'Saturday Night Live' spoofs Smollett case in brutal sketch

Saturday Night Live made a point of being an equal opportunity offender in its first episode back after a two-week break. As usual the cold open addressed the latest Donald Trump news–specifically the long-anticipated release of Robert Mueller’s report–and featured the return of Robert De Niro for the fifth, and likely final, time as Mueller. But the night’s first live sketch was a surprisingly savage take on Empire star Jussie Smollett, who was back in the news this week after Chicago prosecutors stunned the city and the entire nation by dropping all charges against him for allegedly staging his own attack.

RELATED: Jussie Smollett on FOX's Empire

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Jussie Smollett on FOX's Empire
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Jussie Smollett on FOX's Empire
EMPIRE: L-R: Taraji P. Henson and Jussie Smollett in the 'Treasons, Stratagems, and Spoils' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Nov. 14 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: L-R: Taraji P. Henson and director Jussie Smollett in the 'What is Done' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Nov. 7 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Director Jussie Smollett behind the scenes in the 'What is Done' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Nov. 7 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: L-R: Terrence Howard and director Jussie Smollett behind the scenes in the 'What is Done' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Nov. 7 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: L-R: Jussie Smollett and Taraji P. Henson in the 'The Depth of Grief' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Oct. 31 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Jussie Smollett in the 'The Depth of Grief' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Oct. 31 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: L-R: Bryshere Y. Gray and Jussie Smollett in the 'Love All, Trust a Few' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Oct. 17 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: L-R: Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Y. Gray in the 'Pride' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Oct. 10 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: L-R: Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Y. Gray in the 'Pride' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Oct. 10 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Jussie Smollett in the 'Pay For Their Presumptions' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Oct. 3 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: L-R: Jussie Smollett, Bryshere Gray, and Trai Byers in the 'The Empire Unposessd' season finale episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, May 23 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: L-R: Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyon, Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyon, Bryshere Y. Gray as Hakeem Lyon, Jussie Smollett as Jamal Lyon and Trai Byers as Andre Lyon in Season Five of EMPIRE premiering Wednesday, Sept. 26 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Pictured L-R: Bryshere Gray, Jussie Smollett and Andre Royo in the 'Slave to Memory' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Dec. 13 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Pictured L-R: Trai Byers, Gabourey Sidibe and Jussie Smollett in the 'Bleeding War' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Oct. 18 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Pictured L-R: Terrel Carter and Jussie Smollett in the 'Evil Manners' episode of EMPIRE airing Wednesday, Oct. 11 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
EMPIRE: Pictured L-R: Jussie Smollett and Gabourey Sidibe in the 'Full Circle' episode of Wednesday, Oct. 4 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. (Photo by FOX via Getty Images)
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Entitled “Network Meeting,” the sketch opens in a boardroom where a trio of executives played by Mikey Day, Kate McKinnon and Ego Nwodim are seated alongside Kenan Thompson as Empire co-creator, Lee Daniels, and the night’s host, Sandra Oh, as Smollett’s manager. “Just give Jussie another chance,” Oh begs, trying to make them overlook the fact that her embattled client is two hours late to the meeting. “I just hope it’s not some crazy excuse,” Daniels remarks, with a sigh.

At that moment, Smollett (played by Chris Redd) bursts into the room, holding a plastic bag and wearing Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” hat. (Earlier in the week, Trump weighed in the prosecutors’ decision to drop disorderly conduct charges agains the actor, calling it, “an embarrassment to our nation.”) “Guys, you are not gonna believe what just happened to me,” he says, to groans of “Not again” in the room. “I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not that,” he says, before confirming their initial suspicions that he’s about to make another claim to having been attacked. “What is wrong with you, man,” Day’s executive remarks. “He means mentally,” Nwodim adds, sharply.

Unable to persuade them with his words, Smollett reaches into his plastic bag to reveal the evidence, and what it indicates about the identity of his attackers. “I think it’s a bag of clues,” he claims, pulling out a box of Crest Whitestrips, three oversized red K’s to spell out KKK and the purple member of the Teletubbies. “It’s the gay one,” he makes sure to point out. McKinnon’s executive then suggests calling the police, but that’s a no-go. “They said I could never call again as part of the deal,” Smollett says–a reference to the assumption in some quarters that behind-the-scenes dealings led to his charges being dropped.

In real life, Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon, has been removed from the final episodes of Empire‘s current season. As of now, no decision has been announced about whether he’ll be returning to the show next year, and the actor continues to maintain that he’s been truthful and honest as the case has played out in the courts and in the media. But in the world of SNL, Smollett is already packing his bags. “You know we gotta fire you, right?” Thompson-as-Daniels says. He loses his agent as well, with Oh cutting him from her client roster. “I just hope he gets the help he needs,” she says. Apparently not. The skit ends with Smollett re-entering the room, this time wearing a neck brace and dark sunglasses, and making claims about another attack.

No doubt reflecting the country’s own confusion over the twists and turns in this case, the SNL audience wasn’t entirely certain how to respond to “Network Meeting.” Most of the one-liners were met with nervous chuckles rather than big laughs, especially the jokes that explicitly commented on Smollett’s state of mind. The sketch didn’t go over particularly well on social media either.

Interestingly, on the same night that SNL mocked Smollett, former Not Ready for Primetime Player, Chris Rock, also roasted the actor while presenting an award at the NAACP Image Awards. (Smollett was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, a statue that went to Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams instead.) “What the hell was he thinking?” Rock reportedly said. “From now on, you’re Jessie from now on. You don’t even get the ‘U’ no more. That ‘U’ was respect. You don’t get no respect from me.” Apparently, the same goes for Saturday Night Live.

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