Elon Musk’s star turn as guest host of Saturday Night Live was like no other in the nearly half-century history of the US television comedy show. Even before he tried to get a laugh, Musk’s appearance helped pump up the price of a cryptocurrency that began as a joke.
Its name is dogecoin — an homage to the internet meme featuring a Shiba Inu dog. Developed in 2013 by two technologists poking fun at the buzz around cryptocurrency, it has attracted a serious amount of money, reaching a market capitalisation north of $90bn at various times on Friday and Saturday, according to the CoinMarketCap website.
Tens of billions of dollars in value were added in the days before Saturday Night Live, reflecting hopes that a televised wink or nod from the dogecoin-friendly Tesla chief executive would spur his followers to buy more. Musk appeared to encourage the wishful thinking, teasing his appearance with tweets including one last month that said: “The Dogefather/SNL May 8.”
Musk, who took on the additional title of “technoking of Tesla” this year, quickly tipped his crown in the direction of the dogecoin faithful on Saturday night. During his opening monologue, he brought out his mother Maye and after an exchange of pleasantries, they got down to business.
“I’m excited for my Mother’s Day gift,” she said, speaking only a few minutes before the US version of the celebration was to start on Sunday, eastern time. “I just hope it’s not dogecoin.”
“It is,” Musk replied, smiling broadly. “It sure is.”
The dogecoin discourse grew somewhat more analytical when Musk returned in the role of bow tie-wearing financial expert “Lloyd Ostertag” during SNL’s satirical Weekend Update segment.
“Call me the Dogefather,” he said on arriving, recalling the words of the recent Musk tweet, before being asked by anchor Michael Che to explain cryptocurrencies.
“They are a type of digital money. But instead of being controlled by a central government, they are decentralised, using blockchain technology,” said Musk/Ostertag. “And lately prices have been soaring for cryptos like bitcoin, ethereum and especially dogecoin.”
Then it got complicated. No fewer than six times, and with increasing comic effect, the anchors asked Musk/Ostertag: “What is dogecoin?” After giving a variety of answers, including calling it “an unstoppable financial vehicle that is going to take over the world”, he said: “I keep telling you, it’s a cryptocurrency you can trade for conventional money.”
“So, it’s a hustle?” asked Che.
“Yeah, it’s a hustle,” said a broadly grinning Musk/Ostertag, before proclaiming: “To the moon!”
The hashtag #dogetothemoon had been trending on Twitter in anticipation of Musk’s appearance. But the price of dogecoin fell sharply around the time of the SNL broadcast. By the small hours of Sunday — an illiquid time in the world of finance — the dogecoin price had dropped by about a quarter to take its market capitalisation under $70bn, according to CoinMarketCap.
The Dogefather had appeared, as promised, but it was hard to know what to make of his words. With tongue relentlessly in cheek, he kept his audience guessing about why one of the richest people in the world would want to joke around on television about a funny cryptocurrency that could gain and lose tens of billions of dollars in value in a matter of days.
“Look, I know I sometimes say or post strange things, but that’s just how my brain works,” Musk said during his monologue. “To anyone I have offended, I just want to say I reinvented electric cars and I’m sending people to Mars in a rocket ship. Did you think I was also going to be a chill, normal dude?”
Musk giggled, and the studio audience laughed. Whether dogecoin investors will wind up similarly amused remains to be seen.