"Saturday Night Live" takes on Ralph Northam's blackface and Jeff Bezos' nude pics

"Saturday Night Live" aired politically-charged sketches on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published February 10, 2019 10:00AM (EST)

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam speaks with reporters at a press conference at the Governor's mansion on February 2, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Getty/Alex Edelman)
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam speaks with reporters at a press conference at the Governor's mansion on February 2, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia. (Getty/Alex Edelman)

"Saturday Night Live" took shots at two of the biggest news stories of the previous week — the blackface scandal rollicking Virginia politics and the accusation that the supermarket tabloid "National Enquirer" attempted to blackmail Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos over nude pictures — in a pair of politically charged sketches.

The sketch about Virginia politics was only faintly more absurd than the real-life story. It opened with Kenan Thompson playing a state official addressing a group of Virginia politicians about Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who has been accused of sexual misconduct from at least two women. After the room agrees that Fairfax should resign, Thompson's character pivots to addressing the emerging scandal over the fact that Gov. Ralph Northam and State Attorney General Mark Herring were both revealed to have worn blackface while attending college in the 1980s. To his dismay, he quickly learns that virtually everyone in the room had worn blackface at some point in their lives.

The main joke was that the Virginia politicians came up with increasingly absurd "hypothetical" questions about their potential use of blackface. A character played by Beck Bennett asked, "What if the blackface was just part of your costume as a black person?" and whether it was okay if he had only worn blackface to win a contest for "blackest face." Pete Davidson's character asked if it was okay to have worn blackface for a costume as Mr. T, while Alex Moffat inquired whether it was okay if he had just done it because he was "goofing around" with his friends. Thompson's character had to repeatedly and emphatically point out that none of these situations were acceptable... and that it wasn't okay just because it had happened in the 1980s and 1990s.

The other notable sketch of the night was a cold open that took aim at the National Enquirer, which Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos claims tried to extort him into dropping an investigative story into Saudi Arabia by threatening to publish private pictures he had sent of his genitalia. The main joke of the sketch was how "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd (Kyle Mooney) and columnist Eugene Robinson (Kenan Thompson) were curious about the appearance of Bezos' penis – Thompson's Robinson asked whether Bezos was "working with something the size of an Amazon Echo or is it more of a Dot" — while other people present during the conversation were confused and appalled by it, including Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross (Kate McKinnon) and Democratic political consultant Donna Brazile (Leslie Jones).

"Saturday Night Live" has in the past been uncharacteristically glowing in its depiction of Bezos, particularly in a November sketch where guest host Steve Carell played Bezos as a hero of the resistance to President Donald Trump in order to play off of the president's ongoing rivalry with the billionaire. This flattering depiction ignored Bezos' history of mistreating his workers and stinginess when it comes to charitable donations, among other controversies.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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