Last week, Jewish comedian Amy Schumer hosted “Saturday Night Live” in what was a beautiful display of hilarity and Jewish joy. As I wrote soon after, it was amazing for me to be in the live audience of an episode which so clearly pushed back against high profile instances of antisemitism.
Unfortunately, I, and the Jewish community, was only able to ride that high for a week.
On the most recent episode of the live show, comedian Dave Chappelle took over hosting duties and seemingly exchanged his trademark transphobia for a new flavor of hatred: antisemitism.
“I denounce antisemitism in all its forms. And I stand with my friends in the Jewish community,” Chappelle began his monologue while reading off a piece of paper before adding, “And that, Kanye, is how you buy yourself some time.”
The audience broke into raucous applause.
For nearly the majority of his abnormally long 15-minute monologue, Chappelle went on to talk about Kanye West and Kyrie Irving — both in the news in the past few weeks for making and boosting antisemitic ideas — with the central thesis of his jokes playing into the antisemitic trope that Jews run Hollywood.
I’m not going to quote Chappelle’s entire monologue (though you can watch it here, if you can stomach it). But here are some of the lowlights:
- “It’s a big deal, he had broken the show business rules. You know, the rules of perception. If they’re Black, then it’s a gang. If they’re Italian, it’s a mob. If they’re Jewish, it’s a coincidence and you should never speak about it.”
- “Kanye got in so much trouble that Kyrie got in trouble. This is where I draw the line. I know the Jewish people have been through terrible things all over the world, but you can’t blame that on Black Americans.”
- “I’ve been to Hollywood and — no one get mad at me — I’m just telling you what I saw. It’s a lot of Jews. Like a lot. But that doesn’t mean anything! You know what I mean? Because there are a lot of Black people in Ferguson, Missouri, it doesn’t mean we run the place.”
- “I could see if you had some kind of issue, you know what I mean, you might go out to Hollywood and your mind might start connecting some lines and you could maybe adopt the delusion that the Jews run show business. That’s not a crazy thing to think. But it’s a crazy thing to say out loud.”
- “It shouldn’t be this scary to talk about anything. It’s made my job incredibly difficult and to be honest with you, I’m getting sick of talking to a crowd like this. I love you to death and I thank you for your support and I hope they don’t take anything away from me. Whoever they are.”
There are already plenty of in-depth pieces which have unpacked what Dave Chappelle said. I’m not going to do that. I’m tired of hearing about and thinking about antisemitism, especially when it pits the Black community and the Jewish community against one another (and ignores the fact that there are Black Jews).
But my very general take is that I don’t really care whether or not Chappelle’s intent was to be antisemitic. I think he was trying to toe the line between downplaying Kanye and Kyrie’s actions and making some boring social commentary about Jews in America, the effect of which was to show viewers, and antisemites, that it’s OK to start saying the quiet part out loud about Jews and dictate to us what is or isn’t antisemitic.
Based on Twitter, it seems like a lot of Jews and allies are feeling the same way:
Dave Chappelle's SNL monologue (which felt a little too "tee-hee, you can't even say the Jews control the media anymore these days" to me) had a line about how Adidas dropped Kanye "immediately," which…no, they didn't? They dropped him after two weeks of public pressure
— Bonnie Stiernberg (@aahrealbonsters) November 13, 2022
That Dave Chappelle SNL monologue probably did more to normalize anti-Semitism than anything Kanye said
— Adam Feldman (@FeldmanAdam) November 13, 2022
Ok! Since my son’s synagogue preschool has amped up security and New Jersey’s temples were evacuated this month, here’s a test to see if a funny joke is anti-Semitic: If you replace “Jewish people” with another race is it racist? Are you making a uniquely terrifying time cute? https://t.co/BXs0bK6iMt
— Bess Kalb (@bessbell) November 13, 2022
We have to address harmful comments from people with large platforms, AND there is a real danger when we make Black celebrities the face of antisemitism in America. It becomes an inaccurate, and racist, cover for the white supremacist ideologies targeting Jews and Black people
— Rebecca Pierce #SaveSilwan (@aptly_engineerd) November 13, 2022
It's no surprise that Chappelle used his platform on SNL to minimize Kanye and Kyrie's anti semitism and tell antisemitic jokes. Transphobia and antisemitism are nearly a perfect circle in a Venn diagram. When someone tells you who they are, believe them.
— Alejandra Caraballo (@Esqueer_) November 13, 2022
i can’t walk into the synagogue i grew up in without first being stopped with a metal detector wand, having my name checked off on a list, and having the door to the sanctuary unlocked from the inside for me to pray, but yeah good point there *are* a lot of jews in hollywood! https://t.co/725TeeO5QW
— naomi 🏳️🌈 (@baloneyspumoni) November 13, 2022
You know who gets to say what is and isn’t anti-Semitic? Jews. No one else.
— Alex Edelman (@AlexEdelman) November 13, 2022
Here we have yet another full-blown Nazi on Twitter, and also one who should give Chappelle some pause about his monologue last night pic.twitter.com/Liq34huRsY
— Brian Hiatt (@hiattb) November 13, 2022
But like I said, I’m tired of hearing and thinking about antisemitism. Instead, I’m focusing on some bright spots from this week’s episode of SNL. First, that it seems as though some writers boycotted the episode due to Chappelle’s numerous previous instances of transphobia. And second, that Jewish cast member Sarah Sherman and nonbinary cast member Molly Kearney had some truly standout and actually hilarious moments.
Here’s Sarah’s new “Weekend Update” bit:
And here’s Molly’s appearance in the Please Don’t Destroy video entitled “Election Night”:
So there you have it, some funny moments to get you through what seems to be a never-ending news cycle of “Is This Antisemitic?” (If you have to ask, the answer is probably yes.)