Elon Musk Is Not Just a Celebrity

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The episode that ultimately aired didn’t feel worth the fuss. It wasn’t offensive, redemptive, memorable, or even entertaining. Yet, as Trump’s history with SNL shows, the cloak of mildness and mediocrity can be useful for someone whose true influence has little to do with comedy or charm.

The pundits who said SNL would “humanize” Musk were onto something, though it’s tough to criticize the humanization of any living, breathing person. The show opened with a feel-good Mother’s Day montage of cast members bantering with their moms while Miley Cyrus sang Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.” Musk’s mom later joined him for his monologue. But first, he showed up onstage alone, dressed in a dictator-chic suit, and offered this factlet: “I’m actually making history tonight as the first person with Asperger’s to host SNL.”

The historicity of that milestone for SNL was debatable (the actor Dan Aykroyd said, years after hosting the show, that he had Asperger’s syndrome too). For Musk, though, the remark represented a first-time public disclosure of a personal condition. He then touted his grand vision—“a renewable-energy future” in which humanity becomes “a multi-planetary spacefaring civilization”—while acknowledging his antics have often distracted from that vision. “To anyone I have offended, I just want to say, I reinvented electric cars and I’m sending people to Mars on a rocket ship,” he said. “Did you think I was also going to be a chill, normal dude?” An apology for dissing vaccines or attacking whistleblowers, this was not. It was, however, decent brand management.

In an oddly insistent way, much of the episode reiterated Musk as myth rather than man by having him play versions of his own persona. When he appeared as a “Gen Z Hospital” doctor trading slang with a group of kids, it brought to mind Musk’s penchant for recycling memes on Twitter. Later in the episode, Musk played himself, the SpaceX head honcho, confidently communicating with a Mars colony in crisis (Pete Davidson’s recurring doofus, Chad, became a hero and went splat—RIP Chad!). One bit had Musk playing an unfairly stereotyped villain, Nintendo’s Wario, while Musk’s girlfriend, the singer Grimes, made a cameo as Princess Peach. The last sketch of the night featured him pitching Wild West versions of his Boring Company; buried in the bit was, finally, a tepid mea culpa for mocking COVID-19 safety measures.

None of this meta-Musk riffing worked well as comedy, but also none of it was worse than the expected SNL nonsense. Like so many previous hosts of the show, Musk came off as just another celeb undergoing a PR ritual with enthusiasm but not inspiration. In the most trenchant sketch of the night, a pre-filmed vignette about the awkwardness of post-quarantine small talk, he blended in well as a normie at a cocktail party. He also did fine when introducing the evening’s musical guest, Cyrus, who continued her impressive reinvention as the gritty-voiced ambassador for Baby Boomer rock to the internet generation.

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