Elon Musk boosts his brand, and NBC's, on Saturday Night Live but Dogecoin takes a dive

DETROIT (REUTERS) – Billionaire Elon Musk dropped a surprise early in his hotly anticipated turn as host of Saturday Night Live (SNL) saying in his monologue that he “is the first person with Asperger’s” to host the show, before clowning through skits for the first global livestream of the NBCUniversal comedy show on Saturday (May 8).

Mr Musk, one of the world’s richest individuals, opened his monologue by telling an audience in more than 100 countries he is “the first person with Asperger’s to host SNL. At least the first to admit it”.

The billionaire made light of his tendency to speak in a monotone, adding “I’m pretty good at running human in emulation mode.”

Asperger syndrome is a condition on the autism spectrum that is associated with difficulty in social interaction, and sometimes is referred to as high functioning autism.

Comedian and Saturday Night Live alumni Dan Aykroyd has spoken in interviews about being diagnosed with a mild form of Asperger’s. He hosted Saturday Night Live in 2003.

Many had wondered how Mr Musk would handle himself during a live comedy show. The answer was that he, and the show’s writers, sought to soften the rough edges of Mr Musk’s public persona.

Throughout the show, Mr Musk gently poked fun at himself, including his penchant for provocative tweets and the time he smoked a joint on a podcast.

“To anyone I’ve offended I just want to say, I reinvented electric cars and I’m sending people to Mars on a rocket ship. Did you think I would be a chill, normal dude?”

Mr Musk’s mother, Maye, joined him on stage and the two made a joke about Dogecoin, the cryptocurrency Mr Musk has touted.

Cryptocurrency jokes popped up throughout the show. In one sketch, Mr Musk was cast as a bow-tie wearing cryptocurrency expert on the show’s Weekend Update segment. Dogecoin and other digital currencies had surged in price ahead of Mr Musk’s SNL appearance.

Mr Musk was most convincing playing a version of himself as head of SpaceX dealing with an emergency on a Martian colony.

The crisis had a happy ending, until it didn’t. In the end, Mr Musk will keep his day jobs.

Still, the SNL appearance offered plenty of synergies with his real gigs as “technoking” and Chief Executive of Tesla, head of rocket launch company SpaceX and even chief of the Boring Company, a tunnel construction venture.

Mr Musk got days of attention across all forms of media ahead of the show, and shared the spotlight with a prototype of Tesla’s futuristic Cybertruck that Tesla brought to Manhattan on Friday. Video of the hulking, angular pickup prowling Manhattan streets blew up on social media.

During the show, a Tesla supercharger made an incongruous cameo appearance in a skit set in an old West saloon. Mr Musk played a gunslinger who had developed an electric horse, and advocated tunnelling through the earth to escape a shootout.

Mr Musk often boasts that Tesla doesn’t spend billions on advertising the way established automakers do. He doesn’t have to so long as he has access to platforms like Twitter or SNL.

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Mr Musk’s appearance also boosted NBCUniversal. The media company used his global celebrity – and the controversy surrounding his appearance on a stage normally reserved for film stars or professional comedians – to get attention for launching the SNL franchise beyond the confines of broadcast television.

The company said Saturday’s show was streamed live via Alphabet Inc’s YouTube to more than 100 countries.

A ‘hustle’

The value of dogecoin dropped sharply in early US hours on Sunday, after Mr Musk called it a ‘hustle’ during one of the sketches.

Dogecoin, which started as a joke based on a Shiba Inu Internet meme, was quoted as low as US$0.47 (S$0.62) on crypto exchange Binance, down 28 per cent from levels around US$0.65 before the show.

Cryptocurrency enthusiasts had for days been eager to see what he would say, after his tweets this year turned the once-obscure digital currency into a speculator’s dream.

Asked ‘what is dogecoin’, Mr Musk replied, “It’s the future of currency. It’s an unstoppable financial vehicle that’s going to take over the world.”

When SNL cast member Michael Che countered, “So, it’s a hustle?”, Mr Musk replied, “Yeah, it’s a hustle.” And laughed.

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Mr Musk is the rare business mogul to have been asked to host the venerable comedy TV show. The timing puts him back in the spotlight just as Tesla’s stock is losing steam following last year’s monster rally.

The unconventional CEO has posted numerous comments about cryptocurrencies on Twitter and criticised regular old cash for having negative real interest rates.

“Only a fool wouldn’t look elsewhere,” he said in February.

His cryptic tweets “Doge” and “Dogecoin is the people’s crypto” that month kicked off a rally in dogecoin – created as a parody on the more mainstream bitcoin and ethereum .

On Thursday, Mr Musk tweeted: “Cryptocurrency is promising, but please invest with caution!” with a video clip attached in which he said, “it should be considered speculation at this point. And so, you know, don’t don’t go too far in the crypto speculation…”

But he also said, in the video, that cryptocurrency has a”good chance” of becoming what he called “the future currency of the Earth.”

On crypto data tracker CoinGecko.com, dogecoin has jumped more than 800 per cent over the last month and is now the fourth-largest digital currency, with a market capitalisation of US$73 billion.

It hit a record high Thursday above US$0.73.

It has overtaken more widely used cryptocurrencies such as litecoin and tether.

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Tesla said in February it bought US$1.5 billion worth of bitcoin and would soon accept it as a form of payment for its electric cars, a large stride toward mainstream acceptance that sent bitcoin soaring to a record high of nearly US$62,000.

Tesla shares closed 1.3 per cent higher at US$672.37 on Friday.

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