Hosting Saturday Night Live is a pretty thankless job. Hosts, who often having little or no comedy training, are expected to come in on a Monday and be hilarious by Saturday. Add to that that the show often has no idea what to do with the guests hosts besides some lame sketch that capitalizes on whatever show or movie they’re on, and it’s no wonder that the hosting position is often the weakest link in the show. Still, despite the odds being stacked against them, some guest hosts turn in amazing performances and even outshine the regular cast members. These are the Top Ten Saturday Night Live Hosts. In the interest of fairness, we’ve decided to exclude former cast members from consideration. If they can’t be good, nobody can.
10. Buck Henry
He hasn’t been on the show in years and there’s a good chance most people under the age of 30 have no idea who he is, but writer and comedian Buck Henry was one of the best SNL hosts of the 70s. Back in the glory days, Henry was the host of each of the show’s first four season finales, and he was an indelible part of the early show’s success. Like Steve Martin, he was involved in some of the greatest sketches of the era, and is often mistaken as a cast member. His work opposite John Belushi in the classic Samurai sketches is a master class in playing it straight and by itself merits his inclusion on this list. He also had a ton of other great characters and set the bar high for what a person could do in the hosting role.
Best Sketches: Various Samurai Customers, Uncle Roy
9. Drew Barrymore
Way back on November 20th, 1982, a seven year old Drew Barrymore became the youngest person to ever host Saturday Night Live, a record she still holds to this day. Take that Macauly Culkin! Barrymore has gone on to host the show more than any other woman (6 times so far) and is one of only two ladies in the super-exclusive Five Timers Club, Candace Bergen being the other. Comedy in general is a man’s world, but every time Barrymore shows up on the SNL set, you know she’s going to be funny. Even if she isn’t (or the writers give her stinkers) she always charming and fun to watch. She’s also, like the people on this list, one of the few hosts who can carry a sketch, rather than just stand in the corner and say a line or two.
Best Sketches: The Welshly Arms Hotel Lovers, Disturbed Job Applicant
8. Paul Simon
If you don’t include his musical appearances, Paul Simon hasn’t appeared all that much on SNL. But when he does, he always turns in very funny and surprisingly sweet performances. Unlike other singers who shined on the show like Justin Timberlake, Simon has never really pursued a career as an actor, but from the awesome work he’s done on SNL, he certainly could have. Add to that his long list of knockout performances including a reunion with Art Garfunkel, an amazing duet with George Harrison, and the moving first episode after 911, and you have one entertainer that will always be welcome on the show.
Best Sketches: Desert Island Christmas, Still Crazy After All these Years in Turkey Costume
7. Christopher Walken
It’s always the ones you least expect. Before he made his first appearance on SNL, you would have been forgiven for thinking that Christopher Walken wasn’t a particularly funny guy. Intense? Yeah. Creepy? Sure. But hilarious in a live comedy setting? Probably not. But he was. Playing against his well established type, Walken is always totally fearless and totally funny when he comes to host SNL. Trading on his image and deadpan voice, he’s the perfect straight man, and if they let him cut loose, he can turn in a performance that’s edgy, weird ,and most importantly of all, very funny. SNL is frequently called out for playing it safe, but whenever Christopher Walken makes an appearance, you’re guaranteed the comedy will be a little on the bizarre side. And that’s why we love him.
Best Sketches: Behind the Music: Blue Oyster Cult, The Continental
6. Alec Baldwin
With the second highest number of hosting appearances, Alec Baldwin was another one of those people who surprised everybody by being amazingly funny right from the start. It seems hard to believe now, but Baldwin made his name in Hollywood as a serious actor and romantic lead. It wasn’t until he appeared on SNL that people even knew he could do comedy. These days, he recognized as one of the funniest comedic actors of his generation, and a lot of that has to do with the incredible stuff he did on SNL. Which of course led to him being cast on 30 Rock, where he continues to rack up the comedy accolades and awards. In a way, SNL allowed him to make the transition from dramatic lead to hilarious character actor. Well, that and his expanding waistline.
Best Sketches: Canteen Boy, Schwetty Balls
5. John Goodman
John Goodman got his start playing Roseanne Barr’s husband on Roseanne, so it shouldn’t come as surprise that he thrived in the comedic atmosphere of Saturday Night Live. During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he practically became a regular cast member, returning week after week to portray whistle-blower Linda Tripp. Goodman has hosted the show a record 11 straight seasons in a row and is third overall in most appearances. SNL even joked about his incredible amount of appearances and included him as a potential cast member in one sketch. Goodman even helped replace John Belushi as one of the Blues Brothers, making him one of the few guest hosts to actually start in an SNL movie. Even if it was one as terrible as Blues Brothers 2000.
Best Sketches: Da Bears, various appearances as Linda Tripp
4. Justin Timberlake
Justin Timberlake is one of those great SNL hosts who comes on with low expectations and surprises everyone. When he first appeared in 2003, most people watching were expecting him to embarrassingly mug his way through a couple sketches, and hopefully not humiliate himself too badly in between his musical numbers. Instead, Timberlake knocked it out of the park. Not only was he game and gave it his all, he was actually as funny as the rest of the cast. He continues to appear on the show- often uncredited in the Lonely Island guys’ digital song parodies, and an episode with him hosting is usually a guarantee of a funny show that week. And these days, those are few amnd far between.
Best sketches: Dick in a Box, MotherLover
3. Jon Hamm
A relative newcomer to the SNL hosting game, Mad Men’s Jon Hamm has instantly become a show favourite. And can you blame them for loving this guy? He’s handsome, he’s funny, and he seems to have as much talent for dumb comedy as he does for searing drama. Not bad considering his signature role is a hard-drinking womanizer who’s life is always one step away from total collapse. SNL (never one to let a good thing go to waste) realized how well Hamm fit into the proceedings, and have had him back once a season since he first hosted back in 2008. His episodes have been among the highest rated in recent years and tend to be the funniest ones all year. Here’s to many, many more.
Best Sketches: Hamm and Buble, Don Draper at the Apollo
2. Tom Hanks
There are few Hollywood stars who are able to move from comedy to drama as easily as Tom Hanks. He started his career playing lovable idiots, moved on to playing idiots with sensitive hearts, and then out of nowhere became one of the best actors of his generation. On his many Saturday Night Live appearances over the years, he fits in like he’s always been there. He’s created memorable recurring characters, poked fun at himself like a pro, and generally looks like he was having a great time. How much more could you ask for from a guy who’s basically there to plug a movie?
Best Sketches : Two Lonely Guys, Mr. Short-term Memory
1. Steve Martin
Steve Martin was such a huge part of the early success of SNL that it’s hard not to think of him as a regular cast member. One of the show’s first break-out sketches was the Martin led “King Tut.” It was a profoundly silly sketch, but Martin’s performance in it as well as one of the Two Wild and Crazy Guys, helped turn SNL into an overnight sensation. Martin would go one to host dozens of episodes over the course of the show’s long history (most recently in 2009) and has become such a huge part of the mythology of SNL that he may as well be a cast member. At the very least, he deserves the same amount of credit for turning in funny performance after funny performance and helping to establish the show as the preeminent American comedy institution.
Best Sketches: King Tut, A Christmas Wishafter post