Elon Musk Tries to Be Relatable on SNL, Plugs Dogecoin, Is Awkward but Not a Disaster

Well, that was weird.

I would not say that billionaire and self-described “technoking of Tesla” Elon Musk was an inept host of Saturday Night Live, all things considered. He was capable enough at presenting a persona to the audience—a schtick, really, that he seems to have honed to perfection. It’s a slightly shambling, self-satisfied awkwardness—a dorkiness that would be charming if it weren’t so obviously smug. In the history of weird SNL hosts, very many have been laughing throughout, in on the private joke that they have somehow ended up on SNL. But in Saturday’s episode, Musk seemed to be smirking throughout at a comedy no one else was in on. The episode strained towards its laugh lines; the cast seemed practically to sweat with the effort. The looseness and fluid humor that goes along with the cast having a good time was absent. It had its moments, but the episode wasn’t exactly fun.

Multiple times, Musk played characters that were asked to defend themselves—be it Wario on trial for the death of Mario in a surreal courtroom sketch or Musk on Weekend Update, fielding Colin Jost and Michael Che’s questions about dogecoin. (Repeatedly they asked him to explain it simply. Then Che suggested it was a hustle. Musk agreed. Incidentally, the price of dogecoin fluctuated wildly during the broadcast, losing billions in market share over the course of the episode.) Even in the most successful sketch of the night, a pre-taped skit exaggerating the Delco accents in Mare of Easttown, Musk played the creepiest and most suspicious character in the ensemble—the only one not doing the silly accent, too. I’m sure viewers differ on whether or not Musk requires defending—after all, the live studio audience seemed totally enamored of him, whooping and cheering through his perfectly adequate opening monologue. But it’s intriguing how much more comfortable everyone appeared to be once Musk was on one side of the table, and the rest of them were on the other; whatever the billionaire was bringing to Studio 8H suggested the need for a separation.

Musk’s SNL appearance seemed to be largely an attempt to fluff up his public image. Musk made a lot of money in 2020, and at the same time alienated many liberals—i.e., potential Tesla owners—with tweets that spread COVID-19 misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric. On SNL, he got to launder his ruthless profit-seeking with the detergent of likability, which will help him sell more Teslas, even though safety concerns have cropped up around Musk’s line of electric vehicles. (Just a few weeks ago, a Tesla caught on fire after a crash; it took four hours and 30,000 gallons of water to put the fire out.) 

Musk didn’t need to be very funny or very entertaining in order to achieve likability; he just needed to be nonthreatening. In that, he succeeded admirably. We have much to worry about from the man who wants to implant microchips in our brains, but on SNL, Musk is simply a weird teen: space travel, internet memes, video game characters, jokes using “69” or “420.” He even began the show with a note of vulnerability, identifying himself as someone with Asperger’s, which he has apparently never done before, and then declaring himself the first person with Asperger’s to host SNL. This last part isn’t true, but it sounds so great, and garners so much empathy, that it’s difficult not to see it as part of Musk’s arsenal of relatability.

The fact is that no matter how many Wario jokes he makes, or how many self-deprecating smiles he deploys, Elon Musk is simply not relatable. He is the second richest person in the world. He wants to colonize Mars—and profit while doing so. He suggested that a British caver who saved a bunch of Thai kids was a pedophile, presumably in a fit of pique, because he’d wanted to do the saving himself. He has a baby boy with the pop star Grimes, who is nearly two decades younger than him, and they named their child X Æ A-Xii, which is part Elven. 

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