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.
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