Saturday Night Live made a point of being an equal-opportunity offender in its first episode back after a two-week break. As usual, the cold open addressed the latest Donald Trump news — specifically the long-anticipated release of Robert Mueller’s report — and featured the return of Robert De Niro for the fifth, and likely final, time as Mueller. But the night’s first live sketch was a surprisingly savage take on Empire star Jussie Smollett, who was back in the news this week after Chicago prosecutors stunned the city and the entire nation by dropping all charges against him for allegedly staging his own attack. (Watch the sketch below.)
Entitled “Network Meeting,” the sketch opens in a boardroom where a trio of executives played by Mikey Day, Kate McKinnon and Ego Nwodim are seated alongside Kenan Thompson as Empire co-creator, Lee Daniels, and the night’s host, Sandra Oh, as Smollett’s manager. “Just give Jussie another chance,” Oh begs, trying to make them overlook the fact that her embattled client is two hours late to the meeting. “I just hope it’s not some crazy excuse,” Daniels remarks, with a sigh.
At that moment, Smollett (played by Chris Redd) bursts into the room, holding a plastic bag and wearing Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” hat. (Earlier in the week, Trump weighed in the prosecutors’ decision to drop disorderly conduct charges agains the actor, calling it, “an embarrassment to our nation.”) “Guys, you are not gonna believe what just happened to me,” he says, to groans of “Not again” in the room. “I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not that,” he says, before confirming their initial suspicions that he’s about to make another claim to having been attacked. “What is wrong with you, man?” Day’s executive remarks. “He means mentally,” Nwodim adds, sharply.
Unable to persuade them with his words, Smollett reaches into his plastic bag to reveal the evidence, and what it indicates about the identity of his attackers. “I think it’s a bag of clues,” he claims, pulling out a box of Crest Whitestrips, three oversized red Ks to spell out KKK and the purple member of the Teletubbies. “It’s the gay one,” he makes sure to point out. McKinnon’s executive then suggests calling the police, but that’s a no-go. “They said I could never call again as part of the deal,” Smollett says — a reference to the assumption in some quarters that behind-the-scenes dealings led to his charges being dropped.
In real life, Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon, has been removed from the final episodes of Empire‘s current season. As of now, no decision has been announced about whether he’ll be returning to the show next year, and the actor continues to maintain that he’s been honest as the case has played out in the courts and in the media.
But in the world of SNL, Smollett is already packing his bags. “You know we gotta fire you, right?” Thompson-as-Daniels says. He loses his agent as well, with Oh cutting him from her client roster. “I just hope he gets the help he needs,” she says. Apparently not. The skit ends with Smollett re-entering the room, this time wearing a neck brace and dark sunglasses, and making claims about another attack.
No doubt reflecting the country’s own confusion over the twists and turns in this case, the SNL audience wasn’t entirely certain how to respond to “Network Meeting.” Most of the one-liners were met with nervous chuckles rather than big laughs, especially the jokes that explicitly commented on Smollett’s state of mind. The sketch didn’t go over particularly well on social media either.
— Tramon (@Tramon_WBAL) March 31, 2019
OOF guys I do not feel positive about that Jussie Smollett sketch #SNL
— Clint Worthington (@clintworthing) March 31, 2019
Bold prediction: this Sandra Oh episode of SNL never sees the air again, largely due to this Jussie Smollett sketch.
— Alex Quigley 🇺🇸 (@alexquigley) March 31, 2019
Interestingly, on the same night that SNL mocked Smollett, former Not Ready for Primetime Player Chris Rock also roasted the actor while presenting an award at the NAACP Image Awards. (Smollett was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, a statue that went to Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams instead.)
“What the hell was he thinking?” Rock reportedly said. “From now on, you’re Jessie from now on. You don’t even get the ‘U’ no more. That ‘U’ was respect. You don’t get no respect from me.” Apparently, the same goes for Saturday Night Live.
Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. on NBC
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