Usually the recurring sketch has white guest hosts bumbling through questions alongside black contestants. More than a year ago, SNL took a slightly different approach, with Tom Hanks playing a white Trump supporter getting the answers right on “Black Jeopardy” in what was heralded as the best sketch of the year.
But Boseman’s turn on the fake game show this week may have outdone the Hanks sketch. Reprising T’Challa, accent and all, the Wakanda head of state kept getting the answers wrong. At times, it was downright silly. At others, the exchange offered an incisive comedic critique on black America’s reality vs. mythical Wakanda’s.
To “This is the reason your cable bill is in your grandmama’s name,” T’Challa chimes in: “What is, to honor her as the foundation of the family.”
“Hmm, that’s really nice,” Hayes says. “It’s wrong, but it’s really nice.”
On a question about where “you send your smart-[expletive] child here ’cause she thinks she grown,” T’Challa offers: “What is, to one of our great free universities, where she can apply her intelligence and perhaps one day become a great scientist.”
Finally, T’Challa gets this prompt: “The policeman says there’s been some robberies in your neighborhood and asks if you have ‘any information.’ ”
“What is, not only do I tell this man what I know, but I also assist him in tracking down the offender,” T’Challa says. “After all, our ministers of law enforcement are only here to protect us. Is this correct?”
“I mean,” Hayes scrunches up his face, “it should be? But I don’t think you’ve spent much time here in America.”
Boseman easily embodied the T’Challa we all saw on the big screen: the inherent air of nobility, the pride of his prosperous nation, the sense of justice to which he is called, his earnestness. It all added to the comedic contrast of the last exchange on the fake game show.
By then, T’Challa finally got the hang of it. To the prompt, “Your friend Karen wants to bring her potato salad to your cookout,” he asked some clarifying questions. “This woman, Karen, she is Caucasian, eh? She has her own recipe for potato salad?
“It is noble that she would volunteer to cook for everyone, and although I have never had potato salad,” he continues, “I sense that this white woman does not season her food.”
“That’s right,” Hayes says.
“And if she does, it is only with a tiny bit of salt, and no paprika.”
“No paprika,” Hayes affirms.
“And she will probably add something unnecessary, like raisins,” T’Challa says.
“I know, right?”
T’Challa emphatically yells for Karen to keep that bland potato salad to herself.
The sketch immediately got rave reviews and dominated the SNL-related chatter on Twitter.
It’s easy to plop pop-culture sensations into SNL sketches. Too often the gag is their mere presence.
But this time, the show managed to transcend the most obvious T’Challa jokes, make some biting observations and still end on a ridiculous note — the kind you may never have Black Panther do on the big screen.