The Three Tiers of ‘SNL’s Five-Timers Club
In 1990, Saturday Night Live fans were introduced to the Five-Timers Club, the extremely exclusive organization that only a handful of hosts can ever dream of being part of. Originally, Tom Hanks was brought into the fold by Steve Martin and Paul Simon (who, for the record, has only actually hosted four times), but more recently, Justin Timberlake had a memorable introduction into the club. Now, in the last two episodes of the 42nd season, we’ll be getting two new members in Melissa McCarthy and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, both of whom have made their mark on the show quite a bit with their first four appearances. To commemorate this occasion, we’re looking at the current members of the club, and looking to find which five-timers are all-time greats, and which ones just…kept getting invited back.
1. The Inconsequential Members
Scarlett Johansson (5 episodes): Earlier this year, Scarlett Johansson hosted for the fifth time. Now, she’s far from a bad host, and certainly brings the appropriate energy to each of her hosting gigs. That being said, she doesn’t really seem like an all-time great, right? I mean, when I found out her last appearance was her fifth time, my main reaction was “Really? Oh wow.” Finding out that she’s hosting doesn’t make you pessimistic about the quality of the show, but it doesn’t get you particularly stoked either. That being said, she did give quite a memorable performance as a spoiled teenager in a parody of My Super Sweet 16 in her first appearance, and earlier this year, was enjoyable as Ivanka Trump in the “Complicit” sketch.
Ben Affleck (5 episodes): Affleck quietly worked his way into the club by being consistently famous for the past 20 years. What Affleck is probably best remembered for (at least among SNL nerds) is hosting two times in very short succession in 2004, hosting shows on March 13th and October 2nd of that year. On the second of those appearances, he did remark that he’d “just hosted five minutes ago.” Affleck seems to have a self-awareness about not being known as an immortal host, because when he hosted for the fifth time, his monologue ran on the premise that no one was around to induct him because they had all just shown up for Timberlake.
Drew Barrymore (6 episodes): Finally, there’s Drew Barrymore, who is the all-time youngest host in SNL history, having first hosted at age 7 to promote E.T. Barrymore has now hosted six times, most recently in 2012. She’s a perfectly enjoyable host, and it’s not hard to see why she’s been brought back so many times. She seems like a light-hearted person who’s generally game for whatever the writers have in mind that week. Still, none of her appearances really stick out. The most famous bit I can think of from any of her hosting gigs was “Celebrity Jeopardy” sketch from 1999 that gave us the phrase “penis mightier.” She did a fun Meg White impression in a sketch about the White Stripes being superheroes, though.
2. The Pretty-Damn Greats
Okay, now, we’re only left with the five-timers who made a clear-cut impression on the show. If any of these people are hosting, it’s normal to get a little more excited than you normally would be. All of these people have proven themselves to be key members of the SNL family tree.
Chevy Chase (8 episodes): Chase has hosted eight times — the most of any former cast member. Chase was reliably funny in his return appearances to the show, but his unfortunate behavior behind the scenes casts a shadow over the fine jobs he did as host. In 1997, he was reportedly banned from the show after slapping Cheri Oteri in a backstage argument. He also made numerous insulting comments to openly gay cast member Terry Sweeney in his 1985 appearance. He’s made cameo appearances a few times since the Oteri incident, but has never been brought back as a host. In spite of his poor behavior, Chase’s comedic sensibilities could still boost an episode, like when he portrayed notorious LA cop Mark Fuhrman during a 1995 hosting gig, which also featured the Blame Game game show parody, seen above.
Bill Murray (5 episodes): One of Murray’s most memorable moments as host came from his first time in the role, when he hosted in the middle of the doomed 80-81 season. When the snakebitten cast was reading negative reviews of their performance, Murray gave them a pep talk using the “it just doesn’t matter” speech from Meatballs. Later, in 1999, he would host the show’s 500th episode, and give an intriguing monologue about American comedy. Generally speaking, when Murray hosts, one can count on a heavy dose of his recurring characters, along with constant reminders of why he’s one of our most beloved comedic actors. Murray made a cameo last year to celebrate his Cubs winning the World Series, but he hasn’t actually hosted for 18 years. Perhaps that drought will end soon.
Tina Fey (5 episodes): It only took Fey a little less than eight years to become a five-timer, but she’ll probably be best known for her first hosting job in 2008, where she hosted the first show after the 2007-08 WGA strike. This was where she gave her “bitch is the new black” rant about the 2008 primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. In Bossypants, she would express some regret over that moment, but while it perhaps wasn’t a perfectly accurate representation of Fey’s beliefs (she’s made it clear that she’s a fan of Obama as well), it was still pretty fun while it was happening.
