Elon Musk is hosting Saturday Night Live next week, because of course he is.
Many people have voiced valid complaints about the billionaire, Tesla CEO, and human embodiment of the “how do you do, fellow kids” meme getting invited to host NBC’s ancient comedy show. CNN’s Dean Obeidallah runs down Musk’s history of Covid denialism and his transphobic tweets, and Marketwatch’s Mike Murphy recounts social media criticism of Musk’s “online bullying of critics” and financial improprieties, amid other allegations. Even some SNL cast members have made cryptic social media posts that might refer to the news, including Aidy Bryant and Bowen Yang.
There’s great reason to criticize the show for asking Musk to host. This is the guy, after all, who called a diver trying to rescue children stuck in a Thai cave a pedophile solely because the diver pointed out why Musk’s rescue plan wouldn’t work. This is a guy whose already sizable fortune grew massively during a pandemic that he openly downplayed. This is the CEO who briefly hurt his own company’s stock by smoking pot on Joe Rogan’s podcast in some inexplicable attempt to seem cool. For a billionaire who purports to be a genius, Elon Musk’s public persona is deeply immature, embarrassing, and unlikable, and that’s without taking into account his anti-union stance or the emotional neglect alleged by his first wife.
As a fabulously wealthy public figure who openly courts the Reddit and 4Chan shitposters of the world as his fanbase, Musk should be a target of SNL, not an invited guest. That’s what many people seem to think, at least, which is well-intentioned but more baffling than the show inviting Musk in the first place. As legitimately bad of an idea as it is to give Musk this endorsement, it shouldn’t be remotely surprising that SNL would do so. In fact, it might be the most predictable thing the show has done so far this year.
The reason comes down, as you might expect, to a guy named Trump. SNL has long invited buzzy public figures who aren’t entertainers on to host the show in a transparent bid for ratings and mainstream coverage—Rudy Giuliani, Al Gore, John McCain, Steve Forbes, and Jesse Jackson have all hosted, as well as a Hall of Fame’s worth of athletes—but inviting Trump on was a point of no return. Once the show had him host while he was running an openly racist and hateful presidential campaign, any possible surprise or indignation over future SNL hosts was preemptively negated. Lorne Michaels hit the bottom back on that November night back in 2015, and it’s hard to see his show ever outdoing the level of rank cynicism and casual disregard for society that it lived down to that night. Musk is a boring, annoying drip full of bad ideas and with the resources and public platform to do genuine harm to the real world, but as far as I know he’s not race-baiting and flirting with fascism the way Trump did. Musk’s bad, but he’s no Trump.
It’s impossible to envision Musk actually being entertaining or enjoyable on SNL. His presence alone, and what he represents, will instantly taint every sketch he’s in. The show itself, though, is still so thoroughly, irredeemably tainted by Trump that the very bad idea of having Musk host won’t really leave much of an impression. It will get copious amounts of mainstream attention, though, which is what SNL and NBC are clearly hoping for. (And yes, unfortunately, Paste will be part of that problem. But then we cover the show every week, no matter who’s hosting.)
Acting like Musk hosting SNL is at all surprising, or uniquely damaging to the show or its reputation, ignores SNL’s long history of courting controversial hosts for ratings and buzz. It’s not a good decision, but it’s a very predictable one, and based on the amount of digital column inches devoted to it already, two weeks before the episode airs, it’s doing exactly what Michaels and NBC hoped it would, something that wouldn’t happen if any old actor, musician or comedian were hosting this episode: it’s getting SNL a lot of quick, easy, and, yes, cynical press coverage. As long as it keeps on working, Lorne Michaels will keep on doing this.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.