Last night’s Saturday Night Live was an odd beast. On the one hand, having Dave Chappelle host the first post-election episode when Donald Trump is on the ballot hasn’t previously been exactly a good-luck charm. On another, the show itself—complete reversal of fortune for the nation aside—was marked by one thudding low (Alec Baldwin’s final-ish Donald Trump, with Jim Carrey channeling Ace Ventura, for the cheap seats), and then a rushed and incomplete-feeling two-thirds. (Weekend Update was uncharacteristically short, there weren’t many sketches, with a last sketch seemingly and awkwardly cut for time.)
But the reason for the rest of the show feeling thin was, by any account, worth it, as Chappelle took the stage for an epic, most likely record-breaking 16-and-a-half-minute monologue. When you’ve got Dave Chappelle, you give Dave Chappelle all the time he wants—even if, as he related in a mid-set anecdote, some of his Ohio neighbors aren’t thrilled with his COVID-controlled, celebrity-luring cornfield stand-up shows. Chappelle showed up in a few sketches, but it was the monologue that everyone’s talking about, a thoughtful, pointed, and effortlessly light-footed set that had the in-studio audience alternately applauding, yelping hysterically, listening intently, or, in a few cases, sucking in air in shock through their mandatory pandemic masks.
Of course, everyone wants to know what Chappelle’s follow-up SNL, post-election monologue had to say about the finally declared defeat of Donald Trump, and there’s no point of reading about how good he was, just like there’s no point in listening to someone explain how a bird flies. You sort of have to see it for yourself. All that’s worth saying here is that Chappelle, strolling the stage with a mic in one hand, and a nearby, defiantly burning cigarette occasionally in the other, was Dave Chappelle making Studio 8H just another cornfield. Talking about his once-enslaved great-grandfather. Explaining to his no-doubt watching Ohio neighbors that he’s Dave Chappelle, dammit. Running down some Trump greatest hits (in the sense of being things Trump did that made America’s collective soul die in larger and larger increments). All in inimitable, unique, and hilarious Chappelle style, for 16 straight, network TV minutes. (Chappelle almost certainly broke the NBC tally of N-words dropped on their airwaves.) One might be forgiven for wishing the show itself would have just been, instead, an impromptu new Chappelle stand-up special.
It’s in the last analysis of his marathon monologue that Chappelle truly dug deepest, laying out a philosophical approach to current intellectual and moral quandaries like schadenfreude, partisan hate, unlikely pandemic pros and cons, and processing both joy and grief that, well, was all Dave. So if you’re looking for some much-needed perspective with your post-election breakfast, Chappelle’s quarter-hour of spellbinding stand-up is just the thing. Even though, as the legendary comic lamented at one point, “I can’t even say something true unless I’ve got a punchline behind it.” Luckily, Chappelle’s punchlines are pretty damned great, too.