Brow Beat

Watch Dave Chappelle’s Blistering Saturday Night Live Opening Monologue

Dave Chappelle, in a blue suit, on SNL's main stage, holding a microphone.
“Was I saying it, or were you?” NBC

Dave Chappelle hosted the first Saturday Night Live after the election, and more importantly, the first Saturday Night Live since the election was finally called. Chappelle also hosted the first postelection SNL in 2016, and his monologue that night reminded white America that Donald Trump was not that out of character for the country, telling the audience, “It seemed like Hillary was doing well in the polls, and yet—I know the whites.”* Tonight, the national mood is very different, but Chapelle’s monologue, which covered everything from a spat Chappelle is having with his neighbors in rural Ohio all the way up to the end of the Trump presidency, was a reminder that we’re still a very divided nation.

Chappelle made an extended argument that white Americans, with declining life expectancies, rising suicide rates, and drug problems, are looking more and more like a Reagan-era caricature of Black people. That’s not necessarily a message SNL’s audience wanted to hear, and it was fascinating to see which jokes played well and which didn’t. This got a roar of laughter and sustained applause:

 Do you guys remember what life was like before COVID? I do. There was a mass shooting every other week, do you remember that? Thank God for COVID. Something had to lock these murderous whites up and keep them in the house.

This joke about the correlation between accents, poverty, and racism got an initial groan, followed by laughter and applause:

He had that twang in his voice. You know that twang where you hear that accent and are like, “Oh, I know he doesn’t wear his mask.” I don’t know why poor white people don’t like wearing masks. What is the problem? You wear a mask at the Klan rally, wear it at the Walmart too! Wear your Klan hood at Walmart so we can all feel safe.

Meanwhile, this joke got no laughs at all:

You know, I know a lot of people don’t like [Trump], but I thought the guy was at least an optimist. I am not as optimistic as he was. I look at it like, “Well, there’s bad people on both sides.”

Sociologists and stand-ups will have to work together to figure out exactly what combination of political and class markers make this kind of joke land, but we’ll have a lot of time to work that out, given the white population’s declining life expectancy, high suicide rate, and opiate problems. On the bright side, Donald Trump has lost the presidential election, and Dave Chappelle is still very, very funny.

Correction, Nov. 8, 2020: This post originally misspelled Hillary Clinton’s first name.