SNL on blackface: ‘It was never funny or cool’
Why do blackface scandals keep happening? “Saturday Night Live” sought to answer that very question following a week in which Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and the state’s attorney general, Mark R. Herring (D), admitted to wearing blackface in the past.
SNL focused its sketch on a meeting at the Virginia State Capitol, where a frustrated ethics committee chairman (played by Kenan Thompson) tried diligently to get ahead of any other potential scandals.
“It’s extremely embarrassing to the state,” Thompson’s character lamented. “And as chair of the ethics committee, I have to ask: Has anybody else worn blackface in college?”
The state officials in the room exchanged nervous glances. “This is completely off the record,” Thompson assured them.
One official, played by Pete Davidson, asked the chairman if he would get mad were one of them to admit to wearing blackface.
“I won’t get mad,” Thompson said. “I just need to know.”
Davidson’s character confessed he once dressed up as Mr. T and, yes, he took pictures.
“Well, that’s not good,” Thompson told him. “But you did the right thing coming forward.”
Another official (Beck Bennett) chimed in with a question: “What if the blackface was just part of your costume of a black person?” he asked.
Thompson’s character appeared to steel himself. “You see, Tom, that’s the exact kind of thing that we’re looking for here today.”
He took another question, from an official played by Cecily Strong: “Does it count if you did it all the way back in the ’80s?”
“Of course not, it was funny and cool in the ’80s,” her colleague (Kyle Mooney) volunteered before Thompson’s character vehemently disagreed: “It does still count, and it was never funny or cool.”
“What if you wore the blackface as a tribute, like an homage to your hero?” another official wondered.
“Who was your hero?” Thompson asked.
It was Al Jolson, the entertainer who rose to fame in the early 1900s as he frequently performed in blackface.
“Okay, well then I would file that as very, very wrong.” “But it was the ’80s,” Mooney insisted. “I don’t even know what that means,” Thompson shot back.
The questions got more ridiculous — and hypothetical from there — and they included a tongue-in-cheek joke from host (and musical guest) Halsey, who asked: “What if you’re half-black?”
Thompson’s character assumed Halsey was asking about someone who is biracial (the singer, born Ashley Frangipane, is the daughter of a white mother and black father). No, she replied, she was wondering about the time she dressed as “both Michael Jacksons” with just half of her face painted black.
“No, no more blackface!” Thompson declared before asking the seven officials in the room to raise their hands if they had worn blackface in the ’80s — or ’90s. Everyone raised their hand. “Well, I advise you all to delete any Facebook photo labeled Halloween and hope for the best,” Thompson said before making a quick exit.
Singer Halsey took part in a skit confronting the Virginia scandal.