“Let’s be honest, we’re still figuring what this show is, it doesn’t matter who hosts.”
~Lorne Michaels in the 70s
For the past three weeks we’ve been flooding this site with a lot of obscure people who have hosted Saturday Night Live. We covered the eternal soul-crushing scream that was SNL in the 80s, we’ve talked about hosting decisions that aged poorly, as well as athletes and politicians. But we’ve left out one crucial decade (well, with the exception of Ralph Nader’s entry in the last article). And that would be the 70s. The show was really figuring things out in their first seasons, and that was doubly true for the people they got to host.
Unlike the 80s, where SNL was actively failing and had to reach out for whatever host they could get, the 70s tended to pick hosts that were either established comedians, or people that almost felt like they were chosen as part of a gag. It led to a deeply weird half-decade of casting choices, and feels like a natural point to end our series. So, without further ado, we present…
The SNL Host Series: Most Random Hosts in Saturday Night Live History (Part 6: The 70s Were Really Weird)
As we’ve established in, like, the title of this article, 1970s SNL got weird with shit on the reg. It’s strange to imagine a time when it made sense for SNL to have Frank Zappa as a musical guest, but he did just that in 1976 with Candice Berman as a host, and we at least kind of understand it from an SNL-as-a-counter-culture-show standpoint. But having him host? That seems…ambitious? It also did not go well. The cast hated him, mostly because he was kid of a dick to them throughout the rehearsal process. Granted, a lot of this likely stems from the fact that SNL in the 1970s is pretty synonymous with “all of the drugs” and Frank Zappa was extremely anti-drug. (That was something we had to like triple check, because, come on man, we’ve listened to his music, how could he do that sober?)
Anyway, he did such a good job hosting that…oh wait, never mind, they fucking banned him from the show for life. He mugged for the camera, he constantly broke the fourth wall to point out that he was reading cue cards, and just sort of seemed above the whole thing. SNL has scrubbed most of the clips from the show off the internet, but if you want to watch him perform “Rollo” with John Belushi doing a call and response as Samurai Futaba, like, hey it’s your time you can do what you want with it.
It’s not surprising that Desi Arnaz, best known for oh fuck you if you don’t know who Desi Arnaz is, was considered enough of a star to host, but to host in his 60s? Arnaz helmed a well-received episode in the first season of the show, during a period where his IMDB page was about as sparse as that one aunt of yours who “was in a few art films in the 80s.” Arnaz pretty much hosted because he’s classic television royalty, though he had his (much less charismatic) son helping in some of the sketches as well. You can watch the episode online today if you want to pay YouTube a few dollars (we do not) or if you have Hulu (lol). But yes, Desi Arnaz hosted SNL in 1976, or about 20 years after the end of I Love Lucy. And it was fine? Again we can’t tell, we’re not paying money to see it, but we’ll assume it was fine.
We asked one of our site contributors, “Should we include Brockerick Crawford on our list of weird SNL hosts?” and she replied with, “Who the fuck is Broderick Crawford?” That’s a very good question! According to Wikipedia (so it has to be true), he’s best known for starring in the film All the King’s Men which came out in 19 fucking 49. He was also in the show Highway Patrol, which aired from 1955 to 1959. Crawford did a sketch spoofing his role in that show, which, again, had been off the air for 20 years at the time. This is a prime example of how the host didn’t really do shit in the 1970s, as the three clips that NBC had made available from this episode include Bill Murray apologizing for not being funny on the show, John Belushi’s samurai, and an I Love Lucy sketch with Gilda Radner. Crawford appeared in exactly zero of those scenes. So let’s just say he wasn’t the most memorable host.
Now, those of our readers who watched the early seasons of SNL when they originally aired are shouting, “You dang Millennials you don’t know Buck Henry? We know him super well!” and are about to go into a whole thing about how we spend too much money on our avocado kombuchas or whatever, but hold up. We’re not tossing out Buck Henry, born Henry Zuckerman, because we’re like “um a dude who’s arguably best known for writing The Graduate and directing Heaven Can Wait hosting SNL is weird,” but rather because him hosting 10 times between 1976 and 1980 is super weird. The only people to have hosted more than Buck Henry, the guy most of us recognize as Dick Lemon in 30 Rock and “Uncredited Customer at Bloomingdale’s” in Serendipity, are Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin and John Goodman. He’s hosted more than Tom Hanks, Chevy Chase, and Christopher Walken, and has hosted more times than Bill Murray and Paul Simon combined. That’s fucking random, folks! And yes, those of our readers who remember the early days would point out that in the early seasons of the show, it became a tradition to have Buck Henry host the season finale, but that doesn’t mean we have to sit down and accept that as like, the most logical choice of a thing to do for a historic sketch comedy show. Saturday Night Live is weird and half of their decisions make no sense and we never want them to change.
But the strangest host to ever grace the stage of Saturday Night Live would have to be…
In 1977, Saturday Night Live did a contest called “Anyone Can Host” which was won by Miskel Spillman, an 80-year-old German immigrant from New Orleans. As a result, she got $3,000 (the fee famously paid to each night’s host) and hosted an actual episode with Elvis Costello as the musical guest. The show started with John Belushi smoking a joint with the grandma, which is about what you’d expect from 70s SNL. This episode has gone down in history, but not out of anything that Spillman did. They pretty much just wrote around her for the whole episode, which is what you do when you bring in an 80-year-old German immigrant grandmother to host a counter-culture comedy show.
But no, this was also the episode where Elvis Costello got banned for life after switching songs midway through his set (the ban would eventually be lifted). Otherwise, it’s an odd footnote, and Spillman would hold the title of “oldest person to host Saturday Night Live” until Betty White hosted in 2010 at the age of 88.
But there you have it. The weirdest hosting decision of the weirdest decade of SNL history seems like a fitting way to end this article, and this series. Thanks for tuning in, and come back next week when we’re going to go back to talking about Dorito flavors that don’t exist, but should. Pineapple Habanero would be good, right?