Not even Dave Chappelle could keep it together in a sketch that lampooned Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima and Pete Davidson’s lips on Saturday Night Live. The sketch, called “Uncle Ben,” featured a surprising number of guest stars usually saved for the show’s politically-themed cold opens. Alec Baldwin played an executive working for a company that was firing its racially insensitive mascots, while Maya Rudolph played one of those characters, Aunt Jemima. Kenan Thompson played the titular Uncle Ben, who quickly started fighting with Aunt Jemima about whose fault it was for their demise this year amid a new examination of racist tropes and characters in pop culture.
Chappelle’s brilliant monologue had just aired when the show went to commercial, then rejoined the broadcast with what basically looked like the comedian picking back up on his monologue on the SNL stage. Chappelle notably didn’t say the typical “we have a great show for you tonight” that introduces the musical guest, opting for a mic drop on his monologue capper. But his appearance on stage was to set the scene for the sketch.
“It’s been a long, hard time. I know a lot of people have lost their jobs. And that this climate has unfortunately made a lot of Black people lost their jobs,” Chappelle said. “This next piece is about two Black people who lost their jobs because of this social climate that we’re all trying to figure out. And sadly these two Black people may never get those jobs back.”
Chappelle showed up at the end of the sketch as the “Allstate guy,” which is actually actor Dennis Haysbert, who perhaps most famously played Pedro Cerrano in Major League. Haysbert is known for his deep voice, but when Chappelle tried to mimic it he immediately broke. Chappelle stood up angrily, slamming his hands on the table. But his lines never came: he laughed, turning away from the audience and the camera to try hiding his mistake. But his voice broke, too, and he couldn’t help but smile after saying “now wait a cotton-picking minute, Uncle Ben.”
Chappelle got it together, and actually gave a good impression of the actor. As did Pete Davidson, who as Count Chocula insisted he was not Black, just made of chocolate. But Chappelle not only broke character, he also broke the fourth wall, asking that people “look at Pete Davidson’s lips,” which got the SNL cast member to break and nearly lose the fake fangs he was wearing as the Count. Just like classic Chappelle’s Show sketches that helped make him a comedy superstar, the concept both brought attention to and made light of the concept of race. But this one took it to an absurd that even Chappelle couldn’t handle.