“If I’m good at sports, I must be good at nuanced comedic timing on a live national stage, right?”
~Most Professional Athletes to Their Agents
Last week, we went through the literally hundreds of hosts who have graced the stages of Saturday Night Live over the past forty-plus years. And in our searching, we’ve found that…a lot of the hosts are random as hell. As in, there are a lot of people who can go up to you at a party and say, “I hosted SNL once,” to whom you’d reply, “Oh shut up, stop lying to get attention, Francis Ford Coppola.” And while we’ve covered the 80s, and the decisions that aged…not so great, there’s a complete category of performer we’ve failed to mention. They host SNL all the time, are almost never good at it, and have really no business being in comedy. We’re talking, of course, about professional athletes.
The SNL Host Series: Most Random Hosts in Saturday Night Live History (Part 4: Sports Hosts)
Now, most of you know who Bob Uecker is. He was the sportscaster for the Milwaukee Brewers back during the time where you could be a local sportscaster and become nationally famous. And Mr. Baseball claimed a permanent place in pop culture through his work on the film Major League. But we were pretty surprised to find that they had him actually hosting Saturday Night Live. Admittedly, it wasn’t a bad idea. Uecker made a name for himself as a comedian as well as a sports man, and he appeared as a guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson over 100 times. And, credit where credit’s due, he pulled off his sketches and monologue relatively admirably. Really, though, we have to imagine that a big reason why SNL had Uecker hosting was that the 10th season of the show was kind of a mess. We touched base on this a little in the first entry of our series, but this was the season right after Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo had left the show (how’d that work out for you, there, Joe?) and they tried to right the ship by putting in relatively big-name performers on the cast such as Billy Crystal, Martin Short, and Harry Shearer, none of whom lasted more than a year.
The craziest thing here doesn’t even have anything to do with Bob Uecker hosting at some point during the 1984-1985 season. And it isn’t even that he technically was the first host of the entire season, because the previous episode didn’t even have a host. No, it’s that Bob Uecker wasn’t even the only sportscaster to host this season. Because the season finale (finale!) was hosted by…
The 80s were a great time to be into sports, cocaine, and comedy, because any sports figure who could help boost ratings was brought in to try to save the show’s sinking ship. Howard Cosell, who was “famous” but not “famous for being funny” was brought in to close out the 10th season, which we know we just told you, but we had to say it again to convince ourselves that this was a real thing that actually happened. Now, the problem with having a guy like Howard Cosell on your sketch comedy show is that you’re pretty much limited to having him play, like, “himself” or, like, just spitballing here, an eight minute sketch where he plays his father at his own Bar Mitzvah. Wait, holy fuck, that last one actually happened? Eight minutes? Does it involve a 13-year-old kid doing a actually-okay Howard Cosell impression? Yes it fucking does? And, what, does Billy Chrystal wear a fake Howard Cosell nose and do a Howard Cosell impression while playing Howard Cosell’s mother? Listen, man, you know that fucking happened, 1985 SNL truly is the darkest timeline.
The 11th season of Saturday Night Live was a bloodbath. It had not one, not two, but three actors who would go on to be nominated for Academy Awards (Robert Downey, Jr., Joan Cusack and Randy Quaid) all of whom…got fired at the end of their first and only season. So it’s kind of fitting, and also impressively hilarious, that they decided to end that season with Angelica Houston (talented) hosting with on-again-off-again Yankees manager Billy Martin (drunk). Ignoring the fact that there is nothing more likely to make the entire country roll their eyes at New York City than watching them put the manager of the Yankees in the season finale’s co-host slot, this whole thing was a brilliant disaster. Like, okay, you know that joke we just made about Billy Martin being a drunk? That’s actually pretty mean-spirited, since he had a pretty well-known drinking problem.
But you know what’s meaner? The fact that they wrote him as a drunk in all of his sketches (which he mangled and fumbled his way through pretty atrociously) and closed the episode with Lorne accusing Martin of being drunk and firing him. Then, in a fit, Martin sets fire to his dressing room, at which point Lorne Michaels grabs Jon Lovitz and escorts him safely to his limo, while directing the rest of the writers to the dressing room. The show literally ends with everyone but Lorne Michaels and Jon Lovitz running around in a dressing room on fire, with the words “WHO WILL SURVIVE? TUNE IN OCT. 11” imposed on the screen. Now that’s a fucking insane way to end the 11th season of Saturday Night Live, but it’s especially fucked when everyone got fired after that episode. Seriously, the only people to carry over to season 12 were Jon Lovitz and Dennis Miller. You know Lorne Michaels knew he was firing everyone on the show when they decided on that way to end the season. That’s cold blooded.
