Bowen Yang made headlines this year for being the first Chinese American cast member on “Saturday Night Live.” If Saturday was any indication, he’ll continue making headlines for a long, long time. In the midst of a lackluster episode, his brief appearance on Weekend Update offered some desperately needed laughs — and exposed one of the show’s long-held weaknesses.

SNL’s lack of diversity has long been an issue. Putting aside the basic ethical and moral problems inherent in that, the show’s lack of diversity had an immediate practical effect: It has often impeded what characters the live show can portray. The problem was so blatant, in fact, that the show took aim at itself in 2013 when Kerry Washington played a series of prominent black women in the same sketch. As Soraya Nadia McDonald wrote for The Washington Post at the time:

The show opened with Washington playing Michelle Obama, who suddenly had to leave so that Oprah Winfrey could visit with the president. Kerry reappeared as Winfrey, then dashed backstage to morph into Beyoncé, while appearing appropriately put out with all the dashing being asked of her.
During the skit, “SNL” superimposed this statement:
The producers at “Saturday Night Live” would like to apologize to Kerry Washington for the number of black women she will be asked to play tonight. We made these requests both because Ms. Washington is an actress of considerable range and talent and also because “SNL” does not currently have a black woman in the cast. As for the latter reason, we agree that this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the near future … unless of course, we fall in love with another white guy first.

Until recently, the show struggled with depicting almost any public figures who weren’t white. Yang’s hilarious Weekend Update segment highlights how much we’ve missed out on over the years.

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Michael Che set the segment up, announcing “Next week, China is set to visit the White House and discuss this ongoing trade war. Here to comment is Chinese trade representative Chen Biao.” Cue a besuited and bespectacled Yang, who brought along a picnic basket of attitude. He opens by speaking in Chinese, prompting Che to ask if he speaks English.

“Yes. Fluently. And that’s what’s called a power move,” Yang’s Biao answers, before screaming “WHAT’S UP CHE?!”

Throughout the sketch, Yang masterfully modulated his voice and tone, always poking fun at whatever Che asks him. When Che wonders if he’s stressed out because of the ongoing trade war, Yang becomes almost coquettish when he says, “You guys increase taxes on our imports. We increase taxes on yours. Meanwhile, I’m in the middle of it all, and you know I hate the attention. JK! I’m balling out right now, cuz I’m the top tariff taskmaster.”

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A surprised Che says what everyone’s thinking: “I gotta say, this is not the attitude I expected from a top Chinese government official.”

“Yeah, well, I’m running tariffs, so this is my time. I’m having my moment. I’m basically the Lizzo of China right now,” he replies. “And turns out I’m 100 percent that trade daddy.”

Embedded in the over-the-top performance is some sharp political satire, the exact sort missing from the tired cold open, which did a fine job of reminding us of the week’s headlines but didn’t really add anything to them. Here, the show has fun with news while trying to make some salient points.

Che skeptically asks Yang’s Biao whether China can keep the trade war going on forever, and Biao assures him it would be no problem. “You need us more than we need you, because we can survive without your movies starring the Rock, but good luck without iPhones. How are you gonna text us in the middle of the night like, ‘You up? Can you investigate Joe Biden for me?’ Stupid.”

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Che then points out that Americans fear the trade war might cause a recession and wonders whether China feels the same way. You guessed it — they sure don’t. “No way, fam. In fact, we just waived our tariff on American soybeans, so save some of your tempeh for us, MacKenzie!” Who’s MacKenzie, you might ask? Biao doesn’t know either. Probably “some sophomore at Vassar who, like, drinks out of a metal straw and it’s such a performance.”

Finally, Biao just says, “This trade war is tit-for-tat, baby, and in China we got some tig ol’ bitties. I’m talking back pain. … Look Don Don, you wanna play ball with Big Red? We actually built our wall. And you can see ours from space. And we measure time in dynasties, and you measure it in seasons of ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’”

The bit was brief, funny and took some clever satirical shots. This might be an obvious statement, but it’s an important one: Before Yang joined the cast, they never could have staged it. If the bit taught us anything, though, it’s that we’re going to see a lot more of Yang in the coming weeks, and we can’t wait.

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