The late-night post-election funeral continues, and last night “Saturday Night Live” stepped up to the lectern.
Perhaps proving that late-night TV doesn’t like unexpected change any more than stock markets or TV news networks, this was a lot less comedy than eulogy — even with Dave Chappelle in the house, and in one surprising turn, Chris Rock, too. Right down to the marrow of its bones, “SNL” wanted a Hillary Clinton victory, and was denied.
Where to go from there? We found out last night: A downer, a bummer, a long, slow dirge in a minor key.
Kate McKinnon, in Hillary character, cold-opened at the Steinway, with a clear-voiced version of Leonard Cohen’s over-covered “Hallelujah,” which served both as a tribute to Cohen, who died last week, and as a musical commentary on the moment, particularly with these final lines:
“I did my best, it wasn’t much/I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch/I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you/And even though/It all went wrong/I’ll stand before the Lord of Song/With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah ...”
With the closing “hallelujah,” McKinnon — who was most likely out of character, but perhaps not, which gave what followed a touch of ambiguity — said: “I’m not giving up and neither should you.” The last time we’ll see McKinnon as Clinton? Maybe ... or maybe not.
Chapelle, in (figurative if not literal) witness protection since leaving his Comedy Central series over a decade ago along with a $50 million payout, arrived on this stage at about as dramatic a moment as any re-emerging former superstar could have hoped for — except for the fact that this moment didn’t quite turn out as planned. If that opener was any indication, 10 years have changed Chapelle. After leaving “Chappelle’s Show” for good, he later explained that he felt his act had not only stagnated, but pandered to white audiences. Were those world-famous characters — like Rick James, Lil Jon, Tron Carter and Negrodamus — sending up racial stereotypes or reinforcing them? Even if both, that was still untenable, he decided, and quit.
Last night, Chappelle spoke on the biggest comedy stage in the world, and what viewers saw was some trademark Chappelle — that bone-dry wit — along with something they probably didn’t quite expect. By old Chappelle standards, this performance was listless, also reflective. In the old days, he stalked stages. Last night, he weighed one down.
“I didn’t know that Donald Trump was going to win the election, but I did suspect ... Hillary was going along so well in the polls, and yet, I know the whites. You guys aren’t as full of surprises as you used to be. I think I pray for all of black America when I say, we pray for Omarosa ... We’ve elected an internet troll ...”
He went on: “I haven’t seen white people this mad since the O.J. verdict..”
Then this: “I watched (on TV) a riot in Portland, Oregon, the other night. News said they did a million worth of damage. And blacks watching said ‘amateurs.’ ”
(That good line squandered.)
He closed in a way no one ever would have expected a Dave Chapelle close — with a patriotic flourish that also managed to save an otherwise lackluster monologue: By going to a BET party at the White House, where everyone was black — along with the president.
“It made me feel hopeful and proud to be an American and very happy about the prospects for our country. In the that spirit, I’m wishing Donald Trump luck. I’m going to give him a chance, and we the historically disenfranchised demand he give us one, too.”
While pretty much the rest of the night was long and cold — even when some of those classic Chapelle characters made a return in a “Walking Dead” sketch — the first skit was terrific. “Election Party” was a savvy reflection on the way we fool ourselves into believing what we want to believe, until facts intervene. It was about a party of friends who early in the evening confidently predict a Clinton victory, but then, as the night wears on, the faces grow longer along with the excuses.
When Kentucky goes for Trump, one partygoer, played by Beck Bennett, says: “Of course he won Kentucky. That’s where all the racists are.” As party buzzkiller, Chappelle turns to him: “ALL the racists are in Kentucky?”
Then Rock turns up at the party, along with the better lines of the whole night: When Aidy Bryant’s character wonders how Trump can win with 55 percent of the electorate women, Rock volleys this: “I don’t get you ladies. The country is 55 percent women. If the country was 55 percent black, we’d have tons of black presidents. I mean, Flavor Flav would be president.”
Anyway, the election is over, and “SNL” has plenty of time to nurse its wounds and figure out where to go from here. (There shouldn’t be any shortage of material either.)