Who the fuck thought that would be a good idea? We do not envy the 1990 writing staff that had to find a way to pitch ideas to George Steinbrenner for a whole week. It’s hard enough to write for someone who isn’t a comedian, but whenever you’re writing for a billionaire who stares into the camera with that distant hollow “Brian Wilson after 1983” look, your hands are pretty tied. So we were given such gems as “George Stienbrenner takes off his pants, calls a female reporter ‘honey’ for two awkward minutes” and “George Steinbrenner, er, ‘Bob’ fights over the check with Kevin Nealan.” But yeah, when people wonder why everyone hates the Yankees, it’s because they did shit like “have their non-acting owner host SNL for no reason.”
Nancy Kerrigan hosted SNL in 1994 just two months after the thing she’s most famous for. No not her silver medal. Come on, you’re not really going to make us link to the thing, are you? Okay fine, here you go you bastards. But like, um. Okay, Nancy, you’re a national treasure and we adore you. But…stick to the skating maybe? We could only make it like two minutes into her monologue before we had to take a breather. Nancy Kerrigan reads cue cards with all the enthusiasm and polish of an American tourist giving a videotaped statement from a North Korean prison. The only other clip that’s readily available online involves her skating with Chris Farley, which requires her doing something she’s very good at (skating) without asking her to do anything she’s bad at (talking comfortably in front of a camera).
And you know what, come to think of it, let’s take this even further.
Frankly, All The Professional Athletes
SNL loves putting athletes on their show, even though roughly 95% of all famous athletes have the onstage charisma of a lobster thermidor at a Bar Mitzvah. Now, sometimes you have an athlete hosting who actually works, like Payton Manning, whose United Way sketch is an all-timer. And sometimes you get like, at least one sketch from a historically great athlete that’s actually silly and fun, like Michael Jordan’s Stuart Smalley sketch or that one time where Tracy Morgan spanked Shaq. And for some reason Charles Barkley has hosted four times, which even he is like “what, seriously you guys?” But most of the time you get a forgettable performance from an athlete that makes you stop and think, “Wait, did we as a nation actually want Andy Roddick to host Saturday Night Live?”
There have been literally dozens of athletes hosting the show, including Deon Sanders, Bill Russell, Derek Jeter, George Foreman, Walter Payton (RIP) and…Fran Tarkenton? Seriously? They all range wildly in quality, but for every “pretty good” host there are ten that are like, “What the hell do you mean Jeff Gordon hosted SNL in 2003? You could put a tub of Fage in a stock car and it’d make a more exciting host.” Thankfully, since 2005, SNL has fallen out of the habit. Like, in the 80s, 90s and early 00s, athletes were everywhere. Now, in the past 13 years or so, we’ve limited to athletes who act (like Ronda Rousey, or John Cena), the occasional Olympian (Michael Phelps) and, again, Charles Barkley for some fucking reason. Can SNL cool it with getting Charles Barkley to host? Please?
Oh but there’s one more athlete that we gotta mention, since lumping him in with “the rest of the athletes” seems like a disservice.
Okay he’s an athlete, sure, but he gets his own entry obviously. Because lol. He hosted all the way back in 1978, and would you believe that it seems NBC has removed any and all videos of his performance from their site? We wonder why! Though you can still find the whole thing on Hulu. He was in all the classic sketches. He did his monologue as one of the coneheads. He did a sketch with John Belushi’s Samurai character, Futuba. We actually did a quick search to determine if there has been any other host of Saturday Night Live to arrested for murder, and the answer was “we don’t know, probably? We don’t have the manpower to go through all 700+ hosts to confirm that, and this is a bit dark for humor purposes, don’t you think?”
Are…are we going to really close this article on a half-fleshed out murder joke? Speaking of murderers (?), our next entry is about politicians who have hosted! It’s never a good idea, you guys!