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Elon Musk's controversial SNL-hosting stint was mostly forgettable

  • The polarizing billionaire was used extensively throughout last night's Saturday Night Live, but "I think I can say with candor that no sketch was better or worse for his presence," says Daniel Fienberg. Musk's episode "was not good, but it wasn’t appreciably worse than four or five other episodes this season," says Fienberg. "And it wasn’t the worst example of my least favorite genre of Saturday Night Live episode — the 'Lorne Michaels’ Ego' or 'Grading on a Curve' category. It’s the Lorne Michaels’ Ego category because every once in a while the SNL mastermind likes to bring in a guest who isn’t an actor or musician with something to promote, but just a big name promoting their big name and promoting Michaels’ ability to get a big name on this big show. Then, in turn, because those people aren’t trained professionals, maybe we make fun of them for being wooden and amateurish, but nearly as often we grade on a curve — using euphemisms like 'surprisingly funny' or 'well-utilized' or 'good sport,' which I guess are ways of saying 'Didn’t accidentally fall off the stage, swear on live TV or expose his or her genitals.' Musk was not 'surprisingly funny.' He wasn’t 'well-utilized,' but since he didn’t seem like a bad sport, I’ll say that he seemed like a good sport, but really all I mean is that he wasn’t Donald Trump. Several of Musk’s limbs were capable of movement, he sometimes gave the impression of knowing how a punchline is supposed to sound and because he was born in South Africa, he will never be eligible to be President of the United States, so we’ve got that going for us. Musk still used the Saturday Night Live platform in basically the same way Trump did — namely as a light-hearted image cleanse, a cheerful deflection from all of the things people say about him because, to hear him say it, they just don’t understand him."


