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Jamie Foxx helps nudge 'SNL' further into the 21st century

December 09, 2012|By Claire Zulkey

“How black is that?” was the refrain during Jamie Foxx’s “SNL” monologue Saturday night, as he marveled at turns of events like President Obama’s being elected to a second term and the fact that the comedian was hosting the show with musical guest Ne-Yo. And while race was never again explicitly mentioned throughout the rest of the show, it remained a constant theme, yet one handled in a lighthearted, often absurd manner. One of the criticisms most frequently lobbed at the late-night institution is that it lacks any real diversity in its cast and writing, but last night “SNL” resembled programs that do address race while enjoying diverse audiences, like “Key and Peele” or “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell.”

Foxx, more present in the episode than most hosts, was willing to be extremely silly in many of his sketches, relying upon his sketch show experience from “In Living Color” as he played characters like a Christmas tree pimp or a Hostess Ding Dong disgruntled by the amount of attention Twinkies have been receiving lately. One game show, called “... What’s the Answer?” was an enjoyable clump of nonsense cloaked in an angry catchphrase.  

One sketch that received a lot of attention in the Twitterverse was a trailer for Tyler Perry’s next film, in which Foxx was half made up as Perry’s character Madea (including half of one pair of glasses.) The story for the trailer was half-baked, but Foxx’s commitment to the bit and half-impersonation was admirable.

But the sketch that perhaps most successfully combined ridiculous humor with social commentary was a game show called “Dylan McDermott or Dermot Mulroney?” wherein three black contestants (Foxx, Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah) are forced to discern whether a white man shown to them is either the actor McDermott or the actor Mulroney (without much success). It turned the old stereotype of “All you people look the same to me” on its head as the game show escalated in silliness, as the clues grew increasingly confusing and even Mulroney himself, who made a cameo, wasn’t sure about who he actually was. The bit was so absurd (“Derbel McDillet”) perhaps it wasn’t even that noticeable that for the first time in a long time, perhaps ever, an “SNL” sketch featured three African American characters in prominent roles. How black is that?

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