“This is my fifth time doing SNL, and you know what that means,” Woody Harrelson said from Studio 8H on Saturday, extending his arms, waiting for the now-famous smoking jacket to be draped over his shoulders. Harrelson was the 14th guest host of Season 48 on February 25. “No jacket?” he asked when nothing happened, and he continued to comment on the lack of acknowledgement of the milestone throughout the night. Before introducing musical guest Jack White, Harrelson said “You know what, he’s been here five times, too, does he get a jacket?”
It’s no wonder that Harrelson was curious — since the gifting of the first Five-Timer’s club jacket to Tom Hanks in 1990, it’s been a ceremonious bit that’s been beaten into the ground. But now, 33 years later, it’s an honor that’s not so rare, and the ceremony that hosts may come to expect not only feels repetitive and gimmicky, but takes away from the opportunities for other lesser-known talents to shine.
John Mulaney’s entry into the club in 2022 proved that there’s not much further the bit can go. The sketch welcoming him into the “elite” group was a whopping seven minutes long, which is practically a decade in comedy — more than twice as long as a typical sketch. It featured cameos from Paul Rudd, Steve Martin, Candice Bergen, Elliot Gould, Tina Fey, and Conan O’Brien stumbling their way through what sounds like a hastily written script aiming more for applause than genuine laughs. And even in that sketch they poked fun at the fact that this honor is no longer that special and that the club has gotten too big. Throughout the entire thing, only one actual cast member appeared, only to go off-screen within 30 seconds.
Acknowledging just how many hosts have entered the Five-Timers Club — as of now, the number is 25, 17 of them white men — also means acknowledging how many times a new, just as capable performer could have taken the hosting reins. There is an ever-deepening pool of talent to pull from and highlight before giving, say, Hanks another run (if we want Hanks, we know where to find Hanks). Season 48 alone has proven that some of the best episodes come when brand new hosts like Keke Palmer, Aubrey Plaza, and Pedro Pascal are brought into Studio 8H. And some of those hosts may warrant a repeat — Palmer, Plaza, and Pascal all seemed to work with the cast and writers to bring their own styles to each episode in a way that showed they have more to give. But even then, too much of a good thing could spoil the magic.
Harrelson did end up getting his jacket from Scarlett Johnasson (also a Five-Timer) when the episode’s credits rolled, the only instance of a cameo throughout the episode. There was no lumbering sketch, no reduction in the show’s airtime, and no need for Steve Martin to take time out of his busy schedule. The rest of the episode benefited from the relative lack of ceremony, which allowed the current Saturday Night Live players to take time to get weird with Cologuard, work out in a gym so fancy it should be called James, and for Kenan Thompson to showcase his physical comedy.
It was a reminder that at the core of SNL is a group of extremely talented and hilarious people, all of whom have done this way more than five times. Because the show has slowly but surely been shedding its dated rituals and allowing each new batch of writers and performers to do what they do best, it’s been able to stay relevant for nearly 50 years. Dropping the Five-Timers Club would be just another step in that evolution, leaving room for more new and exciting bits to come.
Saturday Night Live airs Saturdays at 11:30 PM ET on NBC and streams on Peacock. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R.