3 Important Leadership Lessons From SNL’s ‘Black Jeopardy’ Sketch

Lately, there’s been a thousand articles trying to describe how and why our country is so culturally and politically divided. In a seven-minute sketch, Saturday Night Live managed to be more profound than any of them.

In the most recent Tom Hanks-hosted episode of the long-running show, SNL stumbled on some sneakily profound truths. These truths are both encouraging and challenging for those of us trying to help our church communities navigate our divisive cultural climate.

It was also really funny.

Here’s a quick capsule on what the sketch was, how people have reacted and what we can learn.

THIS IS ARGUABLY THE BEST SNL SKETCH IN YEARS

“Black Jeopardy” is a running bit on SNL, always featuring two black people and one well-meaning white person who quickly realizes they have no idea how the rules of this game work. So when the sketch starts and we see Tom Hanks playing a character named Doug, wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat and with what appears to be Skoal tucked in his cheek, it’s easy to predict where this is going. After all, SNL political sketches can be funny, but they’re rarely surprising.

Except this one is.

Doug, much to our astonishment (and the host and other contestants) is really good at Black Jeopardy. Doug believes the thumbprint on the iPhone is “how they get ya,’” loves Tyler Perry movies because he can “laugh and pray” in a 90-minute stretch, and “has a guy” down the street who can fix his car for $40. With each correct answer, the host’s (Kenan Thompson) shock and delight grows. Doug and the black host and contestants, as it turns out, have a lot in common.

The skit is unexpected, perfectly acted and hilarious. It’s also sneakily profound.

AMERICANS ARE CYNICAL, BUT TIRED OF FEELING THAT WAY

It’s telling that the white Trump supporter and the representatives of the black culture bond largely over economic hardship and distrust of the government (an answer to one question: “They say every vote matters, but come on, they decided who would win months ago!”). It’s an accurate depiction. The more people look for political answers to their problems the more jaded they become. This is because what’s wrong with our country, at its core, isn’t that we’ve elected the wrong President or passed the wrong laws but that we are desperate for a savior.

What the Black Jeopardy sketch taps into is not just a shared frustration but a shared hope. We’ve become so conditioned to treat anyone who disagrees with us politically as an enemy, but what if we’re all searching for the same thing? What if there was something we had in common—something bigger than what divides us? What if we’ve had this wrong and there really is a way forward?

BUT WHAT DIVIDES US NEEDS MORE THAN EASY ANSWERS 

What really elevates this skit is the ending. While Doug bonds with his new black friends, there are still some serious divisions. The final category is “what lives matter?” The black contestants glance at each other nervously and the host says, “Well, Doug, it was fun while it lasted.” Doug, in turn, says, “I have a lot of things to say about this,” but the sketch ends. It’s an honest conclusion that treats the differences between us with appropriate seriousness.

Because differences on abortion matter. So does the Supreme Court, immigration, police brutality, entitlement funding, overcrowded jails, political corruption and gun laws. It’s insulting and dismissive to say, “But look, we’re really all the same,” when in some very important ways we’re not.

WHY THE CHURCH IS MORE IMPORTANT NOW THAN EVER

This is one of the beautiful things about the Gospel, where there’s not Jew or Greek, male or female, black or brown or white, Republican or Democrat or other. In Jesus, we find a commonality deeper than iPhones or Tyler Perry movies. In God’s kingdom, we are all broken, flawed, selfish sinners who are spiritually impoverished and have nothing left to offer. Because of that, we come together in community not insisting we are right, but admitting we need God and then each other.

If this soon-to-be classic sketch can teach us anything, it’s that we are not as different as we often appear to be. As leaders, our work is to close the gaps on our differences and bring peace, not with pithy sayings or policies, but with the all-powerful message of the Gospel.

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Joshua Pease
Josh Pease is a writer & speaker living in Colorado with his wife and two kids. His e-book, The God Who Wasn't There , is available for purchase on Amazon.