Saturday Night Live has been around for 39 years. Think about that for another sec. Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show for only 30 years. Both shows became late-night institutions, NBC breadwinners, and comedy king-makers. To be on Johnny Carson at the height of his reign was the ultimate for a young comedian, just as SNL’s Lorne Michaels has plucked comedians from obscurity and turned them into stars who can eventually carry their own movies, sitcoms, and late-night talk shows.
Saturday Night Live is still the ultimate testing ground for comedy, and that challenge can be especially intimidating to a green guest host. Always has been. In less than a week, an actor, rock star, athlete, or – dear god – a politician has to metaphorically jump onto a speeding bus – a three-wheel bus, mind you, according to Alec Baldwin, “careening towards a blown-out bridge.”
Many are called, but few are called back. Those guest-hosts who ace the test join a certain club; not necessarily the Five-Timers, but a small fraternity of performers who did it right. Baldwin, SNL’s current Joe DiMaggio of sorts, went on to tell Edward Norton that the guest needs to be “facile, nimble, ready for curveballs,” but it’s more than that. You’ve got to have the goods in the first place, because the SNL experience can be the cruelest example of the Emperor’s New Clothes in entertainment. No one wants to end up there buck naked.
For the last two years, Entertainment Weekly’s readers have selected the best Saturday Night Live host of the season in a series of weekly polls. That they chose Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, two savvy, versatile entertainers, sets the bar for our third season. At the very least, we know what it means to be great at this. Now that we’re five episodes in to this new season, it’s time we begin our contest anew to see who’s got the goods and who’s just standing naked in the spotlight to a chorus of crickets.
Thus far, we’ve enjoyed Tina Fey, Miley Cyrus, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, and Kerry Washington. They all had their moments, but someone is doomed to go home. Our rules are simple: Who was the best host? More specifically, who looked like they belonged? Who surprised you with a side of them you never thought existed? Whose hilarious sketch did you post on Facebook? Whose show were your boss, your mom, and your roommate all giggling about on Monday morning?
Below, I’ve embedded one clip for each of the five hosts, just to remind you of their recent performances. Vote, and the host with the least support will be eliminated, and the other four will advance to compete against Lady Gaga on Nov. 16. Ultimately, we’ll eliminate the less memorable hosts and crown a new Mr. or Mrs. Saturday Night next May. Watch and vote below.