It was right before midnight on a Saturday, but the appearance of Dave Chappelle and A Tribe Called Quest on “Saturday Night Live” was nothing short of a religious experience for their longtime fans. The beloved comic hosted NBC’s sketch comedy show with the legendary Queens group as musical guests to promote their new album We Got It From Here…Thank You For Your Service.
The service was clouded, maybe even necessitated by, a sense of communal loss. Tribe member Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor died in March, succumbing to diabetes complications. That was compounded by Tuesday’s election results where reality show personality and billionaire Donald Trump was elected the next President of the United States. And singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen passed days later. And in their best execution in maybe a decade, SNL tackled all of these topics and more with wit, heart and grey matter.
The cold open featured Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton performing Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” The lyrics to the somber hymn took on a stark reality in the wake of Clinton’s defeat, but McKinnon concluded by saying she would not give up, “and neither should you.”
Chappelle’s opening sermon was every bit as humorous and jarring as his stand up and monologues from his classic show. He of course spoke on the election results pointing out that he wasn’t that surprised because “I know the whites, you guys aren’t as full of surprises as you used to be.” Nevertheless, their shock and awe was fair game as he spoke on the “riots” in white enclaves like Portland, Oregon while reminding the audience that far worse things have happened this year, like the shootings at the Pulse Night Club and the Cincinnati Zoo.
“They shot a gorilla at my local zoo,” he said of Harambe, the gorilla that was shot to save a little boy who had fallen into his pen. “The Cincinnati Police said shooting that gorilla was the hardest decision they had to make. I said well, you about to see a lot of n*ggas in gorilla costumes in Cincinnati.”
Chappelle and the SNL cast captured the shock of election night as Democrats and liberals watched the electoral map go from an an asphyxiating blue to a blood read. Chris Rock was a surprise guest as he and Dave mocked the reactions of those who were blind to America’s racism before now.
In what was easily the comedy highlight of night, Chappelle answered the question of whether he’d resurrect any of his classic “Chappelle’s Show” characters for SNL. Inspired by the death of fan favorite Glen on AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” Chappelle took on the role of the evil leader Negan, and lined up his most beloved characters: Clayton Bigsby, Chuck Taylor, Lil Jon, Tyrone Biggums and Silky Johnson for summary execution.
The Walking Dead
No church service would be complete without a selection from the choir and A Tribe Called Quest performing “We The People” and “Space Program” from their new album was the anointing the congregation desperately needed. Even the leather jacket worn by Jarobi was adorned with the words “Stop Having Fun And Start Praying.” A mural unfurled of Phife when his verse from “We The People” started and you knew an angel got its wings.
And this portrait of the group huddled with Consequence and Busta Rhymes (who joined them for “Space Program”) captured the emotional weight of the night.
— watchLOUD (@watchLOUD) November 13, 2016
“It’s so scary to make a comeback,” Dave said before the credits rolled. “I don’t know what I would call it but I know it’s better not to come alone, thank you.”
You can watch the full episode here on NBC.com.