Saturday Night Live generated plenty of controversy after it announced that billionaire Elon Musk would be hosting its May 8 edition. When NBC released a promo video showing Musk delivering a speech in a somewhat robotic manner, many were worried that the Tesla and SpaceX boss might not have the comedy chops for SNL.
The people predicting a trainwreck may not realise that Musk has a fairly extensive comedy background, more in the Andy Kaufman anti-comedy stunt school than in the stand-up tradition. Kaufman, however, was never in possession of near-infinite resources or the ability to build novelty flamethrowers.
Here is a guide to the comedy stylings of Elon Musk, including what might be the most valuable joke of all time.
June 2010: Musk joins Twitter
Many billionaires appear happy to spend their staggering amounts of money in relative anonymity. By contrast, Musk’s Twitter jokes and memes are a big part of why he has the public profile to present SNL in the first place.
As he admitted in a 2017 tweet: “Apparently, there is this thing called ‘Dad jokes’ and I make them.”
On Twitter, where he has more than 53 million followers, Musk often plays with the public perception that he is a weird alien and/or a James Bond supervillain. His most-shared tweets include, “The rumor that I’m building a spaceship to get back to my home planet Mars is totally untrue,” and “If this works, I’m treating myself to a volcano lair. It’s time.”
September 2015: Stephen Colbert
Musk played on the supervillain idea again during a 2015 appearance on Stephen Colbert‘s CBS show. In a YouTube clip from the interview, the late-night host mentions his guest’s reputation as the “real-life Tony Stark” and asks him whether he’s a hero or a villain. The billionaire enigmatically replies: “I try to do good things.”
Later in the interview, we get a little signature Musk humor. Asked about the Tesla’s snake charger, a sinuous device that automatically inserts itself into the fuel hole of the car, Musk jokes: “For the prototype at least I would recommend not dropping anything when you’re near it.”
December 2016: The Boring Company
Most entrepreneurs are happy to give their companies fairly serious, dignified names. Most entrepreneurs, however, are not Musk. He called his boring company—that is, a company that bores holes for tunnels—the Boring Company. Cue jokes about another Boring product, another Boring press release and so on.
Musk has admitted that the whole company began as a joke. He told Joe Rogan in 2018: “I have this, it’s sort of a hobby company, called the Boring Company, which started out as a joke … And we decided to make it real and dig a tunnel under LA. And then other people asked us to build tunnels, so we said yes in a few cases.”
This makes the Boring Company the only joke to be valued at $920 million (in 2019, according to Bloomberg).
January 2018: Flamethrowers
Another Musk joke that became a real product was the flamethrower or, as it is officially known, the Not-a-Flamethrower (this is a legal distinction). In December 2017, he tweeted: “After 50k hats, we will start selling The Boring Company flamethrower. I know it’s a little off-brand, but kids love it.”
Few people took him seriously, but thousands of Not-a-Flamethrowers were sold for $500 each in 2018.
Explaining the name of the product to Rogan, Musk said: “We are told that various countries would ban shipping of it, that they would ban flamethrowers. So, to solve this problem for all of the customs agencies, we labeled it Not-a-Flamethrower.'”
The device also came with rhyming terms and conditions, which began: “I will not use this in a house, I will not point this at my spouse.” Buyers also had to agree to the term: “I understand the Boring Company isn’t responsible for anything I do, no matter how genius or stupid.”
April 2018: April Fools’ Day
The Boring Company and flamethrower wheezes made millions for Musk, but another joke may have cost him money.
On April Fools’ Day 2018, he tweeted: “Despite intense efforts to raise money, including a last-ditch mass sale of Easter Eggs, we are sad to report that Tesla has gone completely and totally bankrupt. So bankrupt, you can’t believe it.”
He also posted: “Elon was found passed out against a Tesla Model 3, surrounded by ‘Teslaquilla’ bottles, the tracks of dried tears still visible on his cheeks”—alongside a photo of himself with a cardboard sign reading “Bankwupt!”
The following day, the car company’s share price dropped 7 percent, falling to $248 a share.
On April 2, Musk tweeted: “Obviously, I’m not going to do an April Fool’s joke about going bankwupt if I thought there was any chance it would actually happen (sigh).”
Two years later, he again turned a gag into a real-world product, offering a limited-edition Tesla tequila. The lightning-bolt-shaped bottles cost $250 each and sold out quickly.
November 2019: ‘Rick and Morty’
Musk has played a comic version of himself in a number of TV shows and movies. In Men in Black: International he appeared as a secret alien in an uncredited cameo. He also played himself in Iron Man 2, The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory.
The funniest of his nine cameos came in 2019, when he voiced a parallel-universe character called Elon Tusk in Rick and Morty. This Elon had a pair of tusks and was CEO of a company called Tuskla.
Musk had previously expressed a love of the cartoon, tweeting: “It’s kinda disgusting, but my boys and I love it :).”
To celebrate his appearance on the show, Musk briefly changed his Twitter name to Elon Tusk.
February 2021: Dogecoin
Musk often tweets about cryptocurrencies—sometimes seriously, sometimes not. His jokes about Dogecoin have helped the crypto’s price surge by more than 7,500 percent in 2021, however. Among his tweets in February were “Dogecoin is the people’s crypto,” and a Lion King mock-up with himself as Rafiki, holding up the shiba inu dog that symbolizes Dogecoin.
The currency was itself created as a joke to satirise the crypto industry—hence the shiba inu doge meme—but has become one of the most-followed cryptos in the market.
Saturday Night Live airs on NBC on Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. ET / 8:30 p.m. PT on NBC.