After a decades-long feud with the show, no one thought Eddie Murphy would ever return to SNL. But 35 years after he left, Murphy returned to Studio 8H. Murphy was one of "SNL’s" many unlikely hosts over the years, including presidential candidate Steve Forbes, mayor Ed Koch, journalist Jimmy Breslin, athletes like a pre-disgraced Lance Armstrong and a post-assault Nancy Kerrigan and classic stars like Broderick Crawford and Ricky Ricardo himself, Desi Arnaz. They’ve had blind hosts like Ray Charles, and old hosts like 80-year old Ruth Gordon, 88-year-old Betty White and 80-year-old Miskel Spillman, the winner of the show’s “Anyone Can Host” contest. Truly anyone can host "SNL" — you just wouldn’t have expected it to be these people.
Until a brief appearance at the show’s 40th anniversary celebration, Eddie Murphy had never returned to “Saturday Night Live,” even in a cameo, since leaving the show in 1984. The rumor was that he was offended by a Weekend Update segment where David Spade showed a photo of Murphy and said, “Look, children, it's a falling star!” Murphy is the sole reason the show wasn’t canceled after Lorne Michaels left, so he also has no reason to kiss the ring Lorne owes him. But the long wait ends Dec. 21 when Eddie returns to host, setting the stage for his Netflix specials, hundreds of thinkpieces and maybe even “Norbit !"
Steve Forbes had just dropped out of the Republican primaries in 1996, after winning Delaware and Arizona. Forbes ran on his “flat tax” plan, which proved slightly more popular than his awkward public persona, prompting Time Magazine to call him a “dork robot.” He wasn’t any less robotic as an "SNL" host, even in his monologue where audience members ignored his request for flat tax questions and simply speculated about the things he could do with his wealth. Rage Against The Machine got banned from the show after hanging an upside-down American flag on an amplifier in protest of the show’s fawning treatment of Forbes, which was just a warmup for when Lorne would help a different billionaire get elected in 2016.
Rudolph Giuliani had just been elected to his second term as mayor of New York City in 1997 when he stepped up to host "SNL." He won in a landslide, which may be what gave him the confidence to appear in a sketch in drag, as well as in a sketch where he played a cab driver railing about what Giuliani had done to his city. NYC politicians love doing "SNL," with former Mayor Ed Koch making four appearances and co-hosting in 1984 (as one of five co-hosts) and the Rev. Al Sharpton hosting in 2003. Though he’s made five appearances on the show, including a memorable one on the first show after 9/11, Giuliani now only appears as a Kate McKinnon character.
Although his acting experience consisted of appearing in his own music videos and guest appearances on "Mad About You" and "Sesame Street," Garth Brooks wasn't that weird a choice for "SNL" host. What was weird was that Brooks was also the musical guest — in disguise as rocker "Chris Gaines," who looked like Brooks in a wig and with a soul patch. Brooks created the persona and released an album of faux-greatest hits, supposedly to accompany a film about Gaines that never materialized. Chris Gaines confused and bewildered fans, and even Brooks seems embarrassed about it in his monologue, calling the musical guest "pretty lame."
What’s stranger than turning over hosting duties to legendary NYC reporter Jimmy Breslin? Teaming him up with the reigning middleweight boxing champion, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, who Anthony Michael Hall challenges to a fight in the cold open. The show also throws in a guest performance from Sam Kinison, ranting about the Chernobyl disaster, just to achieve the strangest possible combination of guest performers.
Before his doping came to light, it made all kinds of sense to have Lance Armstrong host an episode of "SNL." Having proved his comedic chops the year before in “Dodgeball,” Armstrong confidently assumed the hosting gig at 30 Rock, and no matter what happens in the future, he won’t have to give the standing ovations back. even after being disgraced. The show features some now-cringeworthy moments, including his promise to then-girlfriend Sheryl Crow that they’d set a wedding date (they broke up the next year) and a joke about how often the French tested his urine. Armstrong continued his association with the world of "SNL" with a cameo in Andy Samberg’s “Tour de Pharmacy.”
How did an 80-year-old grandmother from New Orleans named Miskel Spillman end up hosting "SNL" in 1977? It was all thanks to the show's "Anyone Can Host" contest, where applicants had to apply via postcard for a gig hosting the show that week. Spillman's postcard read "I need one more cheap thrill since my doctor told me I only have another 25 years left." She beat out four other finalists — including the current governor of South Dakota — and hosted the show in December. She seemed to hit it off with John Belushi, playing his older girlfriend in one sketch and doing a bit about smoking a joint with Belushi in her dressing room. Spillman was going to be paired with the Sex Pistols, but due to visa problems, she was replaced with Elvis Costello — who got himself banned from the show for over a decade for switching to the unapproved song "Radio Radio." Spillman died at the ripe old age of 95, meaning she even outlived Costello's ban!
