Micheal Che’s getting his own sketch show. The Saturday Night Live writer and Weekend Update host will head up a new six episode series for HBO Max, currently known as Untitled Michael Che Project. Each episode will focus on “a theme or incident, (police brutality, unemployment, falling in love, etc.)”, with “sketches and vignettes to illustrate what it feels like to experience this from a black vantage point.” That’s according to the press release that HBO Max sent out today, and yeah, that sounds like a great idea for a show—if it starred somebody else.
Che may not be the best pick to create or host a show about topical issues. It’s well-established that he doesn’t really feel much political responsibility as a comedian, even when telling jokes about political issues. He’s also defended Trump era figures like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, while using his Instagram page to belittle by name those who criticize him for that and the weak bothsidesism of Weekend Update. He’s less interested in using comedy to hold the powerful accountable than he is in calling out obscure writers and less popular comics who don’t agree with him. That’s not a sign of a viewpoint worth caring about, especially during these deeply divided times.
Che can be very funny. As shown in his Netflix special, his stand-up isn’t as frustrating as his Weekend Update material. And even on Saturday Night Live he’s had a number of good jokes and cutting commentaries on Trump and the state America is in. Still, he’s also shown that he’s not especially interested in questioning or challenging those in positions of power. That’s not a great trait to have when launching a show that promises to focus on serious, systemic issues like police brutality and unemployment.
There are two specific sentences in the press release that stand out as if underlined by yellow highlighter. Che’s show will be “less about being ‘right’ and more about being honest, even at the risk of being controversial.” HBO Max comedy exec Suzanna Makkos also says that Che’s show will be examining “uncomfortable truths” about its topics. Both of those sound like something some angry, middle-aged, far right hack of a comedian would say about their comedy. Bragging about how they’re not “politically correct” has been the calling card of every close-minded Northeast club comic for decades, the same dudes who today love calling their albums or specials things like Triggered or Safe Space. And pretty much everything causes some kind of controversy now, given how divided this country is, so it’s hard to see how that’s a selling point. If Che’s past actions and statements weren’t enough to make you skeptical about this show, that kind of talk radio-esque, “we’re just being honest here” framing should give you pause. At the least they need to be pointed out as the dumb statements that they are.
Maybe Che’s show will be “controversial” in the way that a statement as simple and inarguably true as Black Lives Matter has somehow become—meaning that the people who’ll be offended by Che’s show are racists, white supremacists, MAGA zealots, and right-wing media jackasses. You know, people who society should go out of its way to offend—those who, either through disingenuous partisanship, extreme gullibility, or legitimate bigotry and prejudice have embraced the fictitious shadow world concocted by Trump and his cronies. The right-wing media already acts out empty, performative, fake offense about every single thing that isn’t 100% overtly pro Trump anyway, so perhaps this press release is just preemptively pointing out the obvious.
Still, given Che’s history, and the red flags in this press release, it’s hard to be excited about Untitled Michael Che Project. Maybe it won’t turn out to be a bad idea, but Che long ago proved he doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.