Elon Musk as 'SNL' host: Tesla CEO plays nice, makes fun of villain status

The divisive personality's hosting gig on 'SNL' was more controversial in theory than in practice

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
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Elon Musk's "Saturday Night Live" episode on Saturday was neither controversial nor disruptive. It was, in the end, a decent but rather uneventful evening, neither the flaming car wreck his detractors expected or edgy show for which his fans were hoping.  

Miley Cyrus, Elon Musk and Cecily Strong in a promo for "Saturday Night Live."

The appearance of Musk — the CEO of Tesla and the founder of SpaceX, not to mention an internet troll, cryptocurrency champion and the world's third-richest human being — stirred the pot from the moment it was announced two weeks ago. Rolling Stone called it a low point for the 46-year-old show before he even stepped on stage, and there were reports that cast members were unhappy with the appearance of the divisive zillionaire. (Much was made of cast members being given the option to skip Saturday's episode, although none appeared to opt out of the evening.) 

Even musical guest Miley Cyrus seemed to soften the impending blow during the show's cold open, covering Dolly Parton's "Light of a Clear Blue Morning," with its closing refrain of "everything's gonna be all right, it's gonna be OK." 

And it was OK, with Musk dulling his edge, making fun of his own awkwardness ("I reinvented electric cars and I’m sending people to Mars in a rocket ship," he said during his opening monologue, "did you think I was also going to be a chill, normal dude?") and coming off as an adequate performer. Athletes and a handful of celeb-types — looking at you, Paris Hilton — have fared much worse on the Studio 8H stage, and his natural showmanship set a high bar for any other CEOs who may one day get the call.  

Over the course of the 90-minute episode, Musk appeared as a doctor in a sketch titled "Gen Z Hospital," where he spoke in youthful slang to a group of Zoomers; as a nervous party guest in a pre-taped sketch about post-quarantine get-togethers; as himself in SpaceX mode, in a sketch featuring Pete Davidson's clueless recurring character, Chad; and as "Super Mario" villain Wario in a "Mario"-themed courtroom sketch. 

Tesla was mentioned — a Tesla Supercharger station made a brief cameo in an Old West sketch — and Musk joked about driving a Toyota Prius during his monologue. (No overt Big 3 shots, although a passing reference was made to Dodge's Hellcat in one sketch, while Lucid Motors, Ford's Mustang Mach-E and Volkswagen's ID.4 were featured in advertisements during the show's breaks.) 

The main thing on Musk's mind was cryptocurrency, namely Dogecoin, the meme-turned moneymaker which he mentioned during his monologue and again during a "Weekend Update" segment where he appeared as a crypto expert and the self-anointed "Dogefather." Eyes were on the currency's value over the course of the episode, and it fluctuated from around $0.66 at the beginning of the episode to $.050 midway through to around $0.56 by evening's end.

Was Musk's hosting job a low point for "SNL?" Hardly. He acquitted himself well in the sketches and didn't come off as arrogant or standoffish or stiff. He even hugged his mom at the close of his monologue. (As Wario, he seemed to play up his misunderstood villain persona.) 

Those tuning in for controversy might have wondered what the fuss was about. More jokes landed than didn't, which is to say it was an average to above-average episode of "SNL." Meanwhile, it set the table nicely for next week's episode, when Metro Detroit native Keegan-Michael Key makes his debut as "SNL" host. As long as he doesn't make Dogecoin his platform, he should do just fine. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @grahamorama

Staff Writer Breana Noble contributed

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