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20 Worst ‘Saturday Night Live’ Hosts

As we brace for Elon Musk hosting the long-running sketch show, here’s a look back at the ‘SNL’ Host Hall of Shame

Images used in illustration by NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

When NBC announced that the billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk would be hosting Saturday Night Live this week, the booking was met with righteous indignation from all corners of the internet, with some citing Musk’s controversial views on everything from Covid-19 to crypto-currency. But for the show’s longtime fans, there’s an even bigger concern: Can Musk be funny? Or will this be another all-time SNL catastrophe?

Throughout its 46 seasons, the legendary sketch-comedy show has had its share of dud hosts — with some performing so badly that longtime producer Lorne Michaels has buried their episodes deep, keeping them out of syndicated packages and off the web. Sometimes athletes or pop singers find it impossible to read jokes off a cue card. Sometimes a bigwig used to getting his way (like, y’know, Elon Musk) doesn’t want to play along with a bunch of snarky comedy writers. And sometimes there’s just bad mojo in the air — either because of what’s going on in the real world or because the host gets under the skin of SNL’s cast and crew.

Related: Watch all seasons of Saturday Night Live on Hulu

The 20 hosts below all had rough nights for a variety of reasons, from personal hubris to a general incompatibility with the show’s ethos. What follows are some wild tales of showbiz flameouts, taken from backstage accounts and from what viewers at home saw with their own astonished eyes.

From Rolling Stone US


Frank Zappa (October 21, 1978)

Lorne Michaels’s guiding principle during SNL’s early years was that the material should be edgy, but the performers should remain professional. Apparently none of that sunk in for the avant-garde jazz-rocker Frank Zappa, who treated the cast and crew of television’s hippest show like they were a bunch of squares. Reportedly rattled by a clunky dress rehearsal, the host chose to spend the actual telecast making funny faces and ad-libbing comments about the artificiality of the whole production. Michaels was furious. To Zappa, however, ultimately TV was TV — unworthy of his respect no matter who was making it.


Donald Trump (November 7, 2015)

Donald Trump was still just a fledgling presidential candidate when he was asked to host, but he’d already drawn so much controversy for his comments about immigrants and women that NBC was swamped with outrage before his episode even aired. Maybe the naysayers knew in advance how badly the night was going to go. Everyone on the stage looked absolutely miserable as they slogged through some disjointed and distressingly corny sketches about the host’s Twitter feed and his grandiose campaign promises. This wasn’t just bad TV. The booking torpedoed SNL’s credibility, making the show’s next five years of Trump-bashing jokes seem like too little, too late.


Steven Seagal (April 20, 1991)

And so we come to Steven Seagal, the consensus pick for “worst host ever” by anyone working at SNL at the time (including Lorne Michaels). The sour-faced action hero combined the worst traits of everyone on this list. According to the cast, he was rudely dismissive of the jokes pitched to him, countering with ideas for sketches that had him more or less playing himself while ranting about what he hates. On the night of the show, his performance was listless and riddled with mistakes, leading some to wonder if he might just quit, mid-episode. (Apparently he did have to be coaxed into appearing alongside Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon’s Hans and Franz, because he resented that the characters were fans of Arnold Schwarzenegger.) Seagal didn’t come to play. He was doomed before anyone said, “Live, from New York, it’s Saturday Night….”