Musk humanizes outsized persona with self-deprecating SNL turn, as cast rebellion narrative fades

"Did you think I was also going to be a chill, normal dude?" quipped SpaceX, Tesla chief.

Updated: May 10, 2021 - 8:34am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The biggest surprise of Elon Musk's hosting gig on "Saturday Night Live" was how seamlessly he fit into the long-running show.

Cast members didn't rebel against his presence as some suggested might happen, even if his precious dogecoin took some ribbing. Musk proved both personal and self-deprecating in his opening monologue, part of an overall show that leaned into his larger-than-life persona.

"I'm actually the first person with Asperger's to host 'SNL' … or at least the first to admit it," he quipped. "So I won't make a lot of eye contact with the cast tonight. But don't worry, I'm pretty good at running 'human' in emulation mode."

The billionaire defended his vision for the future, touching on both renewable energy and space travel: "Those seem like exciting goals, don't they? Now, I think if I just posted that on Twitter, I'd be fine. But I also write things like, '69 days after 4/20 again."

He also directly addressed the preshow furor over his selection to host the iconic show.

"I know I sometimes say or post strange things, but that's just how my brain works," he said. "To anyone I've offended, I just want to say: I reinvented electric cars, and I'm sending people to Mars in a rocket ship. Did you think I was also going to be a chill, normal dude?"

The episode quickly fell into a predictable groove after the monologue, with Musk appearing in most of the sketches. He played a smitten Icelandic producer one moment, then a suspicious priest in a faux cop series set in Pennsylvania the next.

If viewers didn't know any better, Musk could have been any other celebrity trying his best at live comedy. 

The Weekend Update section let Musk break down crypto currency, directly connecting with one of Musk's most notorious passions.

The so-called "Dogefather's" very appearance on the show could make cryptocurrency prices soar, experts predicted. That didn't clear up matters for coanchors Colin Jost and Michael Che, who kept pressuring Musk's character for more details on the digital funds.

"It's a hustle," Musk's character admitted, laughing.

Musk didn't threaten show ace Kate McKinnon for comedic supremacy, but he showed both range and a modicum of comfort in the gig. That's better than some previous guests with scant comedic backgrounds.

"SNL" often hires atypical public figures to host its storied program, like future president Donald Trump in 2015. Other unexpected past hosts include cyclist Lance Armstrong and NFL great Peyton Manning.

Musk caused a commotion shortly after word leaked about his "SNL" guest hosting gig. Several show regulars mocked Musk when, after snaring the gig, he playfully tweeted, "Let's find out just how live Saturday Night Live really is."

"What the f --- does this even mean?" cast member Bowen Yang asked via Instagram. 

Fellow "SNL" regular Aida Bryant indirectly responded to Musk by sharing a tweet from socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders complaining about extreme wealth inequality, which she called a "moral obscenity."

Musk's reported value is in the $185 billion range, according to a January report by CNBC, making him the globe's wealthiest citizen.

The Musk-related messages from "SNL" players quickly vanished from social media.

The blowback hardly stopped there.

News reports said some "SNL" players might refuse to join Musk on the show's celebrated stage. Show founder Lorne Michaels said players have the right to step aside should they choose to for a given episode, but none of the show's cast members planned to boycott Musk's appearance.

Cast member Nora Dunn boycotted the show hosted by faux misogynist comic Andrew "Dice" Clay in 1990.

Variety ran a column hours before Musk's appearance suggesting the show not go on with the billionaire as host.

"Musk promises less to bring 'SNL' up to speed than to burst its bubble and let all that is corny and embarrassing about this moment in," wrote Daniel D'Addario.

The Washington Post, in turn, suggested hiring Musk for a quick ratings spike could backfire.

Daniel Kellison, a late-night comedy scribe who has collaborated with Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Siverman, told The Post hiring Musk threatened to "humanize" the "problematic" figure. Musk brought his mother out during the monologue, which to many did just that.

"SNL's" ratings have drooped since President Joe Biden took the oath of office, one reason Musk likely got the call. The political sketch show mostly avoids jokes tied to both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, a noticeable change from "SNL's" withering attacks on President Trump during his four years in office.

Saturday night gave audiences more of the same, with Biden and Harris briefly name checked during the Weekend Update section but nowhere else.