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The Most Underrated And Overrated Saturday Night Live Hosts

Andrew Payne Andrew Payne
July 11th, 2008 11:16am EDT
George CarlinAbout three weeks ago, one of the world's best comedians and the first host of "Saturday Night Live" passed away. Here at the worldwide offices of overrated/underrated, we felt a tribute was in order. Problem is, there's nothing you can say about George Carlin that fits the motif. Nothing he did was either under or overrated: He was just great.

Still, respects must be paid in some manner, so instead this article will honor the first host of "Saturday Night Live", by running down a list of the most overrated and underrated frequent hosts of that show. For this article, entrants must have hosted the show three times to become eligible for judgment.



Underrated:

Charles Grodin5. Charles Grodin

The best thing about making a rule is breaking it the first chance you get. Grodin only hosted the show once but was transcendently brilliant. So brilliant, in fact, that his performance on the show earned him a lifetime ban. Grodin teamed with the writers and the rest of the cast to make it seem as though he'd skipped all the rehearsals and didn't know what he was doing. The result was sublime for those in the know, but completely the opposite for those who weren't as they thought his ineptitude was the genuine article. Grodin was never asked back, despite giving one of the best host performances of all time. Now that's underrated.

4. Ashton Kutcher

When you host a show like "Punk'd" and are known mainly for being a pretty boy, you're bound to be underrated no matter what you do. It's too bad, because Kutcher is always very good when he hosts "SNL". Unlike most guests, he's not constantly focused on the cue cards and never afraid to completely sell out for a sketch. Check out his hilarious "Death by Chocolate" sequences that see him in full chocolate bar apparel complete with bizarre mime makeup. Maybe if he looked like that all the time he wouldn't be so underrated.

Tom Hanks3. Tom Hanks

It's hard to be the biggest star ever to become a frequent "SNL" host and remain underrated, but somehow Hanks has done it. He does have a "Best of" special, but when's the last time you ever saw it in reruns? Instead, we're subjected to endless Alec Baldwin and Christopher Walken resets. Hanks is a tremendous comedic actor and he routinely shows that on "SNL". He creates indelible characters on every appearance and never skimps on effort despite his stardom. All guest hosts and some cast members could learn something from him about live comedic performing. Despite all this, nobody ever seems to talk about Hanks episodes during an "SNL" reminiscence. Guess you can't have everything.

Candice Bergen2. Candice Bergen

How good is Bergen? "Saturday Night Live" almost became the Candice Bergen show at its start. Producers wanted an anchor to serve as the star of the show with the Not Ready For Primetime Players as a backing group. That choice was to be Bergen until the decision to use weekly guest hosts was made. Instead, Bergen became the first female guest host in 1975 and went on to four more brilliant appearances. Bergen is an exceptional comedienne and superb and staying within a sketch without laughing at herself. And let's not forget, she was really hot back in the 70s.

1. Buck Henry

It took almost ten years for Steve Martin to break Henry's mark of ten hosting appearances that he set all the way back in 1980. The fact that he hosted 10 times in just four years is a testament to how great Henry was on "SNL". The cast and writers all agreed he was the easiest to work with and best understood the live comedy aspect and feel of the show. The season finale became Henry's regular spot, further underscoring his brilliance as a host. Despite this, everybody reading this probably can't even picture him in their heads. (Hint: he's the other guy in all the Samurai sketches)


Overrated:

5. Robin Williams

Ugh. He's just not good. He's just not funny. He's hosted three times and just like everything else he does it became the Robin Williams show. Enough. Go Away. I know everyone loves you and thinks you're funny, but, well, they're wrong.

4. Alec Baldwin

Baldwin is good, he's just no great. The cast loves him, and he gets into his characters well, but it's almost gotten to the point that he knows he's beloved as a host and seems to revel in it on stage. He's also been the fortunate recipient of a lot of great sketches that have more to do with the writing than his performance. The prime example is the fabled "Schwetty Balls" sketch that could have featured anybody doing deadpan and been just as good, yet Baldwin garners a great amount of praise for his being featured in it. Baldwin is good, he's just not as good as everybody thinks he is.


3. Any Athlete

"SNL" has welcomed Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Tom Brady, and LeBron James among others. They were all awful. Each one is wooden, never seems to know his lines, and is usually relegated to playing himself in each sketch because he can't create a character. Despite this, these athlete episodes are often the most beloved. People end up praising sports heroes for trying and not taking themselves too seriously. Well, this is a comedy show and none of the athletes is ever funny so let's recognize them as awful hosts on the level of Britney Spears and Steve Forbes instead of brilliant breaths of fresh air. (Disclaimer: This affront does not include the exceptional job done by Peyton Manning)


2. Paul Simon

He's always great as a musical guest, but Simon has also hosted four times, including following up Carlin as the show's second host. When Simon appears in sketches he often seems a bit lost and certainly out of place. He's just not an actor, but he is Lorne Michaels' best friend which explains the reason he's been able to attempt to host so many times. But it's not just Lorne that favors Simon, he's almost become revered in the annals of "SNL", especially for his appearance in a turkey suit. Despite popular opinion, the funniest thing Simon's ever done is the music video for "Call Me Al".

Christopher Walken1. Christopher Walken

If there is an overrated hall of fame, Christopher Walken as "SNL" host would certainly be a first ballot inductee. At this point, it's almost embarrassing to watch Walken trot himself out once a season and mix up lines, play himself in every sketch, and read off cue cards throughout the entire show. This was really funny during the episode featuring the "More Cowbell" sketch, but has become increasingly less funny each subsequent hosting gig to the point that it's become unbearable. It's almost like the producers call Walken up on Friday and say, "Hey, how'd you like to host tomorrow night?" It's a far cry from the first time he hosted back in 1990 when he actually seemed to know where he was and gave us the first installment of the brilliant "Continental" sketch. Even though Walken seems like a confused old man in line for mashed peas at a nursing home during his hosting appearances he's become adored by fans and even the producers. Apparently, people haven't grown tired of seeing the same pitiful performance year-after-year. In fact, he has a standing offer from "SNL" to host whenever he wants to. If you surveyed 100 people on their favorite "SNL" host, it's almost certain Walken would win, and he's a clear favorite of the show's staff. When you're this bad and this adored by so many people, including very important people, then you've reach overrated Nirvana.

Overrated/Underrated is off for two weeks, but make sure to check out the reactions to the Emmy nominations next week, followed by the Top Ten "X-Files" episodes the week after.

Andrew Payne
Story by Andrew Payne

Starpulse contributing writer