The funniest moments in Dave Chappelle’s recent comedic history began with a folded piece of paper. Standing before an excited Saturday Night Live audience this weekend, the comedian announced that he’d prepared a statement. Unfolding the mysterious sheet, he proceeded to read the same sort of hollow statements released by countless embattled famous folk.
"I denounce antisemitism and all its forms, and I stand with my friends in the Jewish community,” he said, his words accompanied by his theatrically raised eyebrows. “And that, Kanye, is how you buy yourself some time."
A reference to the eventful saga of Kanye’s recent antisemitic remarks, the bit is as cynical as it is piercing. It’s a micro-referendum on the concept of systematic public forgiveness, the idea that concerns about attitudes, actions, and beliefs can be momentarily assuaged with by-the-numbers non-apologies written by crafty but lazy PR teams. With a couple of vague platitudes, you can reup on goodwill as if it's sold in an app store—and Dave knows it.
Observations like those are at the core of Chappelle’s third and most recent SNL monologue, an opening set that represents his funniest material in more than half a decade. It’s a welcome reprieve from all that other stuff. You know what I’m talking about. Over the course of 15 minutes, he talked Ye, Donald Trump, anti-semitism, Russia’s war on Ukraine, and more, threading each subject with cartoonish theatricality and a sniper’s instinct for timing. Pairing surrealistic imagery with bits of cold truth, the 49-year-old comedy legend contextualized the totality of the bizarre and the hidden absurdity in the mundane.
Chappelle left his empty diatribes in the past, sticking to the utility of his medium and bringing out some of his best work.
Remembering a key debate in the 2016 presidential election, he reflected on the paradox of Trump, a billionaire who raged against the system before admitting to further perpetuating the same economic corruption he spoke out against. A bit later, Chappelle gave props to the hopelessly outnumbered Ukraine military, which he quipped was defeating Russia with nifty booby traps from Home Alone. He called Georgia Senate hopeful Herschel Walker "observably stupid." Discussing Kanye, he injected precise pauses into his monologue, accentuating the outlandishness of using a 3 a.m. tweet to declare war on an entire ethnic group. Continuing that thread of thought, he also recapped Yeezy’s latest ill-advised interview on Drink Champs.
“He said, ‘I can say anti-semitic things and Adidas can’t drop me,” Chappelle recalled before waiting a beat. “Adidas dropped that n-gga immediately.”
Chappelle was direct, succinct and mostly comprehensive. He left the half-baked jokes of his previous specials behind. There are no clumsy metaphors designed to make ill-conceived points. At the end, he veers off into some of his monotonous commentary about comedy and the freedom of speech, but it’s more tolerable as a tangent rather than the fulcrum of a routine.
That said, there are moments when you wonder just which side of the line Chappelle stands when it comes to conspiracies regarding the Jewish community. At points of his monologue, it could be argued that he’s equivocating for folks who don’t need it. In passive-aggressive fashion, he seems to suggest Kanye is pointing out some basic truths about Jewish people’s position in American business. But in the same time span, he explains the ominous connotation of the phrase “the Jews” and uses a Kyrie Irving joke to make fun of Holocaust denialists.
He’s got enough counter jokes to make a nominal argument that he’s against antisemitism, but giving credence to arcane theories of Jewish dominance isn’t exactly helpful. It’s the lone flaw in a monologue that winks, but never snarls. For this one, Chappelle left his empty diatribes in the past, sticking to the utility of his medium and bringing out some of his best work. He let his wisecracks speak for him, and sometimes, a good joke is the best statement you can make.