When you think of some of the greatest Saturday Night Live hosts, actors like Steve Martin, or Emma Stone, or Justin Timberlake immediately flood your mind. However, I am personally more fascinated and, sometimes, even more excited when I hear that Studio 8H’s master of ceremonies will be someone with little-to-no acting experience at all.
Admittedly, hiring a non-actor to host SNL does not always generate the best results, but we are not going to talk about those instances today. Instead, we want to put the spotlight on the musical artists, athletes, and public figures would end up putting out winning performances and earning laughs on the sketch comedy series, starting with one of the more recent examples.
Kim Kardashian (Season 47)
There was a great rotation of Saturday Night Live hosts for Season 47, including Kim Kardashian, who — along with her family — has been the butt of much merciless teasing on the show. However, the media mogul had the last laugh by mercilessly teasing herself and her family in her fantastic monologue, followed by fun sketches like an Aladdin parody starring her future boyfriend, Pete Davidson, and a Freaky Friday-style sketch with Aidy Bryant.
Billie Eilish (Season 47)
Another first-time host for SNL Season 47 was Billie Eilish, who did an inspired job juggling musical guest duties with hosting duties on December 11, 2021. While a few sketches did require her singing talent (such as one featuring a song about awkward attempts to hit on Santa Claus), her performances in non-musical bits (like a pre-taped short in which she comes to regret inviting an elderly Kate McKinnon to her house for the holidays) suggests more acting could be in her future.
Adele (Season 46)
A season earlier saw another Oscar-winning James Bond theme song singer, Adele, headline for a night while H.E.R. served as musical guest, although the crowd was treated with a few of the artist’s greatest hits. She proved to have good comedic timing and a natural presence onstage, as well as concealing her North London accent quite convincingly in a faux jeans ad also starring Maya Rudolph.
Johnny Cash (Season 7)
One of the earliest examples of a musical artist hosting SNL was when Johnny Cash took the stage in 1982 and, admittedly, only starred in three sketches (two of which featured him playing himself and, among those two, one did not require him to say a word). However, the passion that the “Man in Black” exudes as a train passenger with a poetic way of speaking turns the otherwise absurd bit into something unforgettable and quite beautiful.
Elton John (Season 36)
Serving as musical guest the night Johnny Cash hosted SNL was Elton John, who would return 28 years later as both musical guest and host for an episode that also saw him playing himself most of the time and doing a consistently hilarious job at it. Yet, he would disappear into the character of a flamboyant cowboy who drifts into a small Wild West town on a unicorn.
Wayne Gretzky (Season 14)
Also playing himself for much of his time headlining an SNL episode in the late 1980s was National Hockey League superstar Wayne Gretzky, who even sings a Hawaiian ballad in one memorable sketch. The athlete’s lack of acting experience actually helps his charmingly deadpan delivery in some other bits, such as when he appears on a call-in talk show and is forced to answer questions that have nothing to do with hockey.
Derek Jeter (Season 27)
An athlete who was also surprisingly good at finding his comedic schtick on SNL was former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who hosted SNL in 2001. Highlights include when he dressed in drag to poke fun at himself in a sketch about Yankee players’ wives and when he and Red Sox fan Seth Meyers debated whether or not the MLB champion sucks or not on Weekend Update.
Mick Jagger (Season 37)
Another memorable “Point/Counterpoint” participant (who impersonated Keith Richards while Mike Myers impersonated him) is Mick Jagger, who actually did have some acting experience (debuting in a 1970 Ned Kelly biopic) before he and the rest of The Rolling Stones hosted and served as musical guests in 1978. The legendary frontman returned for both responsibilities on his own (with some help from Foo Fighters and Arcade Fire) for the Season 37 finale, which boasted a hilarious career retrospective in his monologue and a wonderfully meta sketch in which he plays a karaoke bar patron who “can’t get no satisfaction.”
Bruno Mars (Season 38)
A hitmaker who admitted to having no prior acting experience in his monologue while pulling double duty on SNL is Bruno Mars. This was surprising to hear considering how remarkably well he performed in sketches, like one in which he plays a Pandora radio employee who must use his talent for impersonation after the website crashes. The Grammy-winner also gives a tender dramatic performance in a pre-taped bit about a lonely Times Square street performer.
Taylor Swift (Season 35)
A musician who made her acting debut playing Broadway’s Annie in an SNL sketch just months before stepping up as host and musical guest in 2009 is Taylor Swift, who went on to star in the following year’s Valentine’s Day, 2019’s Cats, and David O. Russell’s upcoming period piece, Amsterdam, to name a few. As one would hope, Swift was a good sport about poking fun at herself in her “Monologue Song (La La La)” and proved to be, like Bruno Mars, a great vocal impressionist — such as when she sang like Shakira with nearly uncanny precision.
Chance The Rapper (Seasons 43 And 45)
One musician who has actually hosted SNL twice and served as musical guest twice, but each at different times, is Chance the Rapper, whom, I believe, is already in the running to have his own Best-Of special. The game-changing musician holds his own perfectly and hilariously alongside the other cast members and he has already debuted a few characters worth returning — such as a court judge who makes his decisions based on first impressions alone in a sketch that Jason Momoa cameoed in.
Garth Brooks (Seasons 23 And 25)
One musician who can technically say his hosting duties were exclusive from his musical guest duties the second time he emceed on SNL in 1999 is Garth Brooks, because he performed music as his alter ego, Chris Gaines. He had no trouble making light of the mixed reactions he had received for this bizarre other persona in a sketch opposite Tracy Morgan, who does not realize Brooks and Gaines are one and the same.
Stevie Wonder (Season 8)
Audiences also, kind of, saw double during Stevie Wonder’s sole appearance on SNL as host and musical guest in 1983. The most, arguably, iconic moment from the episode sees the legendary artist play an aspiring Stevie Wonder impersonator seeking much-needed consultation from an expert in impersonations played by Eddie Murphy, who had previously portrayed the singer/songwriter to wonderful acclaim.
Charles Barkley (Seasons 19, 35, 37, And 43)
Another example of some hilariously meta impersonations on SNL is when Kenan Thompson played Charles Barkley seated next to Shaquille O’Neal, as played by Barkley, during the third time he hosted. The former NBA champion has actually hosted more times than any other athlete, with a total of four gigs so far (first in 1993 and most recently in 2018) and, most likely, because he is just that funny.
Michael Jordan (Season 17)
Another NBA champion I am surprised has only hosted SNL once is Charles Barkley’s Space Jam co-star, Michael Jordan, whom David Spade recalled being “super likable” on set. The former Chicago Bulls shooting guard would poke fun at his many corporate sponsorship deals in his monologue, that featured clips of fake ads for feminine products and pornography.
Peyton Manning (Season 32)
An athlete I would really love to see come back to SNL as host again is Peyton Manning, who was incredible in a faux United Way ad that paints him as the worst role model that a child could ever ask for. For now, I suppose we will have to settle for his funny Season 47 cameo in which he gives an impassioned review of Season 2 for Netflix’s Emily in Paris.
Jeff Gordon (Season 28)
Another competitive sports star who poked fun at his own career in a memorable way on SNL is Jeff Gordon, who encountered a par of overenthusiastic NASCAR fans (or so they initially seemed) in his monologue. The legendary stock car racer (who also cameoed in Pixar’s Cars) really gave it his all in the subsequent sketches, like when he plays an Air Force pilot whom Seth Meyers’ carpet salesman must contend with at a school Career Day.
Brian Williams (Season 33)
Gung-ho to make a fool out of himself throughout his SNL episode (which also boasted a famous cameo from future president Barack Obama) was former NBC news anchor Brian Willams. The father of Girls and Get Out star Alison Williams had a funny monologue about mistaking SNL’s impersonations of his TV news heroes as the real people, and starred in a digital short about what he does daily (which also boasted a funny cameo by Bono).
Blake Shelton (Season 40)
Another NBC personality who hosted SNL at the peak of his TV stardom is The Voice coach Blake Shelton, who also performed a few of his biggest country music hits that night. After paying tribute to a different sketch show he grew up with called Hee Haw in his monologue, the singer proved himself to be a real natural as a healthy variety of characters and rarely as a fictionalized version of himself.
Katy Perry (Season 37)
When she hosted SNL in 2011, Katy Perry did play herself a couple times (such as on a faux Finnish talk show with a frighteningly resourceful research team). However, her more memorable sketches saw her portray other celebrities like Florence Welch, Christina Aguilera, and Pippa Middleton with a Cockney accent.
Halsey (Season 44)
Another musician who did a phenomenal job in the acting category for her first (and hopefully not last) time hosting is Halsey, who described herself in her monologue as an SNL fanatic who admired the show for featuring female performers whose central goal was to be funny. It appears that was also her goal for the night because she was a riot from beginning to end, like when she put on a New Jersey accent for a sketch about an architect’s very awkward phone call to his parents.
I am looking forward to seeing what public figures SNL has in the hosting line-up for Season 48, and I would not mind seeing a few people who are not quite known for the performing arts.