There are four types of Saturday Night Live hosts. And the type of host you are will typically have everything to do with how good the episode is.
The first type is the comedians/repeat hosts/returning cast members/fan favorite. The John Mulaneys, Dave Chappelles, Kristin Wiigs, Alec Baldwins, and Justin Timberlakes of the world. These episodes are usually really good because the host gets it. They know what needs to be done to make good comedy.
The second is the performer there to promote something. This is the most common kind of host, obviously. An actor with a new movie or popular TV show, or a singer with a new album out. These episodes can be hit or miss, and honestly they mostly run together after a while.
The third kind of host is the person who is getting a lot of bad press and needs to improve their public persona. It’s these episodes when you have a teenage Justin Bieber breaking the fourth wall during a sketch to apologize for smoking weed. Or you have a president-who-shall-not-be-named who hosts in the middle of his campaign because everyone incorrectly assumed the campaign was a joke. Now we’re not only stuck with a very unfunny four years of history, but we’re also stuck with an incredibly bad SNL episode.
These hosts pretty much are always terrible because these hosts always either A) Clearly do not want to be there and make it very apparent they’re only doing this because their publicist said they needed to or B) They go the Elon Musk route and try wayyyyy too hard to say, “I’m not a bad person! I’m quirky and weird and fun!” and it’s incredibly annoying and disingenuous.
The fourth kind of SNL is the best kind. These are the hosts who go all in on the job. They are not comedy people, sometimes not even actors or entertainers in any way. But they clearly came in the first day and said, “I will do whatever,” with the enthusiasm of a golden retriever. They have nothing to lose and nothing to gain. They just go for it and have fun.
I always think of Ryan Gosling as this kind of host. When Ryan Gosling hosted SNL in 2015, he was known at the time as a very private person and a smoldering dramatic actor who probably doesn’t even know he’s a hugely popular meme on the internet.
There were no expectations for Ryan Gosling other than being hot and yet he attacked every sketch with the joy of a high school sophomore who received his first part in the school play. He was a joy to watch the entire night. (Watch him break in this Close Encounters sketch. I love him infinitely. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfPdYYsEfAE)
These “go for it” hosts are the best because the success of an episode completely hinges on the energy and enthusiasm of the host. A bad energy host can ruin a greatly written episode, but a great energy host can completely change a poorly written episode.
When I heard Kim Kardashian (West (apparently still)) was hosting SNL, my first thought was actually shock that they waited this long. How did they not invite her to host five years ago? I mean, her show ended several months ago, and, if we’re being honest, Kim has been greatly outshined by her two youngest siblings recently.
But you know what? If she would have hosted SNL five years ago it would have been one of those terrible need-to-get-some-good-press hosting jobs. KKW was a different person then. Now, she has nothing to lose. The Kardashians have made billions of dollars off of knowing how to bounce back from bad press in their own way, and frankly they do a better job on their own than any SNL hosting gig would do.
KKW now? She made for a great SNL host because she’s now in on all the jokes. She doesn’t care the show wrote an entire monologue filled with OJ Simpson jokes and jabs at her mom. It was clear from that monologue the writers wrote a roast of Kim thinking she wouldn’t take the bite, and yet, she did and came across as much more down to earth than any Instagram post or episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians ever could.
There were several signals that the SNL writers and producers didn’t expect much from Kim. There are actually a couple tell-tale signs that behind the scenes they’re worried about a particular host. For one, they’ll bring in a musical guest who has successfully hosted before. That way, if it gets late in the week and things seem to be going south, they know they can bring in the musical guest for a sketch or two to act as a de facto host and help out. It’s why Miley Cyrus was the musical guest when Elon Musk hosted last year. It’s also probably a big reason why Halsey was the musical guest this week, because she hosted in 2019 (And was also the fourth kind of host. She was so fun and I think about this sketch in particular all the time – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-Oprhoyfio)
The other sign writers are nervous about a host is when they bring in a lot of outside cameos. Think about any episode where during goodbyes the host ran down a huge list of celebrities who appeared that night. Nine times out of 10 they’re not good episodes.
This week, there was a sketch spoofing The Bachelorette that had the most random collection of cameos I’ve ever seen on SNL. Chace Crawford? (side note: I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Chace Crawford in one thing since Gossip Girl ended, like, a decade ago, and I’m also pretty sure he was wearing a toupee Saturday night). Tyler Cameron? I mean, I guess, since it’s a Bachelorette spoof, but wow. Jesse Williams, John Cena, and Chris Rock? It’s like somehow these were the only celebrities left in New York last weekend. Also, the one sketch that featured a ton of celebrity cameos was very much the weakest sketch of the night last week. The point of having Kyle Mooney be the weird guy of the group took too long to become apparent, and it was just poorly written. It easily could have been cut for something else.
And even with these signs there wasn’t much confidence in Kim, she proved them wrong. She was really great in two pre-recorded sketches, poking fun at her age (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94D4DzLS93E) and Instagram videos (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gd1XV9oohLY). And while her live acting was a bit stilted, again it was made up for by the fact she seemed to be genuinely enjoying the job.
The Kardashians have built a brand, and frankly changed American pop culture, off of proving people wrong at every turn, and when Kim couldn’t have had expectations any lower on Saturday night, she again proved people wrong, and was honestly the best kind of SNL host.
And, for the record, I have much lower expectations for this week’s host, Rami Malek, so here’s hoping he takes a page out of the Kardashian book and goes all in as well.