In 1977, "SNL" had two different 80-year-old women host the show, with Ruth Gordon of "Harold and Maude" taking the reins in January before the slightly older Miskel Spillman. Gordon didn't do a lot in her appearance, because, well, she's 80 damn years old, but she does play hard-of-hearing Emily Litella's older sister. The show covers for Gordon's limitations by adding three Chuck Berry numbers, a bunch of short films and a meta-sketch about John Belushi reluctantly agreeing to perform so he can get money to buy drugs.
It seems like having Stevie Wonder as a host might be an excuse to give the cue card guys a week off, but Stevie does great work in his appearance in 1983. It helps that he has Stevie Wonder as the musical guest, who does three songs. The most memorable sketch comes when Wonder plays a terrible Stevie Wonder impersonator, alongside Eddie Murphy's excellent Stevie impression. There's fewer blind jokes than when Ray Charles hosted in Season 3. At one point Michael O'Donoghue announced the show was donating a Monet to the Lighthouse for the Blind and then revealed an otherwise blank canvas reading "Please Don't Tell Him."
At age 71, Milton Berle was an odd choice for hip "SNL" in 1979. He was a legend of vaudeville and essentially tried to do a vaudeville performance as "SNL" host. Berle did a racist, homophobic monologue, arranged for his invited guests to do a pre-planned standing ovation (with only 10 people) and also reportedly exposed himself in his dressing room to writers and crew. As a result, "Uncle Miltie" became, as far as we can tell, the oldest person to ever get banned from the show, and his episode was never rebroadcast.
It seems ridiculous now that Dwayne Johnson has joined the Five-Timers Club for frequent hosts, but back in 2000, no one was quite sure if having a professional wrestler host "SNL" was such a good idea. But then The Rock killed it in his stint, with wrestlers cheering on his monologue, particularly in "Nicotrel," the stop-smoking aid that's just The Rock hitting you in the face if you smoke.. He even wore a dress! You could argue that the success of this hosting gig, before he’d made a single feature film, provided the springboard for The Rock we know and love today.
Ron Reagan's appearance in 1986 is the first and only time the child of a sitting president has hosted "SNL" — we don't think Donald Junior would be interested. There's a lot of Reagan-specific humor, like the "Risky Business" opening, featuring Ron dancing in his underwear in the White House while his parents are away, and a "Back to the Future" parody where Ron has to convince his father to become a conservative so his parents can fall in love. Reagan praised Terry Sweeney's impression of Nancy, saying he was "more like his mother than she is."
Eighty-eight-year-old Betty White hosted "SNL" in 2010 for the same reason distant relatives bombard you with requests for Candy Crush lives and the Winklevoss twins are forever angry: Facebook, an online campaign via Facebook, which White called "a huge waste of time" in her monologue. It was the golden age of the internet bullying the entertainment industry to meet their demands, where social media users demanded a snake on every plane and a Sanjaya on every "American Idol." Nowadays the internet only makes "SNL" get rid of people! The return of former cast members like Maya Rudolph, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Molly Shannon made the whole show feel like a reunion, and the goodwill was so evident that musical guest Jay-Z was almost an afterthought. But he's probably used to being overshadowed by a talented woman by now.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was permanently banned from day-to-day management of the team in 1990 (he was reinstated in 1993), and he decided to spend some of his time off hosting a comedy show. Steinbrenner's monologue laid out the low expectations for his performance, insisting he was not a performer and also clearly distracted by his former manager Lou Piniella winning the World Series with the Cincinnati Reds 20 minutes earlier. He also plays against type as a boss who won't fire anyone.
Yes, Drew Barrymore has hosted "SNL" six times in her career, but it's still surprising that her first hosting gig was when she was 7 years old — the show starts at 11:30 p.m., which is way past her bedtime. She looks visibly sleepy by the end but delivers her best performance as her "E.T." character, gleefully discussing how she murdered her alien friend. The show is much more famous for a phone-in poll about whether the show should ban Andy Kaufman (he lost). There's also a point where she demands, "I'm a Barrymore, get me a drink!" which sounds precocious until you remember she was in rehab by age 13. Barrymore didn't host again until the ancient age of 24.
Twelve years after his idealistic, unsuccessful presidential campaign in 1972, former Sen. George McGovern hosted “Saturday Night Live.” McGovern had abandoned his long shot 1984 presidential run one month earlier, and in his monologue he explained that he’s only hosting because he needs the money, going on to beg for some from the audience. There’s a sketch imagining an alternate history where McGovern defeated Nixon and another where McGovern is the loser of his family, and McGovern also hosts the Saturday Night News. The episode also features Eddie Murphy’s final episode as a cast member and Clara “Where’s The Beef” Peller, who says her famous catchphrase three separate times.
