In a brief precursor to Michael Che taking the stage, an offscreen man speaks directly to the performer as the dimly lit streets of New York cut across the screen. The narrator complains that stand-up comedy specials aren’t special anymore, that they don’t say anything relevant, and Che needs to leave it all out there when he records “Michael Che Matters.” The ensuing hour of comedy may not reach the truly special status demanded at the onset, but what the “SNL” star touches on certainly presents an unfiltered glimpse into the comedian’s off-screen beliefs.
Unafraid to turn off, confuse, or challenge his audience, Che covers just about every touchy social subject out there and wastes no time between topics. Starting with the inherent racism of white people using the n-word and transitioning quickly to Black Lives Matter, homophobia, abortion, religion, sexism, and gentrification, Che’s 60-minute set plays like his very own State of the Union: all-encompassing, current, and with a clear mission statement.
While not consistently fresh (bits on giving money to the homeless and Jesus being white feel familiar) or laugh-a-minute hysterical, the special is intriguing in its demand for more honesty. Standing tall and speaking bluntly, this is a more personal side of Che than what “SNL” fans are used to seeing on “Weekend Update” (though “Matters” is also produced by Lorne Michaels).
“If I’m not able to say an honest thing, how am I supposed to get past this?” Che asks about midway through, right before discussing how he was personally accused of homophobia. His argument for his innocence is a bit fuzzy, though, as it boils down to an inherent, familiar, but not fully justifiable fear of “anyone fucking my kids.” Audiences may be split on whether his call for a safe space to discuss sensitive beliefs like this one is motivated by a strong desire for progress or simply an instinctive need to protect himself.
It’s unclear by the special’s end, and the in-theater audience is aptly mixed. When Che mentions how he actually likes Donald Trump, the crowd is largely quiet save for three or four distinct boos. As he explains why he believes Trump would be a fun friend, he’s met with mixed applause and laughter, with plenty of listeners too uneasy to know how to react. (Note: This routine was performed back in August, and Che’s opinion toward our President-Elect has since changed.) Earlier in the set, he talks about how only recently did he stop using the word “tranny.” He couldn’t understand why it was offensive until he was able to talk about it with a trans friend, and this honest confession-to-change turn plays better to the crowd than the overtly political commentary.
But, for as jumbled as the message can be at times, that’s still part of the point. Whether it’s homophobia, Trump, or Che arguing you have to have self-confidence to be a true racist — which may be his most challenging and insightful observation — the man’s message is timely: Honesty leads to understanding. Open discussion is good. Less attacks means more progress. And whether you agree with everything he has to say or not is secondary to the fact he needs to say it; so he can change, you can change, and we can all change for the better.