Saturday Night Live‘s Michael Che is known for his intelligent but sometimes unsettling style of humor. His wit and popularity with millennials helped him become the show’s first Black head writer. During an interview with Howard Stern, though, Che shared that some ideas he pitched were automatically shot down – like one where Marvel Comics’ superhero team The Avengers mistakenly kill an unarmed Black teen.
“I think for obvious reasons there’s no way that’s going on,” he explained to Stern. “The audience is looking at Saturday Night Live as Lorne Michaels’ show. They’re not looking at it as ‘Oh, there’s this Black writer who is making this nuanced observation or whatever.’ It’s a little trickier.”
Che’s affinity for racial humor is why he also came up with a sketch centered around the first Black person to boo Jackie Robinson, which was also dismissed. But with his new comedy series on HBO Max That Damn Michael Che, the Brooklynite will have greater freedom to set a better stage for his jokes.
“On my show, I can kinda get away with it because they know it’s me. Or Dave [Chappelle] could get away with it, you know,” Che said, highlighting that SNL is a variety show, so it flits from one concept to the next and is without a fourth-wall narrator to guide the viewers. “[B]ut on a mainstream show, sometimes even Black people are like, ‘Well, why are we doing that there? What did they mean by that?’… We don’t really get the benefit of the doubt for something that’s that loaded.”
Besides talking about hooking up with other celebrities and why he chose standup comedy over working with Spike Lee, Che shared how his “Joke Swap” segment (with close friend and fellow SNL head writer Colin Jost) came to fruition. “Colin was like, ‘We should do this thing where we write bad jokes for each other and make each other read [them],'” he said. “And I’m thinking he’s trying to set me up, this guy’s going to try to get me to say something bad. So I’m gonna flip it and make him say some really, really racist stuff.”
Che and his team of writers did all they could to make Jost’s jokes as uncomfortable and blasphemous as allowed. “And then I started reading [Jost’s] jokes,” Che said, “and they were all kind of mild. I’m like, ‘Wait a minute! Like, you just wanted to have fun?’ It wasn’t a trap at all, so I just took it the wrong way.” But Che has a great time with his friend’s discomfort because, ultimately, “it’s [Jost’s] idea.”