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‘Saturday Night Live’: the necessary comedic energy of Issa Rae

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For a few merciful moments during the episode of the last nights of Saturday Night Live, viewers were offered a rare distraction as the nation heads into a chaotic election. When Issa Rae, the host of the evening, took the stage for his opening monologue, I sighed in relief, not a small part because that meant the Dueling town halls the open cold was over. This skit plunged audiences into nocturnal antics with another satirical episode of presidential contention conflict: the narrator described the split-screen viewing experience as an attempt to decide between a Hallmark movie and an alien autopsy.

With the segment delivered on his characterization of President Donald Trumps’ town hall as a thirst trap set for him by NBC midway through, viewers were able to replay the bizarre moment a South Florida voter began his question for Trump. saying to him, You are so beautiful when you smile. But even with Kate McKinnons Savannah Guthrie asking pointed questions about the president’s refusal to convict QAnon, Maya Rudolphs Senator Kamala Harris joking about mimosas, and former Jim Carreys vice president Joe Biden breaking into an impromptu Mister Rogers neighborhood sing, the skit was very similar to the rest of SNLs recent political commentary: stepid, tedious and unfortunately insufficient given the cataclysmic state of the country. As my colleague David Sims wrote about the Season 46 premiere earlier this month, The shows’ return to a standard format makes it clear that its brand of topical satire simply won’t be enough to the chaotic months of pandemic and electoral uncertainty that lie ahead.

Enter Issa Rae. After such a funny cold opening, the host’s sunny demeanor livened up last night’s episode and ushered in a handful of sketches that diverged from SNLstandard political rate. the Unsafe creator started his monologue as much SNL the presenters do it: highlighting the honor of standing on the stage where several of his comedy heroes, including Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, performed. She then exclaimed that she was afraid of throwing up, [but] I have to keep it up cause I’m the first black person to host SNL, yall! Rae quickly informed viewers that this alleged step was not true, but that claim was just one of many jokes from last night that poked fun at Hollywood’s continued struggle with diversity. (SNL has had a particularly appalling record in this regard; Tiffany Haddish, for example, was the first black actress to host the show just three years ago.)

Raes’ monologue was deliciously self-aware, peppered with industry racism jokes that were fun and fresh even though they relied on familiar material. It’s hardly news that black people in Hollywood and other predominantly white industries are often mistaken for other people who are nothing like them, I certainly happened to me, but I still laughed when Rae adopted a solemn tone of telling members of the audience, if the show goes wrong tonight, blame me, Mary J. Blige. Raes’ approach to approaching political comedy was also rooted in his own uncomfortable experiences. Unsafe premiered four years ago this month, and Rae has explained the embarrassment of having had a major personal breakthrough in the run-up to the previous presidential election. It was rude for me to have reached its peak as democracy was collapsing, she said, adding that it was weird to say, thank you my God for what happened at the fall 2016. Such remarks seemed self-deriving rather than boastful, a posture Rae has successfully portrayed in relatable comedy for much of his career. His show is called, after all, Unsafe.

Elsewhere, Rae brought Francophone humor to a Montreal news skit, playing a broadcast presenter named Awa Sene whose entire job is to lead the segment of the Drake Watch shows. Rae (ne Jo-Issa Rae Diop), the daughter of a Senegal-born father and Louisiana-born mother, hardly had an authentic French accent, but it was still lovely to see her in a comedic role. who beckoned to his heritage. Raes’ enthusiasm for the pursuit of local hero Aubrey Graham was extravagant in its intensity, a callback to the early 2010s, when Drake apparently couldn’t hurt. And a scene that took her to the top of Torontos CN tower reminded me rappers have an SNL relay, in a much simpler time. SNLThe Canadian jokes were probably outdated cigarettes! weird bagels! but the skit was also a fun tie-in for evening musical guest Justin Bieber, another Canadian national treasure. Biebers’ performances, one of which included an assist from Chicagos Chance the Rapper, were both remarkably serious, an odd but not unpleasant diversion from the rest of the tone of the series.

A series of topical sketches, many of which included Rae, brought lightness and insight to America’s social climate without relying too much on horse-racing-style political jokes. A skit titled First Date Exes saw her sitting across from Chris Redd, preparing to have dinner outside because the restaurant they frequent already has 2% capacity inside. A series of ancient flames keep coming up to their tables and interrupting the pair, an absurd streak that nonetheless captures the incredible awkwardness of dating during the pandemic era. A subsequent segment on a five-hour fictional empathy product put a fantastic spin on the liberal hand-wringer who followed the first wave of racial justice protests this summer. In a 2020 corollary of the famous Queen Latifahs Excedrin for racial tension headaches Little, Beck Bennett played a suburban man who insists he wants to know the history of discrimination against people of color, but refuses to drink the magic elixir that would provide him with five hours of empathy.

In perhaps the most devastating sketch of the night, a parody ad for eBay encouraged viewers to ditch and sell the hobby gear they bought in their early forties when people naively thought they were using it. the time spent at home to start painting, read The odyssey, or learn a new language. Don’t be shy, if you admit it’s not being used you’ll get more money, a narrator tells characters who are considering selling their early quarantine purchases. An important caveat comes at the end: This advertisement does not apply to you if you have worked or had children.

That such skits would be much more effective than SNLThe traditional political commentary of s is not surprising. The entertainment landscape is already saturated with politics, be it debates or town halls themselves, cable news, podcasts, a west wing special meeting, or baffling celebrity chatter. President Trump’s state of mind alone is the subject of constant coverage, not to mention his recent diagnosis of COVID-19. As SNLlongtime creator and producer Lorne Michaels, Told Vulture in front of from the season 46 premiere, a lot of the media coverage is, do you think he did that? Do you believe he said that? And somehow, it ends up being the thing everyone is talking about. We are trying to get to the truth. Last night’s episode attempted this with mixed results. Most of the weekend’s update was filled, as always, with moan-inducing linings, and the portrayals of Donald Trump Jr., Tiffany Trump, and Eric Trump did little more than paint the siblings as jesters sycophants. But I was really surprised to hear Michael Che deliver a line that criticized SNLhis own network to accommodate the mayoralty of presidents: What can we say, we have a guy, he intoned, with a triptych of Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer and President Trump on screen.

Even so, none of the overtly political skit nights packed as much humor as the one in which Kenan Thompson played the host of a talk show called Your voice Chicagoand Rae played an NAACP lawyer who voted for Everyone Black, a witty reminder to the now infamous actors 2017 Emmys Commentary. Join the show alongside a journalist from The root played by SNLs Ego Nwodim, the character of Raes tried to endorse the black candidate in various political races despite a series of growing flaws. From a hopeful black city controller who had to give up the strip clubs he ran after being arrested for tax evasion, she noted that his familiarity with financial loopholes could be beneficial: it would be like hiring Wesley Snipes to do your taxes. Raes’ character also forgave a billionaire and two conservative bloggers modeled on the actual YouTube duo Diamond and Silk. But no matter how kind or community-minded, there’s one candidate she just couldn’t support: Kanye? F him.

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Hannah Giorgis is a writer at Atlantic, where it covers culture.

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