Same Tricks, Different Punchlines
Aside from his remarks on anti-semitism amid the backlash Kanye and Kyrie have received, Dave Chappelle played it pretty safe for his third SNL monologue.
When Dave Chappelle was announced as the host of this past weekend’s SNL many of us wondered what he would tackle. Would it be the backlash he’s continued to receive since the release of his 2021 The Closer special, which featured a handful of transphobic jokes that not only led to some Netflix staff speaking out against the comedian, but some students from his alma mater petitioning against a theater being named after him. Or would he function as political truth-teller, the role he’s tried to take on (and has been placed on him) since first hosting SNL back in 2016 following the election of Donald Trump?
Well, it was more of the latter from the comedian’s monologue on Saturday, where he addressed the midterm elections and specifically singled out the “observably stupid” Herschel Walker out of Georgia. But even though he didn’t address his own controversy, Chappelle still found a divisive tightrope to tread in his monologue, courtesy of the recent backlash Kanye West and Kyrie Irving have received. Through them, the comedian took to discussing anti-semitism, at times both mocking and reinforcing stereotypes and tropes placed on Jewish people.
Although his focus wasn’t on LGBTQ people, the same tricks we’ve seen him utilize in his latest special were present to pull different punchlines in his monologue focused on the Jewish community. Granted, he was more contrarian on tackling this subject to truly know where he stood. During a part of his monologue, he played down the paranoia of believing Jewish people run Hollywood — equating how present they are in the industry to Black people in Ferguson, Missouri, and how that doesn’t necessarily translate to power (“It doesn’t mean we run the place”) — only to seem to support the notion in the same breath.
“I would see if you had some kind of issue, you might go out to Hollywood, you might start connecting some kind of lines, and you could maybe adopt the delusion that the Jews run show business,” he said. “It’s not a crazy thing to think. But it’s a crazy thing to say out loud in a climate like this.”
In navigating this sensitive topic (as he’s done for others), he employed similar safeguards. Just as he referenced friend and transgender comedian Daphne Dorman to soften critiques of his transphobic jokes (and dismiss claims of being transphobic), he offered a disclaimer early on in the monologue sharing how he grew up around Jewish people and has a lot of Jewish friends. Just as he’s employed Blackness to deflect certain critiques or understate the issues other groups of people go through (The Closer revealed just how much he sees the LGBTQ community as white and a cultural issue with Black people, dismissing Black people who aren’t only a part of the LGBTQ community but those who’ve also called him out for his jokes on the community, too), he did so briefly in his monologue.
“I know Jewish people have been through terrible things all over the world but but you can’t blame that on Black Americans. You just can’t,” he said, receiving one not-fully confident “woo” from an audience member.
What Chappelle’s monologue was indicative of is that the comedian hasn’t been all that compelling or interesting in recent years in regards to his material. Sure, he can still elicit some laughs here and there. But it’s clear that the most popular and beloved comedian in the U.S. (and possibly abroad) just isn’t hitting like he used to. Sure, he’ll likely blame it on how he feels that society has made it scary to talk about sensitive subjects now, which has therefore made his job “incredibly difficult,” as he expressed toward the end of his monologue. But the reality may very well be that Chappelle is aging out, and is representative of a past type of comedian, comedy, and humor that has been left behind as the medium continues to evolve. Maybe the “they” he should be worried about (even in jest) isn’t any outside force, but something much closer — himself.