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Elon Musk's Saturday Night Live Episode Brought Out the Show's Worst Habits

Comedy Reviews Saturday Night Live
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Elon Musk's <i>Saturday Night Live</i> Episode Brought Out the Show's Worst Habits

It was obvious that Elon Musk hosting Saturday Night Live was a mistake from the moment it was announced. Not just because Musk is a controversial figure with a history of irresponsible social media posts and embarrassing public behavior who has violated federal labor law and is deeply disliked by many potential viewers, but also because he was clearly unqualified. He’s a non-actor known for being extremely unfunny, and although some might snipe that that actually makes him a good fit for the SNL of today, those of us who actually watch the show and see how its talented cast can struggle to make an episode work with a legitimate performer could see the disaster that was coming. And make no mistake: the episode was an almost complete disaster.

It was predictable because SNL has one basic strategy when it comes to a host who isn’t a performer: it makes almost every sketch about their real-life persona. Elon Musk was basically playing Elon Musk in every sketch, whether it was as the mission control leader of a manned trip to Mars, or as a 19th century cowboy who kept pitching convoluted Muskian solutions to straight-forward problems. It was essentially a one-joke episode, and that one joke wouldn’t be good or funny or smart even if it was being told by somebody who has even an iota of comic skill.

In the rare sketch where Musk wasn’t just basically playing himself, the show rested on another crutch: the old “can you believe we got this famous person to do this?” move that is transparently engineered to get viral clicks the morning after. They do that because it often works in getting attention—no site is immune to the allure of cheap and easy traffic, unfortunately—but it rarely ever works at actually being funny. SNL’s Wario sketch was no exception; underwritten and overperformed by everyone not named Musk, it wouldn’t have worked even with an actual performer in the central role. With the charisma void that is Musk playing Wario it turned into a black hole of comedy that broke all the rules of space-time and somehow felt longer than the entire episode itself.

The less said about “Gen Z Hospital” the better.

This was one of those SNL episodes where the sketches were so uniformly bad that Weekend Update probably seemed better than it actually was. It was an oasis of competence in a show in dire need of it. Ego Nwodim particularly tried hard to right the ship in her Update segment; she was the highlight of the whole show. Of course even the fake news couldn’t escape Musk’s gravity; he appeared in a terrible bit that was basically an ad for dogecoin, and which apparently hurt the value of the cryptocurrency that Musk is a vocal supporter of.

If Musk’s personal stock hadn’t already tanked in the eyes of many, this disastrous SNL appearance probably would’ve had the same impact. It was a cynical bit of stunt-casting and unsurprisingly brought out the worst in SNL. It boosted the show’s ratings, of course, but it’s hard to imagine this episode, and these specific sketches, convincing anybody who doesn’t regularly watch to tune in again any time soon.