No matter how the presidential election turned out, Dave Chappelle hosting Saturday Night Live the weekend after was going to provide some guaranteed razor-sharp commentary. As it turned out, Donald Trump’s victory only made Chappelle’s comedy even more cutting.
This held especially true in Chappelle’s 11-minute opening monologue, which broke down to about two-thirds standup comedy and one-third earnest reflection.
As he first stepped out onto the SNL stage, Chappelle blinked up at the cheering audience, gripped his microphone, took a breath. "I didn’t know Donald Trump was gonna win the election," he said, then paused. "I did suspect it."
Why? "It seemed like Hillary Clinton was doing well in the polls," he continued, "but uh, I know the whites. You guys aren’t as full of surprises as you used to be."
(This point came up again in the first sketch following the monologue, in which Chappelle and Chris Rock went to an election night party and laughed at the shock on their white friends’ faces as Trump kept winning states.)
From there, Chappelle covered everything from the election results, to the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, to Harambe. He veered into ruminating on the Black Lives Matter movement, and even though he said it might not be the best slogan — "McDonald’s already took ‘you deserve a break today’" — he made it clear where he stood on others coopting it.
"Even the police," Chappelle said, in awe. "‘Blue Lives Matter.’ What, was you born a police? That is not a blue life. That’s a blue suit. You don’t like it, take the suit off, find a new job. ‘Cause I tell you, if I could quit being black today, I’d be out the game."
But by the end of the monologue, Chappelle set aside the stream of jokes to think about a night that meant a lot to him, and one that he can’t stop thinking about now that Trump has been elected president, and "they’re marching up the streets as I speak."
Chappelle then launched into the story of going to a BET-sponsored party at the White House a few weeks ago, and how it was exactly the kind of night he had always dreamed of while growing up Washington DC. And just about everyone there — "but Bradley Cooper, for some reason" — was black.
Chappelle said he couldn’t help but think about the history that got them to this moment, a group of black people celebrating under a black president. He talked about the harrowing experience Frederick Douglass had when Abraham Lincoln invited him to the White House in 1864, only to be stopped at the door by guards. Chappelle talked about Booker T. Washington visiting Theodore Roosevelt, which inspired huge backlash and the infamous poem "Niggers in the White House" (circa 1902).
Chappelle then looked out at the completely silent audience, and delivered his final blows:
I looked at that room, and I looked out at all those black faces (and Bradley), and I saw how happy everybody was. These people, who had been historically disenfranchised.
…it made me feel hopeful. And it made me feel proud to be an American, and it made me very happy about the prospects of our country.
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.
It was an unusual monologue, and not just because it didn’t end on a joke. Instead, Chappelle absorbed this week and delivered his own address that dared to be hopeful — but with that emphasis on "demand," he also made it clear that Trump will need to do more than win to gain his trust.