Saturday night was the moment it became absolutely undeniable: tech is culture now.
As Elon Musk took the stage on Saturday Night Live, he came with the kind of recognition and anticipation that even A-list actors and musicians struggle to get. Musk wasn't on the show because he's rich; he was invited to host because he's a cultural figure as powerful as anyone else on the stage. People either hate him or love him, but everybody pays attention to him.
In a way, Musk is actually the very model of a modern SNL host. He's constantly, shamelessly controversial, and seems to enjoy both crossing lines and bathing in the backlash to his line-crossing. He has wild ideas about practically everything, which would be easy to ignore if so many of them didn't come true. And he doesn't seem to have any of the shame or reservations that might keep most CEOs and captains of industry from doing insane things on live television. (And he's proven basically impossible to keep from doing whatever he wants.)
Musk was, by all accounts, a pretty good host. He led the show by saying he was the first-ever SNL host with Asperger's. He made jokes at his own expense, talked about renewable energy and Mars without talking too much about renewable energy and Mars. He played an awkward doctor, an awkward party guest, the Dogefather, a cowboy inventor, and himself. But Musk as Wario, saying "I'm not evil, I'm just misunderstood," is surely going to be the skit people remember.
But Dogecoin was the star of this episode of Saturday Night Live. Speaking of Dogecoin: Saturday's SNL had been billed as something of a coronation for the cryptocurrency, with watch parties set up all over YouTube and plenty of people hoping the coin would hit the crucial $1 mark. But almost as soon as the show began, Dogecoin's price promptly collapsed, dropping nearly a third before recovering slightly. It was such an eventful night for the currency that Robinhood couldn't even keep up. It all culminated with Musk joining the Weekend Update crew and, after repeatedly answering all those "What is Dogecoin?" questions, eventually called it "a hustle."
It seems possible that Musk's success could mean more hosting gigs for tech titans. Choosing Musk wasn't necessarily a shake-things-up move to juice flagging ratings, given that SNL is having a pretty good season (though the last few episodes haven't been huge hits). But it's certainly a way to get a new audience to watch the show, and one that NBC jumped on: It streamed the show live on YouTube for international viewers. Besides, there's certainly plenty of fun to be had with Jeff Bezos, Jack Dorsey and a few other celebrity CEOs. But the episode, or at least the run-up to it, did have its share of controversy: Some staffers were hesitant to help a billionaire launder his public image and juice his favorite cryptocurrencies.
All things considered, Musk can definitely add "successful SNL host" to his increasingly long list of accomplishments. Next time, maybe he'll host from Mars. Or maybe he'll quit his (many) other jobs and go be a full-time cast member on the show. When it comes to Elon Musk, you can't rule anything out.
Update: This story has been updated to better reflect the timeline of Dogecoin's price on Saturday night.
David Pierce (
@pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.