The Dave Chappelle SNL Monologue was a soothing balm of blackness


Dave Chappelle’s Creative Emmy win for his post-election SNL monologue recognizes his talent and his message of black steadiness.

Dave Chappelle won a  Creative Emmy for his Saturday Night Live monologue, a testament to how salient yet funny and reassuring Chappelle’s monologue was just four days removed from a presidential election that shook up the nation.

He rooted his monologue in the steadiness of perpetual black awareness of oppressive American brands of racism and sexism — and how black people still love America, are still proud and remain steady. This is black strength, which proved to be a soothing balm for one night of America’s immediate identity crisis.

Chappelle’s monologue was so good, it reminded us — and even SNL maybe — of the power of the show and the live TV medium in times as these, setting forth the momentum that led to the attention and ratings dominance SNL enjoyed.

Four days before the election, Dave Chappelle committed to hosting. This was his triumphant return, the first we’d see of Chappelle on a national stage since his famed abdication as The Comedic Cultural Commentator. He’d host the show four days after the election on exciting live TV at SNL, the place known for political satire. The stage was in proportion with the return of a great like Chappelle.

Then Donald Trump wins the presidency. He has a record of sexual abuse allegations and racially motivated business decisions. He called our southern neighbors rapists and said many other hurtful things. Even for his supporters, Trump is a political anomaly. His appeal to his base is precisely his uncouth, unpolished, unorthodox demeanor and lack of decorum. Not only did Trump challenge our identity of the president, but the nation.

America has an inescapably horrific past and present. But, as uneven as it might be, there has been (some, slow) progress. Even after how contentious and divisive President Barack Obama’s time in office was, his presence allowed us to believe we were getting better at being together.

Fast forward to Trump’s victory and everyone having a full-blown identity meltdown — weeping Clinton supporters, shocked moderates and Never-Trump Republicans, angry white men (and 53 percent of white women) spiraling in a life with a bunch of privilege after living a life of unfettered privilege now cheering on a president with a kind of identity that no one has ever seen. Everyone was unrecognizable to everyone else.

Well, except for black people. Chappelle choosing to host the Saturday after the election seems like smart TV programming and self promotion. I wonder what he had ready for a Clinton victory, what would be the first woman president (SNL did not have a live show when Obama won, instead airing replays of campaign sketches).

But Chappelle could have returned a million times on stages equally large or bigger. His decision to host SNL that specific night had nothing to do with ramping up his comedic comeback. It was his feeling that Clinton would not win.

This was Chappelle’s return, the circumstances — not the stage but what he would be talking about — needed to warrant his resurfacing. In his eyes, a racist, sexist overbearing white man had one of the two party nominations and was running against a woman. It was a wrap. He then decided to talk to America. Not to yell at people. But to calmly appeal to his country.

In retrospect, the election seems almost obvious. Chappelle saw it at the time, which speaks to his insight and blackness.

“I did suspect it,” Chappelle said of Trump’s win in his monologue, “I know the whites.”

One time we come together as a nation, putting aside our petty biases to listen to and emotionally care for each other is in the aftermath of large-scale disaster or tragedy. Horrifyingly, mass shootings don’t quite qualify.

“There are other things going on,” Chappelle reminds us, “all of these mass shootings, what do you think about that?”

Reaction to Trump’s election, for at least half of the country, was reminiscent of collective tragedy trauma. When Chappelle was introduced, he walks out to a loving, lasting ovation celebrating him and his return, but also as a plea — we’re so confused and scared, please make us laugh and reassure us. It’s one of the few circumstances in which a black man could be completely honest, even casually curse (thank you, SNL, for being chill). 

Chappelle stepped out wearing a coat with the iconic Chappelle Show C on his right arm, bringing us back to calmer times (yes, the Bush presidency). He then smacks us with his bluntness, his fearlessness of topic.

He talks about the rare sensation for blacks of seeing near-universal white rage, saying he can only think of the OJ verdict as a parallel. He talks seeing the mainly white riot in Portland causing $1 million in damages.

“Amateurs,” Chappelle jokes.

There is no animus. No comparing and contrasting and finger pointing — not that such things would be unreasonable. He just doesn’t do it. It’s stupendously gracious.

After more requisite silliness, after he assuages our anxiety, he then began sharing his non-joke thoughts. He tells the story of a party in the Obama White House.

“It was hosted by BET,” Chappelle said  “everyone there was black.” At this, there is a patter of people laughing at the statement ‘everyone was black.’ Chappelle pauses and looks up right at them.

He goes on to talk about his days growing up in Washington D.C., catching the bus and dreaming about a night at the White House. He talks about everybody — everybody — being black, “except for Bradley Cooper, for some reason,” Chappelle jokes, still being a little funny, his natural state. He speaks about how amazingly beautiful the sight of happy, cavorting black people in the White House was. It sounds so beautiful it’s hard for me to imagine.

He reflects on seeing the pictures of the previous presidents hanging on the walls, running down the kind of history that isn’t surprising but the details of which still hurt to the core — black people in the White House. He tells of Fredrick Douglas needing President Abraham Lincoln to escort him in and of Theodore Roosevelt receiving so much flak for allowing a black person in that he vowed to never allow another in.

Extreme black hatred is just part of our history. We can’t ignore it and Chappelle won’t. But, instead of dwelling on that, he concentrates on the beautiful black faces around him in the White House of a black president.

“It made me feel hopeful and proud to be an American,” said Chappelle. “In that spirit, I’m wishing Donald Trump luck.”

Even with our history and Trump’s ascendence feeling like it continues the worst of it, Chappelle’s response is not rage toward Trump. 

Maybe the black perspective of Dave Chappelle was needed specifically because of Trump’s racialized campaign. But, really, that tends to be the tenor of any large scale or successful American campaign, political or otherwise.  

Whats astonishing is the black is still standing, still here. And, somehow, loves her home, is proud of being American and her heritage. Ta-Nehisi Coates (of course) perfectly sums up this black perspective in The Atlantic:

"The greatest renditions of this country’s greatest anthems are all sung by black people—Ray, Marvin, Whitney. That is neither biology nor a mistake. It is the necessary cosmopolitanism of a people, viewing America from the basement and thus forced to take their lessons when they get them—absorbing, reinterpreting, refining, creating."

So, looking up, through our shared history of horror at the regrettable aspects of Trump’s campaign, Dave Chappelle references what he’s absorbed before and turns it into compassion, well-wishing and American pride.

It’s what black people have always done, for ourselves and our nation. The country needed Chappelle to apply this black perspective as a salve for our intensified divisions. At least, for one night.

Next: Emmys 2017: Why Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg should win

In short: Dave Chappelle really, really deserves his Emmy statue.