"Tom Hanks plays a Donald Trump supporter" could’ve yielded some obvious (read: lazy) jokes when he hosted Saturday Night Live on October 22. Instead, the show made him play Black Jeopardy — and found a whole new way to talk about the nuances of this exhausting presidential election cycle.
The Black Jeopardy sketch has been recurring since 2014, usually throwing well-meaning but ultimately clueless white people into a game that caters to its black contestants. Past categories have included "They Out Here Saying," "If It’s Sunday," and "Bruh..." leading to repeated situations where the white — or in Drake’s case, Canadian — contestants realize they have no idea how to play the "black" version of the game.
So when SNL’s latest rendition of the sketch introduced Hanks as a white contestant named Doug — wearing one of Trump’s "Make America Great Again" hats and a T-shirt emblazoned with a bald eagle — it seemed like this odd man out was in for another huge loss.
But then middle-aged white guy Doug kinda crushed Black Jeopardy.
When faced with the answer, "They Out Here Saying: The new iPhone wants your thumbprint ‘for your protection,’" Doug immediately buzzed in with, "What is, ‘I don’t think so, that’s how they get ya’?"
"Yes," host Darnell Haynes (Kenan Thompson) said, incredulous, as Doug’s fellow contestants (played by Sasheer Zamata and Leslie Jones) looked over in delighted shock.
From there, Doug continued to ace the game. After sharing his distrust of the iPhone’s thumbprint key, he also earned brownie points by insisting that Tyler Perry’s Madea movies are worth every penny because they let him "laugh and pray in 90 minutes."
Everything about his appearance suggested he wouldn’t or couldn’t get along with anyone else on Black Jeopardy. But as written by Weekend Update co-anchor Michael Che and SNL co-head writer Bryan Tucker, Doug turned out to be far more chill with the black contestants’ viewpoints than anyone might have expected, because it turned out they were his opinions too.
By the time the show jumped into a category called "Skinny Women Can Do This for You," Doug received actual cheers when he scoffed, "What is, 'Not a damn thing'?"
However, despite having so much in common with the other people sharing the Black Jeopardy stage, Doug still didn’t totally trust them.
Throughout the game, he still showed signs of inherent bias, like when he skittered away from Darnell’s attempt to shake his hand as if the host were about to beat him up, and then balked when the final category — "Lives That Matter" — came up.
As a result, it’s been interesting to see how some have interpreted the sketch. RawStory described it as Hanks going "full deplorable," while Slate tweeted it like so:
Watch Tom Hanks mock Trump supporters in SNL’s Black Jeopardy: https://t.co/GntrKxm66r pic.twitter.com/wXRF0XguSR— Slate (@Slate) October 24, 2016
But saying that this Black Jeopardy sketch was only trying to mock Trump supporters is an incredible simplification of a brilliant comedic approach.
Aside from Hanks playing Doug’s grumbling shrugs to perfection, the sketch was smart and sly in the way it managed to find the center of a Venn diagram between people that few — from Dougs to Darnells and everyone in between — rarely try to find anymore.
In under seven minutes, SNL dug into the commonalities between people who view each other as total opposites, the racially motivated anxieties of Trump’s base, and many Americans’ hesitance to cross increasingly polarized political lines in search of anything they might like on the other side.
Finding the absurdity in the Trump versus Clinton debates is easy. Portraying the many subtleties of the American electorate in a sharp, hilarious, and different way this far into the campaign cycle is hard — and like Doug on Black Jeopardy, SNL crushed it.
Updated to credit Michael Che and Bryan Tucker as the writers of this sketch.