Leslie Jones and Kenan Thompson roast R. Kelly's Gayle King interview on "Saturday Night Live"

Kenan Thompson depicts R. Kelly as an obviously-guilty half-wit in scathing new "Saturday Night Live" sketch

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published March 10, 2019 10:00AM (EDT)

R. Kelly being interviewed by Gayle King (YouTube/CBS News)
R. Kelly being interviewed by Gayle King (YouTube/CBS News)

"Saturday Night Live" ridiculed embattled R&B singer R. Kelly in a sketch that depicted the accused sex criminal as being unhinged, unintelligent and obviously guilty.

The sketch began with Leslie Jones' Gayle King introducing Kenan Thompson's R. Kelly as "individual who Number Ones," a reference to a videotape that emerged in 2002 of Kelly allegedly urinating on an underage girl. For the most part, the sketch hews closely to the beats that actually transpired during the real-life interview, from King's line of incisive questions to Kelly's attempts to pass himself off as a victim, with Thompson's Kelly repeatedly asking Jones' King to be called "victim" and getting rebuffed.

"Because you think that I'm some kind of a monster," Thompson's Kelly responds to Jones' King when she asks why he's doing the interview. "I'm here to remove all the doubt. My lawyer was telling me no, but my ego — my ego — was telling me yes."

The sketch included a number of running gags, from Kelly not remembering words that he wrongly believes start with a 'q' (including "cult," "accountant/my cousin Reggie" and "Big Mac") to him breaking out into song at random points in the conversation. When Thompson's Kelly insists that his accusers are lying because he is a wealthy man and they want his money, Jones' King points out that if this is true he'd need to explain why he hasn't paid roughly $160,000 in child support; at that point, Thompson's Kelly switches gears and says that he's a very poor man.

There are also jokes about Kelly's alleged tendency to film his illegal sexual exploits, with Thompson's Kelly thinking a potted plant has a camera in it and remarking at the sight of a camera man, "Y'all just keep your camera out in the open like that? Boy, y'all some freaks!" On another occasion, in reference to Kelly blaming social media for the wave of accusations against him, the R&B crooner claims, "You can start a rumor about any celebrity. Just like that! All you gotta do is push a button on your phone and say 'R. Kelly did this to me,' and then attach a video of me doing that thing and people will believe you! It's scary!"

In one of the sharpest jokes, Thompson's Kelly jumps up and begins screaming at the unfairness of his situation — parodying the real Kelly doing precisely that — with Thompson proclaiming, "I gave y'all 'Trapped in the Closet,' 'Feelin' On Yo Booty,' 'Age Ain't Nothing but a Number' and so many other clues! And this is how you repay me!"

One irony to the sketch is the choice of Thompson to fill the title role. As former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Brooks Wheelan tweeted in January, "At SNL one time Lady Gaga had R Kelly come do a song with her. I was in my own world so I didn’t know/care. At the good nights there’s this dude I’ve never seen, AKA: R Kelly. I asked Kenan who it was and he just said 'a bad dude, stay away.'"

Wheelan noted, "Kenan is never wrong."

Kelly has been charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse and his label, RCA, has severed ties with him.

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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