If you’ve been feeling in need of an upper during these last few downbeat months, don’t worry: It turns out that Dave Chappelle on Saturday Night Live is a hell of a drug. The comedian and writer made his (decades-overdue) SNL hosting debut this weekend, opening the show with a hilarious, panoramic monologue that touched upon everything from the horrific Pulse nightclub shootings to the Black Lives Matter movement to, of course, president-elect Donald Trump. “We’ve actually elected an internet troll as our president,” Chappelle said, adding: “The whites are furious … I’ve never seen white people this mad since the O.J. verdict.”
Chappelle, who’d never hosted the show before, treated his nearly 11-minute SNL opening as a sort of state of the union, trying to make sense of a year’s worth of tragedies. It was like listening in as your smartest, funniest, most bullshit-free friend put down his newspaper, leaned in across the table, and told you what’s really going on in the world. And nearly every joke landed, even when Chappelle took on seemingly laugh-free topics, eagerly poking at pop-culture third rails with a fork.
On the Pulse tragedy: “The [shooter] pledged allegiance to ISIS before he did what he did, which is not the same as being in ISIS. If I was gonna have sex with a girl, and right before I did it I yelled “Wu-Tang!,” that doesn’t mean I’m in the Wu-Tang Clan.”
On Harambe: “They shot a gorilla in my local zoo, and the Cincinnati police said, ‘Shooting that gorilla was the toughest decision this department ever had to make. I said, ‘Well, you about to see a lot of n—–s in gorilla costumes in Cincinnati.’”
On the president-elect: “I feel bad saying it, but I’m staying in a Trump hotel right now … housekeeping comes in in the morning and cleans my room and I just go, ‘Hey, good morning,’ and grab a handful of pussy and say, ‘Boss said it was okay!’”
Chappelle’s routine was the highlight of an episode that returned frequently to Trump’s election and the current national unease. The night opened with Kate McKinnon, in Hillary garb, singing a gorgeous, somber rendition of the late Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and its “Weekend Update” was essentially all-Donald, with a few dead-on one-liners—”Either Donald Trump is actually a genius, or Hillary Clinton hit a voodoo priest with a car,” noted Michael Che—and McKinnon as Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was seen scarfing Emergen-C in an effort to stay healthy for at least four more years (“An apple a day keeps Ben Carson away.”) Meanwhile, former SNL star Chris Rock made a surprise appearance (in a sketch about a group of naive white Democrats confronting racism while watching election-night returns), and musical guest A Tribe Called Question performed its new blazing agitpop anthem “We the People…” with its chorus of “All you Black folks, you must go/All you Mexicans, you must go.”
But it was Chappelle’s tightly constructed, loosely delivered monologue that anchored the night, providing viewers with a blast of relief after days of anxiety, like a hydrant uncapped on a sweltering summer night. It was salvo as salve, and by 11:45 pm or so, you could almost hear a deep, relieved sigh of gratitude rise over the east coast, as Chappelle closed out his monologue. He talked about a recent trip to a BET-sponsored party at the West Wing—an institution that was traditionally unwelcoming to African-Americans. On that night, “everybody in there was black, except for Bradley Cooper, for some reason,” Chappelle said. “I saw all those black faces, and Bradley, and I saw how happy everybody was—these people who had been historically disenfranchised. And it made me feel hopeful. And it made me fell proud to be an American. And it made me very happy about the prospects of our country. So in that spirit, I’m wishing Donald Trump luck. And I’m gonna give him a chance. And we, the historically disenfranchised, demand that he give us one, too.” We’ll be the first ones to say it: Chappelle for President 2020.