Who is your all-time favorite SNL host?
First-time host Anya Taylor-Joy takes the Studio 8H stage tonight to close out Saturday Night Live’s 46th season. With this week’s AVQ&A, we take a look back at the hundreds of comedians, actors, athletes, politicians, and public figures who precede her:
Who is your all-time favorite SNL host?
I don’t care all that much about SNL, so my favorite hosts are the ones that break the format in some way—either because they’re really famous or because they’re just so out of their depth that the regular cast has no choice but to build the entire show around what they can do. I won’t say which of those categories he falls in, but Charles Barkley is easily my favorite example of that kind of show-devouring host, and it’s mostly because (for no reason in particular) he’s very good at playing characters who are completely baffled by whatever’s happening around them. You could say it seems very natural. [Sam Barsanti]
Like Sam, I also don’t care much about SNL. In fact, all of the times I’ve watched it in the last 10 years have been under duress (a.k.a. when a celeb or group I love is either hosting or performing). That being said, my favorite SNL host is definitely Harry Styles. The Sara Lee skit felt like a fever dream. Actually, it felt like the SNL writers bribed my FBI agent, and then found their way into my group chat and decided to use a bunch of depressed, socially anxious queers as inspiration. Which like… hell, yeah. Representation, amirite? It’s been almost two years and “Why do guys freak out when I ask them to spit in my mouth?” still pops into my head completely unprompted. Thanks, Harry. [Shanicka Anderson]
While I love when a singular presence like John Malkovich compels SNL to meet them on their own gonzo wavelength, I’m always in awe of hosts who step so seamlessly into the show’s flow. On that tip, few of late have matched the breezy, game-for-anything professionalism of three-time host Emma Stone whose episodes feel like glimpses into an alternate timeline where she’s an undeniable star of the regular cast. She can go big with hammy character work, or bring the house down with no words at all. But Stone’s talents are perhaps best highlighted by a pair of digital shorts from brilliant writer Julio Torres: In “Wells For Boys” she makes the most out of a few short lines as a protective mother, and in “The Actress” she delivers one of the best one-sketch performances to ever grace 30 Rock, imbuing (clothed) porn actor Deirdre with an entire arc in just over four minutes. Whatever the assignment, Emma Stone gets it. [Cameron Scheetz]
A great Saturday Night Live host has to walk a narrow line between projecting their own vibe onto the show, while also working well within its established structure. Nobody embodies that careful balance better than seven-time host Christopher Walken, who has gamely contributed his odd cadences and ever-present smirk to everything from failed Lotharios, to the memetically inescapable “More Cowbell” sketch, all without a hint of restraining ego or dignity. Throughout the ’90s and 2000s, Walken got very comfortable (maybe a little too comfortable, *cough* Joe Dirt *cough*) playing with his quasi-alien public image for comedy. But for my money, he never milked more laughs out of it than when he was having a blast in Studio 8H, sitting across from Chris Parnell and asking him a series of too-personal questions about centaur life. [William Hughes]
Probably because I remember so many awful SNL hosts from when I was a kid, now I’m just grateful if they’re not obviously reading cue cards and seem to be game to get in the spirit of the whole thing. Maybe now after fortysome years, people have a better idea of what’s in store when they sign up to host; this season alone I was very impressed with Regina King, Daniel Kaluuya, and Regé-Jean Page for stepping in and killing it as first-timers. But my favorite example of this is when Jon Hamm hosts. The Mad Men actor wasn’t really known for his comedy chops when he hosted for the first time in 2008 (returning twice in 2010), but he apparently took to the SNL stage so easily that he could commandeer entire sketches by himself (without a regular cast member in sight) like in “Jon Hamm’s John Ham,” or forcing Michael Bublé to sing at Hamm & Bublé’s restaurant. Hamm’s best SNL moments, though, are when he veers completely out of character, like playing Barney to Kirsten Wiig’s Darlique in a bizarre bickering lounge singer act. A return Hamm hosting visit to SNL is overdue; I’d love to see him with the current cast. [Gwen Ihnat]
There is one correct answer to this question, and it is this: Tom Hanks. America’s dad has hosted the show about 10 times, and has, almost without fail, contributed to an absolutely iconic sketch each appearance. Whether it’s as Mr. Short Term Memory Loss, David S. Pumpkins, or even Black Jeopardy! contestant Doug, Hanks brings a joie de vivre to SNL that’s nearly unmatched. He’s having fun there, and we at home are having fun watching him. He’s got such a handle on the show that he can even make fun of himself—see season 34’s Celebrity Jeopardy appearance—or the show as a whole, like back in 1990 when he was inducted into the Five Timers’ Club and then, years later, helped make Justin Timberlake “a fiver.” Hanks’ SNL appearances have always been appointment viewing for me, and I can’t see that changing any time soon. [Marah Eakin]
Adam Driver is great for SNL because he has both a good sense of humor about himself and the confidence to stick with what works. He’ll deliver a monologue poking fun at his reputation for being a capital-S, capital-A Serious Actor, then throw himself into very silly roles (and very silly wigs) with the same intensity he was just self-effacingly mocking. As our own Dennis Perkins has noted, he does better in the pre-taped sketches, but even in his messier live moments Driver’s sheer commitment can turn a stale premise into something memorable. That being said, my favorite of his SNL bits is a digital short: Undercover Boss: Starkiller Base. What makes it so charming is the way Driver takes the exact same posture, vocal tics, and facial movements he uses playing Kylo Ren in the movies and exaggerates them for comedic effect, without going so far over the top that it delegitimizes the character. Kylo Ren would struggle to do a thumbs up, and he would make extremely awkward small talk in the cafeteria—all of which makes the jokes land that much better. [Katie Rife]
Look, we all know this conversation has to acknowledge the more universally lauded all-timers, and for my money, there’s a reason that Steve Martin has hosted the show more times than almost anyone (save for Alex Baldwin, damn his eyes). Yes, it’s been argued that in another universe he could’ve been one of the original Not Ready For Prime-Time Players, but I actually think it’s the way his comic sensibility is slightly different than the show’s—more cerebrally absurdist, less grounded—that makes him so good. His oddball postmodernist style fuses ideally with the show’s format in ways that bring them both out of their usual techniques to create something ever-so-slightly more idiosyncratic, thereby elevating both host and episode. It’s not just “King Tut” or two wild and crazy guys; it’s the way he shapes truly weird stuff like the “What The Hell Is That?” skit as much as the earnest affect he brings to ridiculous shit like “Steve Martin’s Penis Beauty Cream.” The man can do it all. [Alex McLevy]