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Friday, June 18, 2021

Commentary: Elon Musk hosted SNL, but why?

The Tesla CEO has nothing to do with SNL, and is another example of the show’s controversial clout-chasing

The announcement that Elon Musk was to host Saturday Night Live (SNL) on May 8 was the straw that broke this particular camel’s back. This has more to do with my extreme disappointment in SNL and Lorne Michaels’ (the producer and creator of the show) integrity than my own personal hatred for Musk. First, we must ask, why did SNL, a sketch comedy show where hosts often go on to promote their newest entertainment endeavor, have a CEO with no background in entertainment or comedy—unless you count his Twitter account—host the show? The only logical explanation for having a tech-based billionaire who is constantly shrouded in controversy on the show is Michaels’ clout chasing—it seems that man will do anything for ratings. 

The show has been experiencing a significant dip in ratings for the past few years, and having people like Musk and then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump on the show are just one of the many tricks to get ratings up, no matter how unfunny the content of the show is. Just as in Musk’s case, there was no other reason for Trump to be on this liberal-leaning, NBC-owned comedy show other than getting some of the best ratings in years. Are the views and publicity worth abandoning any morality the show might have had, and making much of the cast incredibly uncomfortable? Apparently to Micheals it’s all worth it. 

Among those in the cast who signaled at their disinterest in having the Tesla CEO on the show are Bowen Yang, Aidy Bryant and Andrew Dismuke—who all took to social media commenting on Musk’s “eccentric” tweets, or calling his wealth a “moral obscenity.” If anyone is somehow unaware of Musk’s antics on the internet, and particularly on Twitter, brace yourselves. He has done it all on that app, from making fun of people who provide their pronouns on their profile, questioning and belittling the severity of COVID-19 and a myriad of middle-school level jokes that led him to be removed as Chairman of his company. 

While some may applaud Musk for addressing his controversy on Twitter during his SNL monologue, it was clear that this was in no way intended to be an apology, nor some form of ownership or understanding of all the harmful things he has said to his 53.7 million followers. Musk did just what he was there to do—get the show’s ratings up, not to prove himself as an actor or likable public figure. The entire internet and countless news outlets were buzzing leading up to his episode’s premiere, and that only intensified as it aired, with little to no focus on the actual content of the show, as that was in no way newsworthy. 

No matter how hard it was, I truly attempted to ignore the entirety of the context surrounding Musk on SNL as I watched the episode. Needless to say, it was not good let alone funny. The best way to describe every time Musk was involved in a skit was tense, as the acting was extremely sub-par (trying my best to be nice) and the premise of some of the skits were extremely tired—most notably, the “Gen Z Hospital” jab at internet slang, which is simply an appropriation of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), but that’s a whole different story. This was the kind of SNL episode where one hopes and prays that Weekend Update might have some good guest characters to perhaps save the show from its host—and Ego Nwodim did just that with her sad Disney adult segment on an otherwise yawn-inducing Weekend Update (looking at you, Colin Jost). 

This brings us to perhaps the clearest and most consistent form of “clout-chasing” the show’s producer has given into: keeping Pete Davidson as a cast member for the past 7 years. It is clear to anyone who has seen any of Davidson’s skits, cameos in other shows or movies and of course his semi-autobiographical starring role in “King of Staten Island” that he is only able to play one thing—himself. Davidson adds little to nothing as a comedian on SNL, but what Davidson lacks in talent, he makes up for in controversy and tabloid cover-making drama. Davidson began as the Weekend Updates “Resident Young Person,” and has not grown much past that dazed “Chad-bro” aesthetic, so maybe it’s time to move onward and upward (and away from SNL). 

Perhaps the most upsetting thing about the lingering of Davidson on the show is not Michaels’ desperate attempts to keep ratings up, but the persistence of white male mediocrity within this cast—cue Weekend Update co-host, Harvard-alumni and husband to Scarlett Johansson, Colin Jost. The entire point of this show is to make audiences laugh, and it has stood the test of time because it evolves and adapts as the years go on, but something about those types of cast members who produce more laughs with their controversy and awkwardness with risky subjects (Jost and Michael Che’s joke swaps) doesn’t sit right. Jost has skidded by with his fratty demeanor and bland punchlines, just as Davidson has made it by breaking almost every time he is in a skit, while there are exceptionally funny cast members getting entirely overshadowed by these mediocre, outdated dudes. 

Perhaps I just have far too much of an emotional investment in SNL, and a personal vendetta against Lorne Michaels, but I feel it is necessary to ask the bare minimum of this show; which is to simply be funny. Save the hosting for those within the entertainment industry, prioritize having a cast that brings in laughs over tabloid stories (yes, this is a jab at Pete Davidson), and maybe even get a fresh face running the show (this is a big request). Billionaire CEOs, presidential candidates or any other unfunny public figure who is constantly in the news do not belong on Saturday Night Live. 
Written by: Angie Cummings — arts@theaggie.org

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