Chris Rock—writer, director, actor, comedian, Emmy winner, Grammy winner, former Oscar host, and all-around likable dude despite his tendency to make Grown Ups movies—is hosting SNL Saturday night, for only the second time ever, and the first time since 1996. (At the time, Rock was only a few years removed from being a cast member on Saturday Night Live himself.)
But you’d barely know this going by the episode’s two sets of promos—both of which focus exclusively on how exciting it is that Prince is also coming back to Studio 8H. (The Purple One hasn’t been on Saturday Night Live in awhile either, though his last visit came more recently than Rock’s.) Rock himself seems more jazzed about Prince’s appearance than his own—even though Prince couldn’t be bothered to show up for the second promo reel, which traditionally features both host and musical guest.
Turning the spotlight onto Prince and Prince alone makes a certain degree of sense. For one thing, he’s Prince; the guy’s music royalty, and network TV has a habit of treating him as such whenever he deigns to grace its airwaves. (See also: New Girl’s post-Super Bowl episode, which featured more utterances of the word “prince” than all of Into the Woods, and SNL bending its normal protocol to give this week’s musical guest one eight-minute performance instead of two four-minute performances, like everyone else.) For another, in the digital era, catching Prince on tape has become a rare and wonderful thing; the Artist has scrubbed clips of nearly all his classic videos and performances from the Internet, though you can find his bonkers “Batdance” setpiece if you look hard enough. (Or, you know, Google it.) And finally, Rock himself is clearly a big Prince admirer. He did Prince cosplay in the second of those Grown Ups movies; his mini-me avatar also dressed as Prince in the sixth episode of Everybody Hates Chris.
Even so, Rock hardly deserves to be an afterthought—not only because he’s a deservedly famous and beloved comedian, but also because it’ll be fascinating to see him return to his old stomping grounds… especially given Rock’s semi-contentious relationship with Saturday Night Live. He was a cast member in the early ’90s, during SNL’s most overstuffed period; though he calls the series ”the absolute best training you can have in show business” in James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales’s Live from New York, he also acknowledges that he spent most of his time there “on the bench.”
Interestingly enough, Rock attributes his lack of airtime to the decade’s boom in comedy aimed at black audiences—which was happening everywhere except SNL. “By the time I got on, there were all these other things on TV with black people in them, so you don’t wait until the end of SNL to see a black guy. You watch another show,” he says. He also cites SNL’s reluctance to air multiple ”nonwhite” sketches in a row, or even in a night: “You’re never going to see this sketch with a bunch of black people, and this other sketch with a bunch of black people, back-to-back.”
Thankfully, on that front at least, SNL has changed. New cast member Michael Che has taken to calling Saturday Night Live “the blackest show on network TV.” He’s joking, but only sort of; a full third of the show’s current cast is black. And all five of those actors will likely have plenty to do come Saturday—perhaps especially Leslie Jones, who has a featured role in Rock’s buzzy upcoming comedy Top Five. Rock’s presence also means a real, electrifying possibility that the show won’t be afraid to get edgy, for a change. And we also know that even if the cold open ends up being another dull, toothless political bit, at least Rock’s monologue—a prolonged standup bit, if recent hosting stints by Sarah Silverman and Louis C.K. are any indication—is guaranteed to provoke laughs.
What are you hoping to see from Rock—and, of course, Prince—on SNL tonight? If the musical guest miraculously decides to ditch his new stuff for old jams, what songs would u die 4? Are there any old characters you’re hoping the host will dust off for his big return? (Quick, can you name any characters Rock once played on SNL?) Discuss below, and check back in the morning for my full recap.