What makes a great Saturday Night Live host? There really is no simple answer, though Steve Martin, who’s hosted 15 times, had some fun explaining the criteria during February’s 40th anniversary special. From the show’s first host way back in 1975, George Carlin, to last week’s season-finale guest, “Louise Kay,” there have been great hosts from every possible entertainment background—with the exception of the very narrow category, “Singers Named Paul.” Well, Martin may have been a little harsh in that assessment—Paul Schaffer was a great host when he returned to Studio 8H in 1986.
With the conclusion of season 40, we now get to debate and crown this year’s best host. For four years, Entertainment Weekly has asked its online readers to vote for the best Saturday Night Live host each week, and though winners don’t immediately win the prestige of, say, the Five-Timers Club, Mr. Saturday Nights (the first three honorees have been men) have belonged in the pantheon of great SNL performers. Jimmy Fallon has won twice, and Justin Timberlake took home the prize as well. No wonder the duo were selected to open the 40th anniversary show. They are among the most talented keepers of the SNL flame, performers who grew up on the show’s comedy legends, internalized the iconic sketches, and now take the show to new heights when they appear. It’s time to add to their ranks, and this year’s winner will be someone new.
There’s a good chance, however, that the new Mr. Saturday Night will be another familiar face. Another SNL alum, Bill Hader, is the current frontrunner in the most recent vote, though he was just percentage points ahead of Dwayne Johnson, who’s surpassed expectations every time he’s hosted. His most recent performance was one of the best of the year. Also in the hunt are Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, and Louis C.K.. But the biggest wild-card might be Martin Freeman. The Hobbit star was initially eliminated, but he was the runaway winner of our second-chance poll last week, with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
Now, if you’re coming to our contest late, you might be asking, “Why can’t I vote for Michael Keaton or Chris Pratt, or Dakota Johnson?” Those guests were voted out during the course of the season, fair and square, and Freeman was the lone exiled guest selected to earn a second chance. That’s democracy. There’s no arguing that hosting in May isn’t a giant advantage—Louis C.K. could’ve told child molestation jokes in his monologue and still qualified for the final… Wait…. oh. See?
Well, the rest is up to you. Review the six candidates on the ballot, dive down the rabbit-hole of SNL videos to refresh your memory, and vote for the host you think was best. Vote your conscience and your funnybone, but ask yourself three questions before you cast your vote:
1. Which host’s sketches were you still watching days or weeks after the episode originally aired?
2. Which host could join the cast tomorrow and hold his or her own, week-in and week-out?
3. Which host do you most want to see on Saturday Night Live again?
Scroll below to see the tale of the tape for all six finalists, and cast your vote for a Mr. or Ms. Saturday Night we can all be proud of.
Date of episode: Oct. 11, 2014
Number of times she’s hosted: 1
On the show to promote…: The Skeleton Twins
Musical guest: Hozier
TV ratings: 3.8/10
Special guests: Kristen Wiig, Harvey Fierstein
EW Odds: 3/2. Hader’s first time back to the show as host is the favorite to win the prize. No doubt reprising his collection of beloved characters pleased fans of the show; Stefon’s return alone might be enough to clinch it. He’s been near the top of the polls all season but only recently did he retake first place. He certainly belongs next to Timberlake and Fallon, but might voters opt to reward someone who’s not an alum?
Date of episode: Dec. 13, 2014
Number of times he’s hosted: 1
On the show to promote…: The Hobbit
Musical guest: Charli XCX
TV ratings: 3.9/10
Special guests: None
EW Odds: 6/1. Freeman’s SNL debut was one of the funniest in years, demonstrating what fans of the British Office have known for years but what viewers of Sherlock and the Hobbit films might have missed—he’s a versatile comic decathlete who can play scenes both big and small. Though he was initially eliminated, pro-Freeman forces turned out in droves to get him back in the final. (He received nearly six times as many votes as his nearest rival in the second-chance vote, Chris Pratt.) If the same fans chime in this week, he might pull off the upset.
Date of episode: March 28, 2015
Number of times he’s hosted: 4
On the show to promote…: Furious 7
Musical guest: George Ezra
TV ratings: 3.7/9
Special guests: None
EW Odds: 5/1. Johnson flexed his muscles again, proving that one of Hollywood’s biggest action heroes can do more than just put comedy nerds in a headlock. His sketches were some of the most uniformly funny of the season; it was the rare episode with no lulls or obvious misfires. The writers play a huge role in whether a host sinks or swims, obviously, but give Johnson credit for having a sense of humor about himself and his place in the industry. No one was more game than Johnson.