It provided comic relief during a divisive US presidential campaign, but
post-election opener was no laughing matter.
Marking both Donald Trump's triumph and the recent death of Leonard Cohen, Kate McKinnon's defeated Hillary Clinton sat behind a piano and performed a heartbreakingly beautiful Hallelujah.
"I did my best, it wasn't much," she sang in the cold open, to a quiet audience. "I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch. I told the truth, I didn't come to fool ya. And even though it all went wrong, I'll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah."
After finishing the song, she turned to the camera with tears in her eyes and said: "I'm not giving up and neither should you. And live from New York, it's Saturday night!"
McKinnon has portrayed Clinton on SNL through the bitter campaign season - as tough, determined and always in a pants suit - to critical acclaim.
But last night's sombre opening follows Clinton's shock defeat, violent anti-Trump protests across the US, and a Democratic party questioning what went wrong.
The show's solemn start, which didn't feature McKinnon's sparring partner Alec Baldwin as Trump, struck a chord on Twitter.
Taking the stage after McKinnon was comedian Dave Chapelle who, claiming to be rusty after a decade largely out of the TV spotlight, proved ready and eager to offer his take on Trump's victory over Clinton.
"You know, I didn't know Donald Trump was going to win ... I did suspect it," Chapelle said in his powerful opening monologue.
"I know the whites, you guys aren't as full of surprises as you used to be. But America's done it, we've finally elected an internet troll as president. And white people were furious, I haven't seen them this angry since the OJ (Simpson) verdict.
"I haven't seen this before ... I watched a white riot in Portland, Oregon, the other night. The news said they did a million dollars worth of damage, all the black people were watching like, 'amateurs'. So, I'm going to take a knee like (football player Colin) Kaepernick and let the whites figure this out among themselves."
There were one-liners - he grabbed the maid in his Trump hotel room because the "boss said it was OK" - but Chappelle also got serious, talking about the Black Lives Matter movement and other issues beyond the election.
"I don't even think it's the most important thing we're dealing with," Chappelle said, noting "all these shootings in the last year, worst mass shootings in the history of the United States."
Giving a shootout to President Barack Obama for a job well done and saying he'd be missed, Chappelle told of attending a recent BET-sponsored White House party attended mostly by African-American guests.
He recalled how rare it was in past centuries for blacks to be allowed to visit the White House, adding that he relished seeing "how happy everybody was, these people that had been historically disenfranchised."
"It made me feel hopeful, and it made me feel proud to be an American, and it made me very happy about the prospects of our country," Chappelle said. "So, in that spirit, I'm wishing Donald Trump luck, and I'm going to give him a chance. And we, the historically disenfranchised, demand that he give us one, too."
For a SNL parody of
, Chappelle revived a number of the characters he played on his old show. Chris Rock joined him in a sketch mocking white election angst.
When a white character exclaimed, "Oh my God, I think America is racist," Chappelle replied: "I remember my great-grandfather told me something like that. He was like a slave or something."
The show's musical guest, A Tribe Called Quest, sang, We the People and later, The Space Program with Busta Rhymes and Consequence.
It comes as sources said Alec Baldwin won't reprise his role as Trump on SNL. He first unrolled his hysterical Trump impression in October, when he and McKinnon's Hillary Clinton recreated the first of three presidential debates.