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.

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