Tom Hanks "Black Jeopardy" sketch on 'SNL' has big things to say about race
Over the years, Saturday Night Live's "Black Jeopardy" sketches have become a staple for the show. The premise is always the same, and it always gets laughs: What if, during a variation on Jeopardy! designed specifically for black viewers, one of the contestants was "different?"
What if one of the contestants was Louis C.K. dressed up as a stodgy white African-American studies professor, answering questions about "Rap Songs That Begin With The Letter 'N?'" What if Canadian-born Drake came by to compete against two other contestants who were more " traditionally black" than he is? The joke of the sketch has always been in the "otherness" of the third contestant, as it compares to the first two black participants of the show.
On Saturday's episode, SNL flipped the script. Host Tom Hanks stood in as Doug, an older white man in a "Make America Great Again" hat, his button-down shirt open to expose a T-shirt bearing a screen print of a bald eagle swooping past the American flag.
In every way that matters, Hanks looked like a caricature of a working-class white bigot. But when "Black Jeopardy" host Darnell Hayes, played by Kenan Thompson, begins rattling off the questions, Doug starts nailing every answer.
When answering one question about scanning your thumbprint into your iPhone for "protection," Doug correctly replies, "What is, I don't think so that's how they get you?"
At another point, after Tyler Perry's "Boo: A Madea Halloween,'" proves the correct answer for a question about Oscar-worthy cinema, Doug echoes the opinions of his fellow contestants on the movie.
"I gotta tell you, I love those movies," he says. "I bought a box set at Walmart, and if I can laugh and pray in 90 minutes then that is money well spent."
The sketch highlights something the 2016 presidential election has brought into sharp relief: that poor white voters and poor black voters are up against many of the same economic challenges and patterns of disenfranchisement.
But despite the similarities poor whites increasingly share with many ethnic minorities, white Americans have not necessarily been quick to bridge the gulf of racism that exists between the two camps — something the SNL sketch doesn't let go unnoticed.
When the final category — "Lives That Matter" — pops up, Thompson's host laments, "It was good while it lasted, Doug," while Doug quips that he has "a lot to say about this."