A Look Into Why "Saturday Night Live" Celebrity Hosts Fail

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox
April 10th, 2012

A Look Into Why "Saturday Night Live" Celebrity Hosts Fail

--Saturday Night Live (SNL) is a live comedy sketch television show. Since its premiere in October of 1975, SNL has aired over 700 episodes. Each episode features a guest host, usually an actor or an actress, who provides an opening monologue and participates in several sketches. While most of SNL's celebrity hosts have achieved comedic success, some are widely considered to be failures.

The job of a host is intimidating and demanding; he or she sets the tone for the show and delivers a memorable performance in a number of comedy sketches. When the actor or actress performs poorly, it affects the mood of the audience and the success of the episode. In SNL history, many of the unsuccessful hosts fall into three major categories.

Comedic Failure

Comedic timing is the key to a successful SNL hosting gig. The lighthearted material and actors and actresses who are not funny by nature must be able to laugh at themselves and successfully deliver self-deprecating material. In addition to the comedic pressure, the show is taped live, which can be difficult for actors and actresses who are accustomed to performing in scripted movies or television shows. Hosts who are unprepared for the live format can appear stiff and cold.

Hosts who have no apparent sense of humor or who are not able to relax and poke fun at themselves give notably bad performances. Steven Seagal, for example, was unable to move out of his own character. In 1976, a 14-year-old Jodie Foster gave an awkward performance that was uncomfortable for herself, the audience and the cast. Both episodes received a cold reception from the audience.

Occasionally, guest hosts are so inept at comedy or difficult for SNL cast members to work with that they are impossible to write for. Socialite-turned-reality-actress Paris Hilton's 2005 appearance is one notable example. SNL legend Tina Fey said that Hilton took herself "super seriously," which made it difficult to create lighthearted sketches.

Personal Problems

Personal issues or work problems can cause stress in celebrity hosts, making it difficult to handle the pressures of a live television show. In 1976, Louise Lasser exhibited an erratic behavior in rehearsals, followed by a famously disjointed monologue that ended with her running offstage and locking herself in a dressing room. There is a debate about whether or not the event was planned; nevertheless, critics widely agree that Lasser's appearance was a failure.

After years of bad press and problems with the law, Lindsay Lohan had a stilted performance in 2012 that drew poor reviews. SNL's writers gave her limited stage time and created sketches that poked fun at her downward spiral, but Lohan's performance failed to win over the audience.

Audience and Cast Alienation

Some SNL hosts flop because their humor or behavior alienates the audience or the cast. Milton Berle gave a crude opening monologue and turned off the actors behind the scenes. In 1990, notoriously misogynistic Andrew Dice Clay appeared on the show, causing Sinead O'Connor and Nora Dunn to boycott the episode. Frank Zappa caused problems during the dress rehearsal and gave his monologue in a sarcastic, snide manner. An actor who creates negative energy can put the audience off immediately, making it difficult for the rest of the cast to rescue the episode.

When an actor or actress fails on SNL, he or she is unlikely to be given another chance. The show's longtime producer, Lorne Michaels, has been known to ban celebrity hosts after a poor performance or negative attitude. In the case of some hosts, Michaels has refused to allow an episode to air in reruns.