Dave Chappelle Hosts SNL: What America Didn’t Realize It Needed Most

(THE PICKET) – By now, most people know the story:

In 2005, at the height of his popularity and on the cusp of a $50 million contract with his television network, Comedy Central, Dave Chappelle turned his back on his comedy sketch show, along with the wealth and fame it had brought him, and took an exodus to South Africa.

Months later, after the press had circulated rumors about his departure that placed the blame on issues related to mental health and drug addiction, Chappelle went on Oprah to tell a much different story. He cited greed from network executives, betrayal from his colleagues and closest friends, and a sense of “social irresponsibility” linked to the racial humor that had become his show’s trademark. He never renegotiated with Comedy Central, never returned to television, and outside of sporadic stand-up comedy tours has remained out of the public eye.

On Saturday night, more than 10 years after leaving the spotlight, Chappelle hosted Saturday Night Live, making his biggest national appearance since the end of his show’s run. Chappelle’s return felt particularly appropriate in the wake of the events that transpired in the preceding days: most notably, the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

Before Chappelle even took the stage, SNL comedian Kate McKinnon opened the show by revisiting what has now become her trademark role as now-defeated Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. McKinnon, as Clinton, performed Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ for a hushed audience in what was both a tribute for the recently deceased Cohen and a response to the collective mourning felt by much of the nation after Trump’s victory on Tuesday.

While McKinnon provided catharsis through grieving, Chappelle provided the same emotional release with acerbic humor and brutal honesty during his more than 10 minute long opening monologue.

“You know, I didn’t know that Donald Trump was going to win the election. I did suspect it. It seemed like Hillary was doing well in the polls and yet – I know the whites. You guys aren’t as full of surprises as you used to be,” Chappelle said.

Chappelle wanted to make America laugh (and if the crowd at NBC headquarters was any indication, he wildly succeeded), but more importantly, he wanted to convey to a nation shocked and bewildered by its own racism, intolerance, and hatred that these problems shouldn’t come as much of a surprise: they’ve been embedded in our country’s history since its conception – and ignored for far too long.

The show’s first sketch elaborated on this sentiment even further. In a room full of overconfident and overwhelmingly white Clinton supporters, Chappelle watches the election results pour in on the television. As the night passes and an impending victory for Trump becomes more clear, the room fills with denial, then dejection, and ultimately horror. Chappelle though? He isn’t the least bit bemused. He’s seen it all before.

The sketch’s funniest moment comes when a dejected Clinton supporter, in a state of utter bewilderment comes to an ‘epiphany’:

“Oh, my god…I think America is racist.”

“Oh my god,” Chappelle responds with feigned astonishment. “You know, I remember my great-grandfather told me something like that. But he was, like, a slave or something.”

The bit was hilarious for the same reasons that it was depressing. Much of white America, for the very first time, realized on Tuesday night just how racist, selfish, and exclusive their country is. Their feelings of sadness and embarrassment may be new to them, but rich, white men have come out on top since America was founded – and perhaps no minority group is more aware of this than African Americans.

The rest of Saturday night’s show was lighter in tone, but Chappelle shone in every sketch he appeared in. He resurrected several fan favorite characters from The Chappelle Show and dusted off his acting chops for the first time since the show ended more than a decade ago. It was a welcome return, for as brilliant as Chappelle is at performing stand-up comedy, his skills at comedic acting were always top notch, and they’re largely what made him a force to be reckoned with in comedy.

For many, and especially for the majority of young, first-time voters who cast their ballots in favor of Clinton, the future suddenly seems dark and uncertain. The rights for women, immigrants, and racial minorities are at risk more than they have been in decades. Things are likely going to get much worse before they get better. But for one night, Chappelle not only reminded us how to laugh, but provided some sage advice: maybe some long-overdue kinship will ensure that America can finally become the land of opportunity and equality that we only imagined it was.

We can make it happen, but we have a whole lot of work to do. And we just might need Chappelle to stick around to help us get there.

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