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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


Michael Phelps (September 13, 2008)

We don’t mean to keep picking on athletes. Some jocks (like Peyton Manning and Michael Jordan) make great SNL hosts because they have such natural charisma, while others (see: Joe Montana and Wayne Gretzky) are likably goofy even if they can’t really act. But the Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has never seemed all that comfortable with being a celebrity. His primary personality trait is “obsessively hard-working,” not “super-chill.” Give him credit for being willing to look dopey in this episode — but don’t presume his strained smile meant he was having a lot of fun. Throughout the night, he looked like he was putting his head down and pushing through as fast as he could.


Nancy Kerrigan (March 12, 1994)

Here’s another Olympian who seemed to hate every second in the SNL spotlight. Perhaps Nancy Kerrigan’s attitude would’ve been different if she were famous just for being a world-class figure skater. Instead, she became the center of an international news story after getting hobbled by a rival skater’s goons, which mean that lot of the interest in her — including on this episode — was scandal-centric. Kerrigan was expected to relive one of the worst moments of her life, live on late night television, and to be a good sport about it. She wiped out hard.


Tom Green (November 18, 2000)

Granted, Tom Green’s appearance on this list may just be a matter of taste. The gawky Canadian comic’s absurdist, obnoxious, “preadolescent boy with no boundaries” schtick has its fans, even if it seems to repel as many folks as it delights. On SNL, he didn’t even try to appeal to the show’s regular viewers. Instead, he gave the audience the full Tom Green experience, with sketches that relied on him repeating weird noises and rubbing his body against what appeared to be unwitting scene partners. One could make the case that he produced an awesome version of his own comedy. But he didn’t host a very good Saturday Night Live.


Milton Berle (April 14, 1979)

Veteran actors and comedians often clashed with the original SNL cast, certain they knew more about how to get laughs than these scruffy, insolent youngsters. Milton Berle was pushy with the whole crew, never missing an opportunity to tell them what they were doing wrong. Unable to get some of his favorite ideas approved during the writing and rehearsal phases, Berle then went way off-script on live TV, telling broad and at times offensive jokes. The evening ended with Uncle Miltie singing a sentimental torch song and coaxing a standing ovation from his own guests in the audience — completing his total hijacking of the show.


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….”