yet. I still very clearly remember what happened in 2015 and 2016.)

Grade: B

Dave Chappelle’s monologue.


So what I will say about Chappelle’s 15-minute-long (!!!) monologue is that it is an accurate reflection of his comedy these days: Chappelle rambles somewhat directionless for entirely too long, makes a few solid funnies here and there, but a lot of it leaves you cringing.

The majority of this monologue is devoted to Kanye West’s blatant antisemitism. And what should have been a condemnation of West’s behavior … somehow it isn’t, not exactly. Once you dig through all the trash he talks about Kanye, you come to realize that Chappelle is basically suggesting Kanye is stupid for attacking the Jewish community not because it is morally wrong and dangerous, but because it’s bad for Kanye’s business. Whatever the point is that Chappelle thinks he is making here, it certainly is not a clear denouncement of Kanye’s antisemitism and, in fact, is antisemitic in its own winking way.

Chappelle does make some good jokes about Ukraine, Herschel Walker, and has some interesting observations about the appeal of Former President Huckster. But ultimately he brings it right back around to Kanye at the end, as a reflection on being held accountable for hateful speech “canceled.” While Chappelle completely avoids the topic of transgender people — a third rail that I’m CERTAIN SNL warned him to stay away from if he ever wanted to come back — he does manage to end the monologue with the suggestion that “they” might take everything from him if he says the wrong thing … whoever “they” are.

I was torn on what to give this monologue because he is funny at times! Chappelle is a smart and talented comedian who knows how to land a good joke. That said, playing at the fringes of antisemitic stereotypes is never OK and I can’t in good conscience reward that.

Grade: F

Dave Chappelle plays a legendary blues musician making an appearance on a chirpy local afternoon news show who, despite being asked multiple times refuses to tell the white news staff what his song “Potato Hole” is referring to. After making countless jokes about “potato holes,” the news staff immediately regrets learning what it actually means. Short, brutal, and smart, this feels like a Chappelle Show sketch.

Grade: A

Speaking of Chappelle’s Show, SNL spoofs House of the Dragon by imagining some of Chappelle’s Show‘s most famous characters joining the cast as additional Black characters.

If you ever watched Conan, they did this recurring bit called something like, “‘Member Him?” where Andy Richter would just show pictures of semi-obscure celebrities in the 90s or 80s or whatever, and just say, “‘Member him?” or “‘Member her?” and that was the entire joke — the joke being that this is a lazy joke/applause line. This is what this sketch felt like: lackadaisical Chappelle’s Show fan service, asking us to remember some iconic characters. It was nice to see Donnell Rawlings with Chappelle again, and bonus points for working Ice-T into it, but they could have tried harder here.

Grade: C+

A bunch of Black barbers in a Black barbershop talk about the issues of the day: Kanye, Kyrie Irving, the Georgia election, Dahmer, and the one white barber agrees with everything that is said … but for the wrong reasons.

Grade: B+

“Weekend Update” is fine this week, though Che leaning into his whole “I hate women” thing has become tiresome and worn out.


Grade: B

Newbie Marcello Hernández comes to the ‘Weekend Update’ desk as José Suarez, a Cuban who wants to become the first Latino president on the platform that people complain too much; and he teaches Colin Jost what a “chancla” is.

Grade: B

Sarah Sherman returns to the ‘Weekend Update’ desk with her weirdly wacky humor to make jokes about herself and, of course, about Jost being a pervert. I vastly prefer this Sarah Sherman to the one that does the hit-or-miss surrealist sketches. But I can admit that regardless if I think those sketches land or not, at least she’s trying something very different.

Grade: A-

My favorite bit of the night is a sketch about “Black Heaven” in which Chappelle forces Mikey Day to play his role while he and his friends mock him. It’s the sketch equivalent of when Jost and Che write ‘Weekend Update’ bits for each other, and I am for it.

Grade: A+

Finally, the Please Don’t Destroy boys help Molly Kearney when they discover they’ve accidentally been elected attorney general of Ohio. I’m not a huge fan of Please Don’t Destroy, but it turns out I am a big fan of Molly Kearney, and they really carry the energy of this entire bit. PLUS! Everyone’s nerd boyfriend, Steve Kornacki! He’s here!

Grade: B+

Final Grade: B. This actually breaks my heart, because I genuinely thought this was a solid episode, maybe the best all season so far. It should have been graded higher. I just wish Chappelle had been, you know, less antisemitic. It’s not a lot to ask.

Saturday Night Live airs at 10:30/11:30 p.m. Saturdays on NBC.

2 thoughts on “Dave Chappelle brings the controversy to ‘Saturday Night Live’

  1. I listened to Dave’s SNL monologue twice and had some LOL moments. I liked it. But I’m not into analyzing monologues.

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