Dave Chappelle on ‘Saturday Night Live’ was brilliantly funny, but not without flaw

Only four days after the election, Dave Chapelle’s appearance on Saturday Night Live was one of the smartest decisions the show has made in recent memory. SNL’s diversity problem isn’t its only one. More times than not it struggles with being funny at all — an argument New York Magazine’s Chris Smith made in 1995. But whatever the show lacks in comedic delivery surely would have no effect on Chappelle. He is, after all, a comedic genius. But still, no one knew what to expect from the same man who was booed and heckled during a comeback show in Detroit last year.

The nearly 12-minute opening was the highlight of his appearance. He was funny and honest while able to convey what Americans around the country are feeling deeply. “It seemed like Hillary was doing well in the polls, and yet, I know the whites,” he jokes. That short quip is why Chappelle is one of the most beloved comedians. He’s able to tell the truth about white people without offending them — something Paul Mooney, in all his brilliance, never quite managed to do.

“We’ve actually elected an internet troll as our president,” Chappelle said. “I haven’t seen white people this mad since the OJ verdict.”

Chappelle reminds the assumed predominantly white audience that black people have been here before. He laughs at the outrage because it’s ironic that the performative anger of white people — the demographic who elected Trump — will be the least affected by his presidency. He goes on about how Black Lives Matter “is not the best slogan,” but it is in no way compared to police who have co-opted it with Blue Lives Matter. Chappelle succinctly captured police brutality, being a little safer as a rich black man, gentrification, and Barack Obama’s historic legacy in under 12 minutes.

He delivered. He demonstrated why he will go down as one of the best comedians to ever live. But, his opening monologue was not without two unforgettable flaws.

In joking about staying at the Trump Hotel (ugh!) he crassly joked about being able to grab housekeepers by the pussy: “Housekeeping comes in in the morning to clean my room. ‘Hey, good morning.’ Grab a hand full of pussy and say, ‘Hey, you know, boss said it was ok.'” Yeah, no. Like unnecessary rape storylines in film and TV shows, there’s really never an instance that sexual assault jokes are funny. Sexual assault jokes attempt to normalize violence and assault against women. Of course I understand the intent here is to point out how a man who said “grab her by the pussy” is now president, but the butt of the joke becomes victims not the offenders. I wish this bit had been left out of the otherwise great monologue.

Chappelle beautifully summed it up with an anecdote from his attendance at Barack Obama’s Block Party at the White House held by BET. Celebrating president Obama’s legacy with a gaggle of black folks in the White House, one that had only been inhabited by white men until 2008, made Chappelle feel proud to be an American. It made him hopeful. It should have ended there. Instead, Chappelle said he’s going to give the Cheeto-elect a chance and demands that a bigot, homophobic, misogynist give us one too.

Record scratch, freeze frame.

Really, Dave? Nice gestures against oppressors has never done black and disenfranchised people any good. Any talk about giving a demagogue who ran an entire campaign on bigotry a chance doesn’t deserve forgiving hearts. Perhaps Chappelle felt like he needed to leave people with some type of hope. That’s not what my kind of hope looks like.

The election night sketch wasn’t as funny as the opening monologue, but definitely as poignant with a guest appearance from Chris Rock. It spoke directly to the cluelessness and blinders some white Americans have walked around with as if people of color haven’t been saying this country was racist, as if black people haven’t been living with America’s systemic racism since the 19th century.

Chris Rock walks in as a woman is saying Trump may win. “Of course. What are you talking about?” At the end the one white guy in the room says, “This is the most shameful thing America has ever done.” Rock and Chappelle look at each other and howl in laughter.

Chappelle was as close to perfect as he was going to get on a comedy sketch show that is rarely funny. He didn’t help ease our pain, but he sure as hell made it worth tuning in to SNL. And made us laugh even if only for an hour.