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Reviewed from My Couch, It’s Saturday Night!: Problematic Dave Chappelle Headlines

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Each week, Nick Phillips (@Nicckulus) will be reviewing the latest episode of Saturday Night Live! You may recognize the last name… Nick is our very own podcast co-host’s cousin! Check back each week for the latest.

Season 48, Episode 5 – November 12, 2022: Dave Chapelle & Black Star

Note: strongly stands against the antisemetic and antitrans comments and jokes made by Dave Chappelle.

What is there to say about Dave Chappelle that hasn’t already been said? He’s one of the most divisive names in comedy and still, it’s hard to deny he sits alone atop the comedy throne as maybe the best living standup today. Personally, I don’t agree with much of what he’s said in the past, but he is undeniably a singular voice is in the comedy landscape. 

Cold Open (Wait, has the show started!?)

This week’s cold open brings back James Austin Johnson’s Trump impression, which is truly the best one out there anywhere in the comedy world. I was always a fan of the Fox & Friends sketches when the trio included Bobby Moynihan, Vanessa Bayer, and Taran Killam, and I’m a fan of this new configuration featuring Bowen Yang, Heidi Gardner, and Mikey Day. While I wholeheartedly stan Cecily Strong, I’m not sure this Kari Lake bit really does it for me, and I’m sure the soft-lighting joke lands with a thud for anyone who doesn’t watch Arizona political ads. Either way, this sketch was a solid start to the show.  Grade: B

And Your Host…Dave Chappelle 

It’s not a crazy thing to think…but it’s a crazy thing to say

The monologues have been stronger this year than any time in recent memory. Standups are normally given a chance to do their own material in front of the Studio 8H crowd, and with Chappelle the tradition continues. He rattled off jokes about Kanye, Anti-Semitism, and Donald Trump all to great effect. While I loathe Donald Trump, I thought Chappelle’s tempered take on the man offered insightful perspective, particularly when he dubs Trump “an honest liar.”  Chappelle is someone who loves to kick the hornet’s nest, and while he flirts with fire discussing antisemitism, he pulls it off far more gracefully than the transphobic material in his last special. A return to form for an all-time great despite his recent problematic track-record. Grade: A 

Musical Guest…“Brooklyn’s Finest” Black Star

Normally, SNL’s musical guests reaffirm that I am losing touch with the musics of today. Thankfully, this week we were treated to one of the all-time great rap duos in Black Star. The Mos Def/Talib Kweli outfit is known for their poetic and politically charged lyricism and they did what they do best here on SNL. I’ve been so out of touch all season, that I’ve hardly had a chance to dunk on the terrible sound mixing that favors the live audience experience rather than the sound quality at home. On that point, SNL didn’t fumble the ball as badly as they have in the past, and Black Star delivered two great performances. I also want to note, as someone who can never make out the lyrics in songs, it was such a delight to have them up on the screen behind the DJ in their first outing. This really was a week for this elder millennial to rejoice.  Grade: B+

It’s Weekend Update with Colin Jost & Michael Che  Sarah News! 

Yeah, yeah, Che and Jost are great, we get it, but have you ever had Sarah News? Sarah “Squirm” Sherman brings her offbeat brand of gross-out comedy to SNL in this week’s Update, and I AM HERE FOR IT! I’ve always felt like the SNL structure is a bit too rigid, and I love when they branch out and try new things. I think that’s why Vanessa Bayer’s “Dawn Lazarus” weather woman was such a hit in its short-lived tenure on SNL. It’s just nice to see the show embrace new concepts and think outside of the box. Giving Update a Sarah Squirm makeover hit the spot. 

This week was also a high-water mark for Che groaners, as his jokes about chinese children getting COVID and female governors provoke some of the most off-put reactions he’s ever garnered, eliciting an “I love this crowd” from the impish host. 

Our other guest, also handled by Colin was “Jose Suarez,” which served as another great showcase for newcomer Marcello Hernandez. As someone with a latinx background, I can absolutely confirm the efficacy of his platform of giving every mother a chancleta—the ultimate “big stick” for diplomatic relations. 

The top update joke this week: “Don’t let the queer haircut fool you – I’m as straight as Michael Che’s Update persona!”

Weekend Update Grade: A

Sketchy Thoughts

For the first time ever, I’m hard pressed to think of a single sketch that didn’t land. It’s possible the cold open was the weakest of the bunch this week. The show deployed Chappelle to great effect, even going as far as to unleash some of his most popular Chappelle’s Show characters during a “House of the Dragon Season 2 Sneak Peak.” This sketch also had a novel lead-in, with Chapelle setting it up on stage, much like the way he’d setup material on his own show. 

Some other highlights included Chappelle (and friends) reveling in Mikey Day’s discomfort during the “Black Heaven” sketch. Another novel concept, that breaks the fourth wall with Chapelle “sitting this one out” and goading Day on from the sidelines. I’m not sure anyone plays anxious frustration and impotence at potently as Day, who sold the tortured and embarrassment of his predicament perfectly. 

The first true sketch after the cold open was “PM in the Afternoon” in which a slew of white news anchors riff on the term potato hole, before learning it is a slavery-term for a place where slaves would hide objects from their masters at great personal risk and as a last vestige of their humanity. Ouch. The increasingly goofy slow build to the twist and the shock and horror once the air was let out of the balloon made this a particularly effective sketch. 

The sketches in this episode were so good, I almost forgot to note another solid entry from the “Please Don’t Destroy” crew as they try to prepare featured player Molly Kearney for her new role as Ohio Attorney General. She’s been thriving in pre-recorded material in her budding tenure on SNL. 

I’m struggling to remember a run of episodes as good as the last three. Whether it was the cast shake-up or just a lucky run of hosts, SNL is on an epic hot streak. Let’s hope Keke Palmer can keep the streak alive when SNL returns in December. Sadly, this means we won’t be getting a Thanksgiving episode this year, which is a bummer as I’ve said before that holiday episodes always bring a little something extra to studio 8H. 

Overall Episode Grade: A

Episode MVP: Dave Chappelle’s comic sensibilities were all over this episode, and for the third straight week, our host knocks it out of the park. That said, I’ve committed to award MVP to proper cast members, and gahd-dungit I plan to stick to my word. Featured player Michael Longfellow was all over this episode, with particularly nice spotlight in the “Barbershop” sketch, in addition to appearing in “PM in the Afternoon/Potato Hole” and “HOTD Sneak Peak.” So, for sheer quantity, the new guy gets the nod.  

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