Live from New York but Censored in Carolina

The most recent episode of Saturday Night Live drew the highest ratings of the season. It’s easy to understand why: How would the comedic institution handle the election of Trump? The defeat of Clinton? And with Dave Chappelle hosting for the first time, how much of a workout would the censors get?

The Hollywood Reporter noted Sunday that the show earned a 6.2 rating overnight and a 3.9 rating among adults between the ages of 18 and 49, the highest ratings in that demographic since Jimmy Fallon hosted a Christmas episode in 2013.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s how the show opened, not with a skit lampooning the election results, but with a joint tribute to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the late Leonard Cohen, with Kate McKinnon’s Clinton singing Cohen’s “Hallelujah” alone while playing piano.


After that point, however, one television station in North Carolina was a little concerned that Chappelle’s appearance might prove a little heavy on the profanity. An NBC station in Raleigh censored nine different portions of the show because of Chappelle’s use of the N word.

Of course, others on social media wondered “whether broadcasters could become more wary of edgy content under an administration led by President-elect Donald Trump,” Variety reported.

“WRAL-TV has a station obscenity, decency and profanity policy that outlines 10 specific words that will not be broadcast on our air. This policy is based on our own standards in combination with FCC guidelines. Our broadcast operators have a 10-second delay button they can choose to use,” the station said in a statement released early Sunday. “During Saturday Night Live on NBC, guest host Dave Chappelle used two of those words on nine different occasions and they were silenced. Obviously, SNL is a live show so we had no prior indication about what would be said during the broadcast. We understand this caused disruption during the program. We wanted our audience to know this was a station choice, not the network’s, and why we made that choice.”



If the station was worried about Chappelle using the same word, a synonym for cat, that Trump used when referencing a part of a woman’s anatomy he apparently and allegedly grabbed, they also must’ve cut out the repeated use of the N word, at least in his monologue.

But did they catch it in either song played by A Tribe Called Quest, “The Space Program,” in which Busta Rhymes and Consequence joined the band.


Earlier in the show, A Tribe Called Quest performed another song off their new album, a track called “We the People,” which featured vocals from Phife Dawg, who died earlier this year. When his verse came up, Q-Tip and Jarobi White danced in front of a banner with his image on it, holding their microphones up toward the banner and dancing.

There’s speculation over whether the Federal Communications Commission will fine NBC for the language violations, or whether NBC decided it needed to let Chappelle be Chappelle, consequences be damned.

As notes, “Perhaps it was a risk that the network was willing to take as the episode definitely pushed the edge. Chappelle’s use of the n-word on national TV is also bound to create controversy in today’s heated racial climate. His use of the word was not liberal in nature and was in line with his previous statements regarding the banning of the word among comedians. But in the vein of iconic comedic (sic) Richard Pryor, it was timely in its use.”




Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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