When it comes to race, Saturday Night Live writers have historically teetered the lines between offensive and not enough. Most recently, skits like “Black Jeopardy” and “28 Reasons to Hug a Black Guy” have been criticized for the latter, so here, we rank 10 of SNL’s most recent Black-centric sketches to see how the show has faired on the funny and creativity meters. —Starrene Rhett-Rocque
1) Black JeopardyIn SNL’s take on the popular game show, with an African-American twist, "Black Jeopardy" incorporated categories like: On Punishment, Pssssh, White People, It’s Been a Minute and more. The skit featured host Donell Hayes (played by Kenan Thompson), contestants Amir (Jay Pharoah), Keeley (Sasheer Zameta) and Mark (Louis C.K.), a White African-American Studies professor well-versed in text book Black History but clueless about general Black cultural idiosyncrasies.
There were funny moments, like when the host read, “Had that Been Me I’d Still be hitting that,” to which Amir responds, “Who is Robin Thicke?” But overall, this skit was only funny in theory. In practice, "Black Jeopardy" was a trite regurgitation of redundant stereotypes, including, “C.P. Time,” and attempting to bait Mark to speak the N-word. Good idea, flat execution.
2) Kerry Washington Plays Michelle Obama, Beyonce and Oprah
Kerry Washington appeared on SNL in the midst of criticism of the show for not having any Black women in its ensemble. That point was craftily emphasized in this sketch, where Washington relieved Kenan Thompson of his usual drag duty by portraying First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah and Beyonce.
Writers made light of the situation with mid-skit dialogue, while Washington was changing costumes that issued an apology. Even Al Sharpton stepped in at the end to drive the point home that you probably didn’t really learn anything from the skit but because…race and Al Sharpton and live from New York…so, yeah. It was a clever way to address and apologize for a seriously frustrating situation.
3) Drake’s Bar MitzvahThe reimagining of Drake’s Bar Mitzvah, emphasizing his White Jewish-Canadian and African-American heritage was an obvious but good idea. The sketch provided a comical look at his family’s cultural differences with references to his two grandmothers—Bubby and Madear—and poked fun at financial literacy differences.
When his Black uncle gave him a check for $1,000, he was instructed not to cash it for 90 days, while his Jewish uncle kept it simple by giving him an $18 bond. The sketch came together at the end during a song that blended hip-hop with traditional Jewish sounds where Drake rapped, “I play ball like LeBron and I know what a W2 is,” while celebrating the fact that he’s happily Black and Jewish. It was like “Ebony and Ivory,” the remix.