As of yesterday morning, Saturday Night Live is one of the most controversial shows on television:
I watched parts of @nbcsnl Saturday Night Live last night. It is a totally one-sided, biased show - nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2016
Moving beyond the fact that the equal time rule is only in effect during elections (and that one who wins an election logically also wins an inordinate amount of attention), in two episodes since Donald J. Trump was somehow elected president, SNL has been in prime position to deliver humor for those who need it and, more than ever, commentary on the state of our country. Last weekend, SNL had Dave Chappelle as host to lick our wounds, provide perspective, and present a path forward. This weekend picked up where Chappelle left off, taking on the bubble white liberal America willingly lives in, the media's debilitating, unproductive loop, and, much to Donald Trump's chagrin, how astonishingly unprepared our president-elect appears to be.
At the heart of it all, in one of SNL's two hottest seats, is "Weekend Update" co-anchor Michael Che. Taking over as the (first African American) co-anchor of SNL's news segment in 2014 after a short stint on The Daily Show, Che has seen the best and the worst of our country and has been able to filter it in an easier pill to swallow. His blunt, insightful form of comedy is something we need now more than ever. Thankfully, Che's expanding beyond SNL with a stand-up special on Netflix, Michael Che Matters (out Nov. 25). America is facing an upheaval of racial, political, and social unrest—all things the comedian tackles in his absolutely hilarious special. Before his Netflix project dropped, we spoke to Che about his approach to comedy, the timeliness of his special, and SNL in the era of Trump.
Your special has a pretty eye-opening title, how important was it for you to get that message out there immediately?
You don’t want to be too heavy handed about what the special is going to be about from the title. I didn’t want to sneak up on anybody. You get the tone, you get where I’m coming from, and it felt of the time.
It feels extremely timely, especially now that Donald Trump is the president-elect. Does that freak you out?
It’s good! That’s the kind of thing you go for. It’s a bet you win.
What do you want people to take from your special?
That we aren’t as different as we think. It all comes from something. Donald Trump may be crazy, but at one point he was a baby and he was raised a certain way. These people didn’t come from the fucking moon. Racism, homophobia, sexism, and discrimination come from somewhere. It’s like getting rid of mouse droppings to handle your rodent problems. It’s still there. Let’s all remember that we’re still human.
Do you feel like the responsibility of comedy has changed in the face of what’s going on in the country?
No, the responsibility is to make the people laugh, just like a DJ has to keep the music going and keep the people dancing. As a comedian, no matter what is going on in the country, we have to keep the people happy.
And there are a lot of unhappy people right now.
Exactly. And a lot of people don’t want to laugh about what’s happening. That’s when the cream rises to the top. If you can make people laugh and make people have a good time during this shit, then you’re doing okay.
Speaking of responsibility, Donald Trump was a host on SNL. The show has received criticism for playing a part in normalizing him—did you, the cast, and the writers fear that?
I mean, I didn’t. To me, I don’t know how you normalize someone when they’re dancing to a Drake song. [Laughs.] He looked as un-normal as possible in the positions we put him in. But I don’t know if people watch SNL and say, “You know what? This guy looks funny, I’m going to vote for him.” That’s not how I vote, so it seems like a ridiculous notion.
I think the criticism stems from the idea that putting him in an environment like SNL in some way legitimizes or absolves his terrible actions and statements. Like, a lot of people looked at his appearance on Jimmy Fallon and realized, “Hey, this isn’t right.”
I mean, I get it. But I disagree. There’s nothing that I saw from Donald Trump on TV that would make me think that he could have been our president. I think we have to give credit to the American voters that they’re not looking at him on SNL and Jimmy Fallon and thinking that they’re ready to vote. It’s a little more complex than that. There’s real issues that people feel aren’t being discussed—and that's why they voted for Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton.
What has the mood been like backstage at SNL, especially during the post-election episode Dave Chappelle hosted?
Everyone handled it different ways. The mood for some people was somber—it was a tough pill to swallow. For other people, it was business as usual. But no matter what, when the light comes on, it’s time to go. It’s like a cop—they don’t come to a crime scene and start crying. That’s one thing I’m proud of the show for. No matter what, we’re ready to perform, and it’s been that way for years. During 9/11, we still put on a show and made people laugh. I think that’s why people take it personally when they see someone that they don’t like on the show. We’re their friends.
It’s almost like people are like “You like THEM!?”
Exactly! [They don’t want him] to be in on the fun. And I can dig that. But we also have to remember that this country is bigger than our bubble. We all have to figure out a way to laugh at the same thing, at least.
One thing that struck me during Chappelle’s monologue is that he said he’s going to give Trump a chance. Do you agree with that?
I don’t think we have a choice. I think if you say that this guy is unreasonable, it’s weird to also say that there’s nothing he can do to change your mind about that. We have to figure out the kind of people we are. A guy who won a vote in a democratic society—how do we not accept him? This is the system we chose. It’s how we run the show. I remember when Obama won, a bunch of people from certain segments of the country said the same thing. Now the situation is flipped, and we’re doing the same thing. We still have a big enough government where the president can’t just come in and say, “I’m bringing slavery back.” I hope. [Laughs.]