Just over four years ago, “Saturday Night Live” invited Dave Chappelle to host its Nov. 12, 2016 broadcast — the show’s first after that year’s presidential election. The tacit assumption, at the time, was that he would be the master of ceremonies for an episode that would serve as both a satirical farewell to the long-shot candidacy of the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, and a victory lap for his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Needless to say, things didn’t work out that way.
Even so, “S.N.L.” put together a memorable episode that weekend, one that began — for better or for worse — with Kate McKinnon, as Clinton, seated at a piano and singing a somber rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” (Cohen had died a few days earlier.) Turning to the camera, McKinnon said, “I’m not giving up and neither should you.”
Chappelle, in his debut appearance as an “S.N.L.” host, acknowledged in a lengthy standup monologue that he had not expected Trump to win the election, and wondered what would happen to America now that “we’ve actually elected an internet troll as our president.”
He told the story of a party he had attended at the White House during the Obama administration where, Chappelle said, “everybody in there was Black — except for Bradley Cooper, for some reason.” He reflected on how rare it had been, historically, for Black people to be invited as guests to the White House and said that moment “made me very happy about the prospects of our country.”
Chappelle concluded that monologue by saying, “In that spirit, I’m wishing Donald Trump luck. And I’m going to give him a chance, and we, the historically disenfranchised, demand that he give us one, too.”
One presidential term later, “S.N.L.” gave Chappelle the chance to host a more exuberant episode — a broadcast that capped several protracted days of vote-counting and aired just a few hours after President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. secured his victory.
This week’s opening sketch began as a lampoon of CNN’s election coverage, with Beck Bennett as a weary Wolf Blitzer and Alex Moffat as John King, whose fingers had been worn down to nubs from using touch-screen maps for 85 hours.
They announced that the presidency had been won by Biden and then brought out Jim Carrey in that recurring role.
“We did it,” Carrey said as Biden. “Can you believe it? I honestly kind of can’t. It’s been so long since something good happened.” He added, “I’ve never felt so alive, which is ironic since I’m not that alive.”
He was joined by Maya Rudolph, reprising her role as Kamala Harris, now the Vice President-elect. “I am humbled and honored to be the first female, the first Black, the first Indian-American and the first biracial Vice President,” Rudolph said. Noting that she had a Jewish husband, she added, “Between us, we check more boxes than a disqualified ballot.”
The sketch also included a would-be concession speech from President Trump, played by Alec Baldwin. Speaking to the camera, Baldwin said, “I vow to all my supporters, I’m going to fight this thing to the bitter end. I will never give up and neither should you.”
He stood up, walked to a piano and began to sing a mournful cover of the Village People’s “Macho Man.”
“This isn’t goodbye, America,” Baldwin said. “I’m just going to say, see you in court.”
‘It’s good to be a humble winner’
In another extended monologue that was variously comedic, reflective and deliberately provocative, Chappelle began by talking about his great-grandfather William D. Chappelle, who was an A.M.E. Church bishop and president of Allen University in Columbia, S. C., and who was born a slave. Observing that his sketch series “Chappelle’s Show” now runs on Netflix and HBO Max, Chappelle said, “I didn’t get paid for any of it.” He added that he wondered if his great-grandfather would think that he “got bought and sold more than I have.”
Inevitably, Chappelle worked his way back to the topic of Trump. “I know a lot of people don’t like him, but I thought the guy was at least an optimist.” Chappelle said. “I am not as optimistic as he was. I look at it like, there’s bad people on both sides.” When he heard Trump refer to the coronavirus as “the kung flu,” Chappelle explained, “I said, you racist, hilarious son of a bitch — I’m supposed to say it, not you. It’s wrong when you say it.”
Nearing the end of his monologue, Chappelle struck a more conciliatory tone. Invoking his 2016 appearance on “S.N.L.”, he said, “I would implore everybody who’s celebrating today to remember.”
It’s good to be a humble winner. Remember when I was here four years ago? Remember how bad that felt? Remember that half the country, right now, still feels that way. Please remember that. Remember that for the first time in the history of America, the life expectancy of white people is dropping. Because of heroin, because of suicide. All these white people out there, that feel that anguish, that pain, they’re mad because they think nobody cares — maybe they don’t, but let me tell you something, I know how that feels. I promise you, I know how that feels. If you’re a police officer and every time you put your uniform on, you feel like you’ve got a target on your back, you’re appalled by the ingratitude that people have, when you would risk your life to save them, ooh man, believe me, believe me, I know how that feels. Everyone knows how that feels. But here’s the difference between me and you. You guys hate each other for that. And I don’t hate anybody. I just hate that feeling. That’s what I fight through. That’s what I suggest you fight through. You’ve got a find a way to live your life. You’ve got to find a way to forgive each other. You’ve got to find a way to find joy in your existence in spite of that feeling.