“Saturday Night Live” co-head writer and “Weekend Update” co-anchor Michael Che brings the humorous art of sketch comedy to HBO Max. “That Damn Michael Che” delivers everything on-brand and topical, exemplifying Che’s rather murky sense of humor. Created by and starring Che, this six-episode original comedy series is a thought-provoking journey that uses controversial topics with every intention of making viewers feel slightly uncomfortable — typical Che behavior.
The series includes appearances from current and former “SNL” cast members Colin Jost, Cecily Strong, Colin Quinn, Ellen Cleghorne and Heidi Gardner, in addition to guest stars like Billy Porter, Omari Hardwick and others, who are incorporated in the comedian’s sketches.
Each episode is executed in the form of vignettes and sketches — switching back and forth between various skits and comic-like animated shorts — to follow a particular theme or occurrence relevant to the comedian’s own day-to-day experiences. Some of these include police brutality, love and unemployment among many others.
Although Che’s illustrations may come off as a little too audacious, it’s largely up his alley. Similar to his comedic material in “Weekend Update” with co-host Jost — an integral part of “SNL”— Che focuses on the contentious issues surrounding current political and cultural shifts happening in the world. Whether irreverent or socially aware, the comic expresses his opinion on microaggressions, neurotic anti-vaxxers, trigger-happy cops, cultural legends, liberals’ constant use of the phrase “people of color” and their need to tell Black people that Black lives matter, and more.
One notable skit that best resembles Che’s “SNL” roots is an ad for the “Fitbit Protest,” delivered in the first episode “Policin.” This sketch highlights the series’ overall theme of navigating the increased racial divide caused by the police and 2020 protests in a dark and ominous way. The Fitbit ad includes a range of protests from Black Lives Matter to Blue Lives Matter. The narrator clarifies that everyone should “make the best of every protest so that you can save what matters most, whether it’s Black lives or all lives.” This is ultimately why the Fitbit is sold in three colors: white, black and confederate flag. Che’s usual deadpan humor is further illuminated here; whether viewed as chaotic or offensive, this skit targets an ongoing problem of confusing human rights issues as political initiatives.
Ironically, Che chooses to stay off-camera during most of the series’ unforgettable performances. Viewers are offered insight into the comedian’s personality in between sketches with the casual conversation he strikes up with folks off-screen. These chats are overwhelmingly different from the dry-wit humor he and Jost give during “Weekend Update,” and a level of intimacy is created that highlights his perspective on being a Black man in America. It’s almost as if this comedy series is more about telling a story rather than reaching for that laugh-out-loud type of humor.
Another skit is fabricated like “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette,” yet feels like one that would be shown in a horror movie — perhaps “The Cabin in the Woods.” The skit is called “Family Chop,” a bleak reality show where Che has to give “The Bachelor’s” famous red rose — in this case, a knife — to the family member he wishes to sacrifice for greater fame. With his aunt and uncle as the finalists, the comedian must choose who gets the knife. “There are two of you standing here, which means that one of you will be safe and the other one will have to die in a blood sacrifice for my Hollywood career,” Che says. He explains to the rest of the family that in terms of Black entertainment, the man or woman in question can only achieve fame if they regularly slaughter family members. The comedian elucidates that he isn’t talented or funny enough to be extremely famous on his own.
The rest of the episode, which is titled “Sex Worker,” is full of cameos from current “SNL” cast members including Jost and Gardner. Jost plays Che in a sketch where he is being questioned by an audience about his experience being a Black man in Hollywood, while Gardner plays a prostitute who is hired by Che to act as a therapist and hear about his strange dreams. Though these inclusions are short-lived, the comedian blends his stand-up humor with his co-anchor quirks, bringing his trademark topical material to the world of streaming.
Whether the series is meant to be a depiction of Che’s life navigating fame and racial inequality or serve as a knock-off “SNL” with skits that never made it to the late night show, “That Damn Michael Che” does what Che’s comedy does best. Dark and topical humor are used to captain his opinions, insecurities and perspectives revolving around racial slurs, sexual orientation, political affiliations and being Black in a society with an increasing hatred towards the police. If “Weekend Update” is your preferred source of entertainment, then Che’s HBO Max Original is right up your alley.
McKenzie Boney is an Entertainment Intern for the spring 2021 quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.