SNL is back in Studio 8H at 30 Rock amid our current situation. Jim Carrey’s Joe Biden impression dominated the cold-open (for better or worse), and host Chris Rock (who’s promoting Fargo) faced an almost impossible challenge: to land a funny monologue during unfunny times. He did so as well as possible (the Chris Farley coke joke would have amused Chris Farley) but somewhat politically, which was likely unavoidable because everything about this pandemic has turned political. However, the most notable moment of his monologue came in closing with a James Baldwin quote: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Baldwin, of course, is the author of several seminal works, including If Beale Street Could Talk, which was adapted in 2018 by Barry Jenkins, who landed a Best Screenplay Oscar nomination (with Regina King winning Best Supporting Actress). This profound ending to the monologue arrived in contrast to Rock’s earlier quip that probably should have been axed: “President Trump is in the hospital with COVID and I just want to say, my heart goes out… to COVID.”
From there, Rock pointed out the obvious, which is that “the world is insane right now.” He moved to the current trend of people assessing relationships at home, and he urged U.S. citizens to reassess their relationship with the government. “We’ve agreed in the United States that we cannot have kings,” Rock pointed out. “Yet we have dukes and duchesses running the Senate and the Congress making decisions for poor people.”
He’s not wrong there, and it’s certainly an atypical way to take an SNL monologue, but Rock took the stage during an atypical situation. “We need a whole new system,” he urged. Well, the Sunday morning commentary to that stance should really be something.