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Michael Che on controversial comedy: "As long as people are talking it's not all that bad."

Michael Che on comedy and controversy
Michael Che on comedy and controversy 07:54

It's the longest-running sketch on "Saturday Night Live," and in the nearly 50 years of "Weekend Update," some of comedy's greatest stars have taken a tour as host. But no one has done it quite like Michael Che. Alongside Colin Jost, his partner through eight seasons and counting, Che is half of the longest-serving "fake news" team in "SNL" history.

CBS News' Tony Dokoupil asked Che, "Was that something you were looking for?"

"No," Che replied.

"You didn't wanna make fun of guys like me on a weekly basis?"

"I didn't want to have to read news. It's boring!"

"Did you feel like when you got [to 'SNL'] you had arrived and you fit? Or did you feel like at any moment someone's gonna tap you on the shoulder and say, 'Excuse me, sir, you don't belong'?"

"I still feel like at any moment somebody's gonna tap me on the shoulder and say that, still," Che said. "This is, like, a very lucky thing to get to do, you know? So, I'm found out at any moment I'll be like, 'Yeah, it's a good con!'"

Che is also one of "SNL"'s head writers, a voice behind sketches like "Black Jeopardy," which took off in 2016 with Tom Hanks as a white guy from the South with a lot in common with his Black co-contestants:

Black Jeopardy with Tom Hanks - SNL by Saturday Night Live on YouTube

And later this month, Che will debut a whole new series of sketches, in season two of his HBO show, "That Damn Michael Che," featuring his signature mix of what's funny and also true.

That Damn Michael Che | Official Trailer | HBO Max by HBO Max on YouTube

"Comedy is a magic trick," he said. "I think it's truly a magic trick. It's, 'I'm trying to make you laugh at something you see every day, or don't see, and you wouldn't expect to get that emotion out.'"

I went to a Black Lives Matter rally right after that to support, but I must have gone too late, because it was all White women there … They had signs: 'Stop racism.' I was like, who are you talking to? Each other?

Michael Che Cambpell grew up in public housing on New York's Lower East Side. "I was raised a poor Black child," he quipped. "No, I don't know, my childhood, I was the youngest of seven. My mother worked, like, three jobs. My parents were separated, not yet divorced. We were very poor."

Dokoupil asked, "When did you realize you knew how to make people laugh?"

"Maybe in school? I was very curious. And then I would realize, being curious was funny to people, like to grownups, because an inquisitive child can really knock you on your heels, you know?"

And young Michael Che was indeed named after that other famous Che, the controversial revolutionary, Che Guevara – fitting, you might say, for a sometimes controversial comedian. "I like it for maybe a very toxic reason," he said. "I do think that controversy brings people to talking. And I think as long as people are talking, it's not all that bad."

One of his best-known routines as a stand-up is about "Black Lives Matter." 

We can't even agree on 'Black Lives Matter.' That's a controversial statement. Black Lives Matter?  … Black Lives Exist? Can We say that?

And of course, its occasional counterpart, All Lives Matter:

Well, 'All Lives Matter.' Really? Semantics? That would be like if your wife came up to you and was like, 'Do you love me?' And you were like, 'Baby, I love everybody! What are you talking about?'

Michael Che Matters - Black Lives Matter | Netflix Is A Joke by Netflix Is A Joke on YouTube

For all his sketch work, standup was Che's first love, and as Dokoupil found on a recent visit with Che back to Caroline's comedy club in New York, probably still his deepest as well. "When you're as excited about what you're saying as they are, it feels good," Che said.

And standup is what got Che to "Saturday Night Live," after Colin Jost spotted him on stage, and invited him on as a guest writer. Che went on to become the first Black anchor of "Weekend Update," and first Black head writer in the show's history … t6hough he says those titles don't carry much weight with him: "I'm just being me," he said.

"I don't know I'm Black until you tell me. The world tells you you're Black. The world tells you you're poor. The world tells you you're successful. The world tells you all of these things. When you wake up, you're not thinking about none of that stuff.

"I'm just trying to grow up and not get killed and just be a little bit happy," he laughed. "You know what I mean? Like, that's all you're looking for. Everybody else tells you what you are or who you represent, and you're just trying to be funny."

CBS News' Tony Dokoupil with comedian Michael Che at Caroline's in New York City.  CBS News

And though Che recently said this would be his last season with "SNL," he now says he's not really sure.

"I was at stand-up and I was like, 'Boy, I hate "SNL."'  And then when I'm at 'SNL,' I'm like, 'God, I don't wanna be on the road.' It's just what you do. But, yeah, I am quitting this season, to answer your question."


"I'm kidding! I have no idea what I'm doing, man. It's just, I don't know. I'd like to do more standup."

When you love comedy as much as Che does, just being a part of it is not a consolation prize. It's the whole dream come true. And at 38 years old, it's a dream Che plans to hold on to.

Dokoupil asked, "Forty years from now, God willing, we're all around. Will we see Michael Che right here on a stage like this?"

"Yeah. I'm a lifer," he replied. "I'm lucky. I'm lucky. I've figured out what I like. And I get to do it:".

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Story produced by Robbyn McFadden. Editor: Remington Korper.

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