“Maybe not from a moral standpoint,” he admitted. “But mathematically, if you were constructing a joke, this has all the ingredients you need. The problem is, it’s almost too funny. Like, it’s so on the nose. It would be like if I were making fun of people who wear belts and my pants just immediately fell down.”
Co-anchor Colin Jost confirmed the cast and writers were overwhelmed by the explosive news cycle this week, which culminated early Friday morning with the news Trump and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for the novel coronavirus. SNL, which returned for its 46th season on Saturday, was back in Studio 8H at 30 Rockefeller Plaza for the first time since the start of the pandemic (with strict coronavirus protocols in place and a small, masked studio audience made up of first responders).
“This news was a lot for us to process a day before we came back on the air after four months off,” Jost said, before adding, “It’s been very weird to see all these people who clearly hate Trump come out and say, ‘We wish him well.’ I think a lot of them are just guilty that their first wish came true.”
Che continued to express disbelief at the situation: “Is anyone surprised by this? I honestly thought Trump was trying to get coronavirus. I thought it was like ‘Groundhog Day’ when Bill Murray knew he couldn’t die and he was just trying anything. So all those maskless rallies Trump was having, that was him being safe?” he asked. “Look, I don’t want the president to die, obviously. Yeah, actually, I wish him a very lengthy recovery.”
Jost concluded by noting Trump released a video from the hospital Saturday evening and said he’s in better health. “Which is great news,” Jost said, “though I will point out that if the situation were reversed and it was Biden who got sick, Trump would 100 percent be at a maskless rally tonight getting huge laughs doing an impression of Biden on a ventilator. Just saying.”
While Che and Jost went all in during their segment, the cold open was focused on Tuesday’s presidential debate — though it quickly became apparent it was impossible to successfully parody something that was already such a train wreck. Jim Carrey made his debut as Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, while Alec Baldwin resumed his Emmy-winning role as Trump. Beck Bennett played ineffective moderator Chris Wallace, who kicked things off by saying “I think I’m going to do a really, really good job tonight” and ended with “Just to ensure this is the worst presidential debate in history, I’d like to close with white supremacy.”
Of course, things went off the rails immediately, with Trump interrupting constantly and Maya Rudolph making an appearance as Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), trying to referee the proceedings. “If there’s one thing we learned tonight, it’s that America needs a WAP: Woman As President,” she said, to many cheers. “But for now I’ll settle for HVPIC: Hot Vice President In Charge. So why don’t the two of you finish this debate, or whatever the hell this is, with some dignity? And when you’re done I’ve got you boys some PB&J and apple slices waiting for you backstage.”
There were also a few digs about Trump’s diagnosis, including Biden hitting the “pause” button on a remote control when the president started to let loose with another interruption, freezing him mid-sentence to much applause from the audience.
“Sorry, but I think we all needed a break. Isn’t that satisfying?” Biden asked. He then directed a message to America: “You can trust me because I believe in science. And karma. Now, just imagine if science and karma could somehow team up to send us all a message about how dangerous this virus can be.” He swung his head around to take an exaggerated look at Trump. “I’m not saying I want it to happen. Just imagine if it did.”
Right after the debate sketch, host Chris Rock kicked off his monologue by addressing “the elephant in the room”: “President Trump’s in the hospital from covid. And I just want to say, my heart goes out to covid.”
Rock went on to declare that in light of people renegotiating their relationships during the pandemic, it’s time for American citizens to renegotiate our relationship to the government. “It doesn’t work,” he said. “I mean, I think Joe Biden should be the last president ever. We need a whole new system … you realize there’s more rules to a game show than running for president? Like, Donald Trump left a game show to run for president because it was easier.”
He also urged people to vote and take the election seriously, even though he speculated the government doesn’t actually want people to vote, based on the fact Election Day is on a Tuesday in November. “Anybody here ever put something on a Tuesday in November? Does anybody get married on a Tuesday in November? Church ain’t on a Tuesday. Even Jesus avoids Tuesday. If this show was ‘Tuesday Night Live,’ it would have got canceled in 1975.”
Rock ended his monologue on a serious note, with a quote from writer James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.”
Though SNL had its fair share of Trump-centric digs, other notable moments from the premiere didn’t include any talk of the president. Musical guest Megan Thee Stallion made headlines for calling out Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, as concerns grow about how his office handled the Breonna Taylor case and the grand jury process, after two police officers who shot Taylor in her home were not indicted.
“We need to protect our Black women and love our Black women, because at the end of the day we need our Black women,” Megan said during her performance of “Savage.” “We need to protect our Black men and stand up for our Black men, because at the end of the day, we’re tired of seeing hashtags of our Black men.”
And in a blink-and-you-missed-it dedication that got a lot of attention on social media, Kate McKinnon showed up one more time as the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As the camera pulled away on “Weekend Update,” it panned to McKinnon as Ginsburg, saying nothing but looking somber as an image flashed on the screen that said “Rest in Power.”