Nancy Kerrigan won a silver medal at the 1994 Olympics, but she became truly famous after rival Tonya Harding's inept associates attacked her with a baton. That made the women's skating final the most-watched Olympic event ever, and Kerrigan turned her fame into a skating tour and endorsements worth $4 million. But it turned out Kerrigan wasn't particularly likable, getting caught on camera making fun of the Olympic gold medalist and Disneyland after the Games, and she's remarkably wooden and uncomfortable throughout her whole hosting gig. Even by the standards of athletes hosting "SNL," she would not have medaled.
Two years after a controversial election defeat, Al Gore hosted "SNL" and did a surprisingly good job! Normally a politician trying to host is shielded as much as possible, doesn't appear in many sketches and certainly doesn't do impressions. But Gore played Republican Sen. Trent Lott and Willy Wonka's accountant and leaned into his election disappointment with a chat with Stuart Smalley, and there was a taped piece where he visits the set of "The West Wing" — and won't leave the Oval Office. Let's hope no one told him that Ralph Nader hosted the show too.
A lot of NFL quarterbacks have hosted "SNL" over the years — Fran Tarkenton, both Manning brothers — but no one has delivered the purity of Joe Montana in the "Honest Man" sketch, where Montana effortlessly steals the scene from Jan Hooks and Phil Hartman like he's leading a fourth quarter comeback. It's especially impressive since Montana was knocked out of a playoff game with a concussion just three weeks prior to the show. Walter Payton isn't bad as the co-host, but it's Montana shaking off a brain injury like it was flu and hypothermia in the Cotton Bowl that truly impresses. Maybe Lorne had chicken soup backstage, but he definitely didn't have a concussion protocol.
Jerry Hall is a model and technically an actress, though not much of one. Really, she hosted "SNL" in 1986 because she was married to Mick Jagger, Rolling Stone and dedicated friend to Lorne Michaels and the show. Getting two Mick appearances didn't make up for a host who didn't act or do impressions, and the whole thing felt like Lorne doing his buddy a solid. Now she's married to Rupert Murdoch, so maybe she can take over "Fox & Friends?"
Paris Hilton is certainly famous enough to host "SNL," but as inexplicable as her fame is, it's even more baffling why anyone would have thought she could handle a live show. Hilton couldn't read cue cards, mispronounced the not-difficult name of musical guest Keane and alienated the whole cast with her self-absorption and refusal to do anything without her dog, Tinkerbell. The lesson may be that a trust fund and a sex tape aren't sufficient qualifications to host a television show.
Why did "SNL" book Gerald Ford's press secretary to host the show? Probably because he offered, and it gave them a chance to make a high government official deeply uncomfortable. Ron Nessen thought he could get the deeply unpopular Ford administration goodwill ahead of the election by latching onto a popular show, and the president even contributes some taped bits including "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!" And then Chevy Chase makes fun of him. Nessen does an amusing running bit of "Press Secretaries Through History," but the flip side is there's also a sketch about Julie Nixon making David Eisenhower take a lie detector test. Probably a failure on the political front, but Nessen looks like he had a really good time. And he only had to work that job for a few more months anyway.
Frank Zappa had been the musical guest on "SNL," but it was a bold move to put the non-actor and famous non-conformist at the controls of a live show. Zappa may have been making an artistic statement about the artificiality of television when he blatantly read from cue cards and mugged for the cameras, or he may have intentionally tanked his performance out of fear of falling flat. Either way, he got a lifetime ban after the train wreck of a show.
Broderick Crawford won an Oscar in 1949 and starred in the show "Highway Patrol" until 1959. By 1977, when he hosted "SNL," Crawford didn't seem to have a lot going on, or be particularly motivated to participate in the show. How can you tell? He delivered his monologue from a comfortable arm chair. Crawford was only in two sketches: One was about Highway Patrol, and one was about J. Edgar Hoover, who happened to be the subject of his new movie. It was almost like having no host at all, which is honestly not as bad as having, say, Olympic champion Michael Phelps.
Though they weren't hosts of the show, booking the punk band Fear was an absolutely crazy idea. It happened because 'SNL' producers, desperate for a ratings boost, would do anything to convince John Belushi to make an appearance. And that included inviting a wild punk band to 30 Rock for the Halloween show. Things got extra crazy because Belushi delivered an "authentic" punk audience, made up of kids they'd bussed in, including Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat. The band tore up the set, the kids slam-danced and someone yelled "F--- New York". The band was banned, the footage was shattered, and it became a legendary moment despite the crew insisting the damages to everything were a whopping 40 bucks.
Sean Keane is a comedian residing in Los Angeles. He has written for "Another Period," "Billy On The Street," NBC, Comedy Central, E!, and Seeso. You can see him doing fake news every weekday on @TheEverythingReport and read his tweets at @seankeane. In 2014, the SF Bay Guardian named him the best comedian in San Francisco, then immediately went out of business.