Elliott Gould (6 episodes): Gould hosted quite a few times in the early years, and his sense of humor allowed him to fit in perfectly with the rest of the cast. In the above clip, he plays a lead role in one of the best iterations of classic “Killer Bees” sketches. Elsewhere, he led Bill Murray and John Belushi in “The Castration Walk,” and made out with Connie Conehead. Gould was a likable smartass, and that made him a fine host to engage with the rebellious attitude that defined early SNL.
Candice Bergen (5 episodes): Bergen was a mainstay of the early years, hosting the fourth episode ever (she was also the first woman to host the show). She gave memorable performances in sketches like the “Right to Extreme Stupidity League” (seen above), where she cracked up the entire time, which ultimately made it even funnier. Later, she would show up as Garth’s mom in one of the best “Wayne’s World” sketches ever.
Danny DeVito (5 episodes): DeVito is a naturally funny guy, which is likely why he hosted five times from 1982 to 1999. It’s surprising that he hasn’t hosted since his time on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. If he gets invited back and turns in a classic performance, he could promoted to the highest category. If nothing else, he gets the distinction of having hosted the last show of the 20th century, which also featured his induction into the club, as he tried his best to sing “Silent Night” with Mr. Peepers.
3. The All-Timers Club
This brings us to the top seven SNL hosts of all-time: Tom Hanks, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Christopher Walken, and Buck Henry. Not in that order.
Buck Henry (10 episodes): Younger fans of the show may not be especially familiar with Henry, but he hosted quite frequently in the early years and developed great chemistry with the cast. He was well-known for playing the customer in various “Samurai” sketches with John Belushi. Perhaps his most memorable moment was his turn as a pedophile named Uncle Roy, in an infamous sketch the pushed the censors right to their limit.
Justin Timberlake (5 episodes): Probably the best host of the 2000s. I’ll never forget how surprised I was when Timberlake was amazing in his first hosting gig. At that point, I knew him as the guy from NSYNC who dated Britney Spears, but he revealed himself to be a master of comedic timing who brought everything he had to every sketch. As time went on, he would prove it was no fluke, giving us classics like “Dick in a Box” and “Motherlover” in the process.
John Goodman (12 episodes): A mainstay of the ‘90s, Goodman hosted just about every year and frequently brought his A-game. In the midst of the notorious 94-95 season, he hosted one of the best shows of the year, seemingly lifting the cast out of its morass. Later, in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he gave us a memorable impression of Linda Tripp. Goodman has been reliably awesome on SNL since his first appearance in 1989. But he’s only hosted once since 2001, so he’s lost a bit of ground in recent years. Although he did do a fine job playing Rex Tillerson in a cameo this past December.
Alec Baldwin (16 episodes): In the past season, Baldwin has gone from frequent host to near-cast member due to his impression Donald Trump. After a strong start, one can’t help but wonder if it’s gotten to be a bit much. Still, Baldwin is an undeniable legend in SNL lore due to his work and 30 Rock, as well as on 30 Rock. “Schweddy Balls” alone is enough to ensure his spot in the top 5. He’s also just the kind of host who can bring a certain energy to a sketch, like the memorable carpool sketch from his 2006 gig. And of course, he’ll always be the best Tony Bennett this side of Phony Bennett.
Tom Hanks (9 episodes): When Hanks came back last year and gave us the joy that is David S. Pumpkins, it was a reminder of how much he brings to each of his hosting gigs. There have also been his turns as Mr. Short-Term-Memory and as the host of “Jew, Not A Jew.” Before becoming an Oscar winner, Hanks was best known for his skills as a comedic actor. Sure enough, he consistently brings those chops to the SNL stage, to the point where you can pretty much bank on any show he hosts to be incredible.
Christopher Walken (7 episodes): Long before Walken’s first time hosting SNL, he was in the category of “famous for being weird.” Like, he was obviously a great actor, but he made you ask “What is with that guy?!” That same weirdness is what makes him one of the best SNL hosts ever, though, as he brought that eccentricity into sketches like “Ed Glosser: Trivial Psychic” and “Centaur Job Interview.” And of course, that one very famous sketch which featured the music of Blue Oyster Cult. When Walken hosts, the writers can try out any idea they want, and he’ll probably make it work.
Steve Martin (15 episodes): Even among the other all-time great SNL hosts, Steve Martin, who hosted so many times in the early seasons that many folks assumed he was a cast member, stands out. Martin’s incredible sense of comedic timing raises the ceiling of any show that he’s involved in. The immortal cold opening “Not Gonna Phone It in Tonight” underscored the idea that the energy is just different when he hosts, and that, yes, the cast might be a little more motivated. Between that and all-time classics like “Steve Martin’s A Holiday Wish” and “King Tut,” there was just no other choice. Steve Martin is the all-timer of the five-timers, and the greatest SNL host of all-time.