“Live from New York it’s…wait who the hell is that?”
~Don Pardo (RIP)
On April 14th, 2018, John Mulaney hosted Saturday Night Live’s 847th episode. Mulaney, a former writer for the show, was warmly received even if he’s not exactly a household name. Sure, Mulaney had a Netflix stand up show that he was pushing, but there’s a fair chance that twenty or thirty years from now, some writer for AFFotD will be doing some research and go, “Wait, John Mulaney hosted Saturday Night Live? Who the hell is that? And why am I speaking Russian?”
As it turns out, this is not an uncommon phenomenon. Not only does Saturday Night Live bring in a lot of guests who are only on the fringe of famous, they also tend to pull the trigger on a lot of flash-in-the-pans that immediately fade away from our collective consciousness. This fascinates us, so we (probably incorrectly) assume it will fascinate you.
We’ve gone ahead and compiled a list of 30+ people who have hosted SNL, arguably the most influential and important comedy show in television history, that made us go, “Wait…they hosted Saturday Night Live? Who the hell is that?”
Not surprisingly, this is going to take a long time. And we’re going to have to split this into categories, starting with the 1980s, because the 1980s on SNL were, to put it politely, a fucking train wreck. So enjoy the first of six installments of our latest series (which probably won’t be quite as intense as, say, our Re-Awarding the Oscars series) of…
The SNL Host Series: Most Random Hosts in Saturday Night Live History (Part 1: The Dreaded 80s)
Saturday Night Live was, frankly, lucky to survive the 1980s. In 1980, Lorne Michaels left the show, trying to pass the show off to Al Franken. NBC’s president at the time didn’t care for that idea (and this was before all that #MeToo stuff), and put Jean Doumanian, an associate producer, in charge. She brought in a brand new cast and writing staff, and season six of the show was an utter failure. The show only survived those early years thanks to the charisma of Eddie Murphy and the fact that Joe Piscopo was briefly culturally relevant. The rest of the 80s saw a parade of actors floundering on SNL before becoming famous years later. Gilbert Gottfried was on the show for a season in 1980-1981, a young Julia-Louis Dreyfus was there for three seasons in her early-20s, and the 1985-1986 season had one-and-done cast members including Joan Cusack, Robert Downey, Jr., Anthony Michael Hall, Randy Quaid, and Damon Wayans. Shit was a mess. To the point that many assumed that Saturday Night Live would not make it out of the decade. And if Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman hadn’t joined the cast to such fanfare in the 1987-1988 season, who knows what would have happened.
What did this chaos mean for SNL in the decade of cocaine and shoulder pads? Well, a lot of weird shit happened. Especially when it came to hosts. Because the show’s producers basically would give anyone a shot. Including these…surprising hosts.
No, not Ronald Reagan, the former President of the United States. Ron Reagan, his elastic-faced youngest son. He hosted in 1986, when he was a 28-year-old, cocaine was everywhere, and his dad was in the White House. He was…not good. Penn and Teller were there as special guests to help him out, which also is, we swear, a thing that actually happened. Like, they just did a magic show upside down for six minutes. Yes, upside down. Yes, we are aware we probably are using up all our cocaine jokes too early in this article.
The whole thing feels deeply weird when you watch it today. Could you imagine the equivalent happening now? Like, that would like if (looks up the youngest adult son of the current president) Eric Trump hosted SNL with a magic show by (looks up the most popular comedic magicians of 2018) Penn and Teller.
Wait, Theo from The Cosby Show hosted when he was 16 years old? Like, that actually happened? That’s crazy, but we’re so happy it did. That’s amazing. This went down in 1986, with Run-DMC was the musical guest, which we super hope wasn’t a racial decision but…like probably? Sam Kinison did a guest-stand up set in this episode (which, yeah, just random stand up sets midway through the show apparently was a thing they did a bunch in the 80s) just a few weeks before he hosted his own episode.
