There are only three things that have made me genuinely laugh out loud in the past 7 days: a text from Lainey, those brilliant Joe Biden memes, and Dave Chappelle. There are three albums that have been my self-care refuge: Solange’s A Seat at the Table, the Hamilton mixtape, and A Tribe Called Quest’s We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (honorary mention goes to Common’s Black America Again).
So, on Saturday night when Chappelle and ATCQ came together to host and perform on SNL respectively, I knew I was going to love it but I think I underestimated how much we all NEEDED the relief – comedic and artistic. It was like the world collectively exhaled and said, “Ah, Chappelle’s back” and “Ah, Q’s still got it.” For 90 minutes, we got to reminisce, laugh and cry together and feel in on the joke, instead of be the butt of one. It wasn’t an escape, per se, since Dave kept reminding America and the world of the godawful mess it’s in with every punch line and A Tribe Called Quest’s epic lead single is literally called We the People… so it wasn’t an escape but was a searing, politically-charged dose of #realtalk delivered by the man who can joke about the things you think could never be funny better than anyone. His sharp, funny as f-ck, 11-minute opening monologue should be devoured in its entirety but the part I still can’t get out of my head three days later is the final two minutes.
It’s like he never left, right? “Except for Bradley Cooper for some reason” and “all those black faces – and Bradley” made me cackle with laughter until the last line made me well with tears. Chappelle did all that in TWO minutes. He is something else. During Chappelle’s story of partying at the White House with a bunch of successful black people (and Bradley), what struck me the most – other than the obvious improbability of that image given America’s history—was that we’re probably a long way from seeing this inspiring scene again. I can’t fathom a scenario where the president-elect would invite BET over for a block party. That image of black Americans reveling in the halls of a house built by slaves will always be inspiring. On the toughest days, the hope of that image is one everyone in that room will hold on to.
When we talk about representation and its importance, we’re talking about the images that indigenous peoples, immigrants, minorities, members of the LGBTQ community and so many more can look to and feel less alone. This is why, the week of a devastating blow to all of the aforementioned groups, I am so glad Dave Chappelle and A Tribe Called Quest decided to focus on the work. I’m not going to give SNL a pass for its contribution to the normalization of Donald Trump but I do commend the decision to put these particular artists front and center on that particular week. Imagine having to watch a white, straight man fumble through Trump jokes on that specific Saturday night? Imagine that hosting spot had gone to Bradley Cooper?
SNL also acted as a reminder of the artists 2016 has taken from us. In case you forgot that 2016 is the f-cking WORST, Kate McKinnon’s gut-wrenching cold open and the banner with Phife Dawg’s face which was revealed during his verse on We the People were an effective recap. Speaking of artistry in 2016, the year which has taketh so much has also giveth some powerful music. In the days following the election, I saw a lot of tweets and comments like, “think of all the incredible music that will come from this tragedy though!” I mean, I would rather a racist, xenophobic misogynist whose chief advisor is a white nationalist NOT be the leader of the free world no matter how much great music may or may not be coming but I understand the sentiment. There is something to be said about the artists who will focus on the work in the next four years of Trump’s America and deliver stunning, poignant protest pieces that will inspire generations. A Tribe Called Quest’s We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service was recorded pre-Trump’s America but I think it is one of those works. It’s a beautiful mic-drop moment to bookend the career of a legendary hip-hop group.
Chappelle’s SNL mic-drop moment was closing out his monologue by demanding the president-elect give the historically disenfranchised a chance and in return, he’d give him one too. That sounds like the optimism of a man who has partied in the White House.
The BET special that Chappelle was referring to is called BET Presents Love & Happiness: An Obama Celebration aka Obama’s Block Party and it airs tonight at 9pm ET. Here’s the trailer: