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A Taxonomy of Problematic SNL Hosts

Yes, this is about Elon Musk.
  • Elon Musk is far from SNL's first controversial host pick, although many of the show's most regrettable hosts only became so in retrospect. (Photos: NBC)
    Elon Musk is far from SNL's first controversial host pick, although many of the show's most regrettable hosts only became so in retrospect. (Photos: NBC)

    It was announced this week that Elon Musk, the industrialist, engineer, and CEO of such ventures as SpaceX and Tesla will host Saturday Night Live when the show returns from a three-week break on May 8th. In case you're wondering if — at some point before he started spreading misinformation about the virus — Musk used to do improv or college theater: no, he isn't a secret comedian, nor is he known for being particularly funny. He is very wealthy, however, and the incongruity of his presence on SNL has already drawn a lot of attention to the show. Historically, of course, SNL's wont to book attention-grabbing hosts hasn't always worked out. In fact, it's often resulted in disaster. As you'll see below, these hosts can be classified in several different categories, and although it remains to be seen exactly what kind of problematic SNL host Musk will be, he's prequalified to be quite a few:

    Politically Problematic Hosts

    For all the politicians who show up on Saturday Night Live, far fewer have actually hosted than you might think. Memorable appearances by the likes of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Sarah Palin were all merely cameos. When politicians have actually been called upon to host, contrary to popular understanding of the show's liberal politics, it's primarily been Republicans. John McCain hosted in the show's 28th season, weeks before the 2002 midterm elections, although this was back when McCain was seen more as a George W. Bush antagonist than as Barack Obama's eventual 2008 opponent. Of course, the most notorious Republican presidential candidate called upon to host was Donald Trump, whose November 7, 2015 appearance came when he was running for the Republican nomination, having kicked off his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists and criminals. Trump's hosting was controversial from the minute it was announced, and it would hang around the show's neck like a millstone throughout Trump's eventual presidency.

    Does Elon Musk Apply Here? Yes.

    Buyer's Remorse

    By far the most common flavor of problematic SNL host is the once-popular but now toxic public figure. The list of regrettable SNL hosts is long, including the likes of accused abusers like Kevin Spacey and disgraced athletic cheaters like Lance Armstrong. Like landmines, these hosts dot the landscape of the show's 46 seasons, including the four (!) times Louis C.K. hosted, starting in 2012. C.K. is a great example, because he's someone who was a Saturday Night Live favorite and actually delivered some great sketches over his four hosting appearances, even if it's now hard to look back on them with any kind of fondness.

    That's similar to the way we look back at Rudy Giuliani on SNL. The former mayor of New York City, whose tenure as increasingly unhinged mouthpiece for Donald Trump has come to define his legacy, will forever be entwined with the history of Saturday Night Live due to his appearance on the first post-9/11 episode, when he comedically gave his "blessing" for the show to resume. By then he was already part of the SNL family, having hosted in November of 1997, including a scene with him dressed up as an old lady opposite Cheri Oteri's Rita Delvecchio.

    Does Elon Musk Apply Here? Remains to be seen, but probably yes.

    Why the F*ck Did They Think This Would Work?

    Sometimes awful Saturday Night Live hosts are easy to see coming, mostly because it's a mystery whey they were ever booked in the first place. The operative question for this category is "Who thought this person would be funny??" The exception to this rule, and it's an important one, is professional athletes, who are successful often enough — and in unexpected ways — that we should offer blanket immunity whenever they're cast, because honestly who knows? The show that turned Charles Barkley into a beloved multi-time host deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to casting athletes. Politicians, on the other hand, deserve no such benefit. Sure, Al Gore became a more more endearing figure after he left political office, but it's still pretty nuts that SNL tried to make a go of him as a host in December of 2002. But the all-time champion WTF choice for SNL host is now and will perhaps always will be Steve Forbes, the multi-millionaire magazine publisher who was running for the Republican nomination for President in 1996 and somehow ended up hosting Saturday Night Live that spring. Even among a Republican field led by Bob Dole, Forbes was known as the boring one, which made his casting feel like a practical joke on both the audience and that night's musical guests, the anarchist metal band Rage Against the Machine.

    Does Elon Musk Apply Here? Absolutely, yes.

    Hated by the Cast Members

    Not all hosts who the audience ends up hating are hated by the cast and crew. But some sure are! Bill Hader has said publicly how much he didn't like working with Justin Bieber on the show, and Tina Fey has spoken in recent years about how Paris Hilton was terrible to work with when she hosted in 2005.

    The choice to have Andrew Dice Clay host in 1990 was so controversial, due to his misogynistic comedy act, that cast member Nora Dunn boycotted the show in protest and multiple audience members heckled Clay during the show. Lorne Michaels hated Steven Seagal so much after he hosted in 1991 that he banned him from any future appearances, and even joked in a later episode with Nicolas Cage that Segal was the biggest jerk ever to host the show.

    Does Elon Musk Apply Here? Remains to be seen, but seems likely.

    Actual Murderers

    Yeah, so … it's hard to get much worse than the two actual murderers who hosted Saturday Night Live, although in the show's defense, they hadn't yet murdered anyone when they hosted. O.J. Simpson was a host in the show's third season, in February of 1978, just after he'd left the Buffalo Bills for the San Francisco 49ers, and 16 years before his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, were murdered in Brentwood, CA. In 1982, the actor Robert Blake hosted Saturday Night Live, some 17 years before Bonnie Lee Bakley was murdered. Both Simpson and Blake were acquitted in criminal cases but found responsible for the deaths in civil cases. Regardless, probably a pair of hosts SNL would rather take back.

    Does Elon Musk Apply Here? No, but that's an awfully low bar to clear.

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    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Saturday Night Live, Andrew Dice Clay, Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Justin Bieber, Lorne Michaels, Paris Hilton, Rudy Giuliani