Anyway, this year was the season where the whole show got pretty much blown up (only four cast members from the previous year made it to season 12), so there was a lot of floundering going on. That said, it’s not too far of a reach to go for Warner as a host here. The Cosby Show was a huge smash, and he’s an extremely likeable actor. Plus, the gimmick of having a teenager host probably helps ratings. Unfortunately, we can’t find his monologue; the only thing we’ve found was a single sentence description of “Dana Carvey helps self-conscious Warner dance in front of the audience.” He played himself in a Cosby Show spoof where Theo dreams his dad is Bing Crosby (played by Phil Hartman) that unfortunately we can’t find any video of, but here’s a sketch of him just, you know reading a parent-child contract. It’s not great, but that’s mostly the writers fault.
Ed Begley, Jr.
Okay, you’re going to need some hand-holding on this one. Like, he makes a lot of sense as a host in terms of “he’s funny and is in a lot of things,” but then again there’s a chance that you saw that name and were like, “wait that sounds familiar” before you saw that picture and said “oh shit, right.” That, and also, probably only 25% of you are calling bullshit, since that’s a picture of Bruce Davison, who has not hosted SNL. This is Ed Begley Jr.
There we go. And here’s a picture of him on SNL, which he hosted in 1984.
Granted, this was when he was on St. Elsewhere, which was a huge show for which he got six Primetime Emmy nominations in a row, but still. If you were born after the year 1980, you pretty much only remember him as “that guy with alopecia from Arrested Development who shows up as a minor character in like, every Christopher Guest movie.”
Anyway, we’ve posted a link of a clip from the show you can watch today, where he plays a time traveler who interrupts a sketch so he can find Julie Louise-Dreyfus and grope her breasts. Oh no, that’s not a joke. The 80s, man. The 80s.
Francis Ford Coppola
Guys, as “what the fuck is this” having Francis Ford Coppolo host SNL sounds, it gets even stranger. Coppola hosted a 1986 episode that has been called “the weirdest episode of the weirdest season of Saturday Night Live” and ho boy. Technically, Francis Ford Coppola co-hosted this episode with George Wendt. But Coppola “directed” the episode, which meant that every other sketch cut to him on a director’s chair giving notes. Phillip Glass was the musical guest, because fucking sure at this point we’re so numb nothing even shocks us anymore. What’s that? They made the opening title sequence a trippy “art film” thing scored by Phillip Glass? Okay, yeah, makes sense, totally not a weird fucking thing that would only happen in the 80s.
Like, we watched more of this than is healthy, and we still have no idea what to think about it. It’s a deeply weird episode. Like, deeply weird.
There are three Academy Award nominated actors here, an Academy Award winner behind the camera, and also we’re pretty sure Robert Downey Jr.’s suitcase is filled with cocaine.
So um. Yeah. Let’s move on.
From Wikipedia—“known for her former relationship with Mick Jagger with whome she has four children and her marriage to media mogul Rupert Murdoch.” By the way, she was married to Mick Jagger from 1977 to 1999, and she hosted in 1986, and if you’d think “well she hosted due to her merits and didn’t make the whole thing about how she’s just married to a famous musician” haha, get that woke optimism out of here, this shit went down in 1986 you know exactly how they played it. This was another episode from 1986, that 11th season where Ron Reagan hosted (as well as a pre-Tonight Show Jay Leno, randomly) that ended with just about the entire cast getting fired.
Sam Kinison did a stand up bit on this episode too. In fact, Kinison managed a guest slot during four episodes in this season alone, which doesn’t include his hosting gig and guest appearance on Warner’s episode the following season. Don’t get us wrong, we love us some Sam Kinison, but doesn’t that seem like, desperate even for Saturday Night Live? Like, over the course of a full calendar year, Kinison was just given six minutes of live-air about as frequently as Stephon showed up on Weekend Update in his first season of appearances. That’s lazy, right?
Well, so is having Mick Jagger’s wife host just for the hell of it, we guess. SNL was weird in the 1980s. And this is just scratching the surface. Come back in a few days to see even more surprising, strange, or just downright unknown hosts that have graced the Studio 8H.