    • Critics who feared SNL would "humanize" Musk were onto something, but the show presented him as myth more than man: "In an oddly insistent way, much of the episode reiterated Musk as myth rather than man by having him play versions of his own persona," says Spencer Kornhaber, adding: "The episode that ultimately aired didn’t feel worth the fuss. It wasn’t offensive, redemptive, memorable, or even entertaining. Yet, as Trump’s history with SNL shows, the cloak of mildness and mediocrity can be useful for someone whose true influence has little to do with comedy or charm." Kornhaber goes on to say that "it’s worth remembering that Musk wields influence outside of hype. He commands billions in capital and has credible designs for transforming human civilization altogether. Yet when watching him perform sketches with little intrinsic comedic value but lots of self-referentiality, his true significance becomes obscured. He comes to feel like just a celebrity—someone who matters only because people feel that he matters. Critics aren’t wrong to say that this sort of portrayal can be dangerous. The reaction to the episode will cleave into the familiar clans of a culture war—fans and haters—when really the audience should be united in wariness. Musk could drop a rocket on any of our heads, whether we’re laughing at him or not."
    • SNL basically sucked up to Elon Musk: "Entire sketches were built around promoting his various brands," says Rob Sheffield. "SNL spoon-fed him chances to boost his likeability with cutely self-deprecating jokes, because Covid-denying, virus-boosting, union-busting billionaire activists, they’re just like us! ...The low point: Musk played a partygoer in a sketch about how awkward it is to have face-to-face conversations now that the pandemic is over. Except given that the pandemic isn’t over, and given the considerable role Musk played in spreading Covid denialism, casting him in this sketch as an innocent bystander was a far-from-bright idea. There was even a joke about Musk complaining when someone talks about their vaccination; given how long Musk spent denouncing the vaccines (it took him until April to concede this was a real disease), this was the dumbest moment in one of this century’s dumbest sketches. Off the suck-up charts, even by SNL standards."
    • Musk's episode was a gimmicky ratings grab -- but not a disaster: "The jokes hit a goodly number of Muskean topics and old tweets — Mars, cars, The Matrix smoking dope on Joe Rogan’s show, COVID-19 and cryptocurrency — without digging deep on any of them," says Robert Lloyd. "There is always the question in a show at least vestigially devoted to topical satire on how hard to poke the guest, and how much to flatter him. SNL was kind to Musk and his various pet projects — which is only polite, after all, though it reminds us as well that the show itself tends to bark more than bite, and not bark that loud at all. Michael Che’s 'Why are all these rich white people trying to go into space?' was as serious a question as the evening asked. Nothing about crashing Teslas, though, or the environmental impact of digital money."
    • Musk was the highlight of a mediocre SNL episode: "What was remarkable is that Musk — who, as far as I know, never so much as appeared in a high school production of Guys and Dolls — held his own with the more experienced cast," says Johnny Oleksinski, adding: "SNL head honcho Lorne Michaels was smart to bring on Musk now that the presidential election is long over and viewers aren’t staying home on Saturday nights as much while restrictions and curfews are lifted. The businessman, like him or not, reeled in viewers that hadn’t tuned into the show in years."
    • Musk was the worst host in SNL history: "Sure, you could make an argument that Donald Trump was worse," says Phil Owen. "From a moral standpoint, it’s hard to be worse than the guy who may end up causing the end of American democracy. There never has been and never will be a good reason for Trump’s SNL gigs — especially the one in 2015 when he was a presidential candidate. But at least Trump, if you can make yourself forget how terrible he is as a person, is such a clown that he’s got some level of entertainment value. He might be one of the worst people who’s ever lived, but at least he isn’t boring. And he undeniably has the personality of an entertainer. Elon Musk doesn’t have that. Nope. He’s just a black hole of fun, without a shred of charisma, and he delivered a performance that’s on the level of what you’d expect to see in a middle school play....This episode, though, felt like a bad episode with a bad host. Aside from that amusing digital short, there wasn’t a lot of good material here. A good host could have salvaged it. Elon Musk rushed through every single line so that it was hard to even understand what he was saying half the time, slipping from one accent to another seemingly without realizing he was doing it, and generally just being dramatically out of his league among the SNL cast members."
    • Musk wasn't an inept host, but the cast didn't seem like it was having fun: "He was capable enough at presenting a persona to the audience—a schtick, really, that he seems to have honed to perfection," according to Vanity Fair. "It’s a slightly shambling, self-satisfied awkwardness—a dorkiness that would be charming if it weren’t so obviously smug. In the history of weird SNL hosts, very many have been laughing throughout, in on the private joke that they have somehow ended up on SNL. But in Saturday’s episode, Musk seemed to be smirking throughout at a comedy no one else was in on. The episode strained towards its laugh lines; the cast seemed practically to sweat with the effort. The looseness and fluid humor that goes along with the cast having a good time was absent. It had its moments, but the episode wasn’t exactly fun." ....Musk didn’t need to be very funny or very entertaining in order to achieve likability; he just needed to be nonthreatening. In that, he succeeded admirably. We have much to worry about from the man who wants to implant microchips in our brains, but on SNL, Musk is simply a weird teen: space travel, internet memes, video game characters, jokes using '69' or '420.'"
    • Dave Chappelle tells Joe Rogan he was puzzled by the Musk SNL controversy: “No one is woke enough,” Rogan told Chappelle. “They can’t appreciate the fact that you’re dealing with one of the most brilliant men that’s ever lived.” Chappelle responded that he had hung out with Musk years ago after he quit Chappelle's Show. “Like you said, no one can be woke enough,” the comedian said. “I’m torn, because I like a warrior for a good cause, but I’m really into tactics. You’re not gonna nag people into behaving … In fact, if you continue with this tone, even if you’re right, you’ll be very hard to hear.”
    • Ranking every joke in Musk's monologue from "Actually Funny" to "Huh!"
    • Musk said he was the first SNL host with Asperger syndrome, which wasn't true: Twitter quickly pointed out that SNL alum Dan Aykroyd hosted in 2003 and he has said he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.
    • SNL spoofs Mare of Easttown with “Murder Durder" sketch starring Kate McKinnon as the Mare-inspired Kare
    • Dogecoin crashed 35% as Musk jokingly called the cryptocurrency "a hustle" and referenced it in multiple sketches
    • Four Tesla rivals aired electric vehicle commercials during Musk's SNL episode, including Ford, Volkswagen and Volvo
    • Musk tied with Adele for the third highest-rated episode of Season 46, behind Chris Rock's season opener and Dave Chappelle's post-election episode

    TOPICS: Elon Musk, NBC, Mare of Easttown, Saturday Night Live, Dan Aykroyd, Dave Chappelle, crypto currency, Ratings