Sorry about that last bitch - this was the post that I was intending to make in the first place today. I am a big fan of Saturday Night Live. I have to say that I prefer the newer ones, simply because I'm of the right age to understand the impersonations and pop culture jokes a fair bit more than the old ones in the 1970s. Sure, there are still the classic skits that make sense even now, but there are a few that are rendered incomprehensible due to the generation gap. I'd say I've been watching SNL for about five years, and I've come to a conclusion about the hosts and the quality of the show. Now, again, these rules don't apply to everyone, just a fairly large percentage.
With the celebrities that host the show every week, I've noticed that there are two kinds of hosts. There are the participating hosts and there are the reacting hosts. They aren't necessarily based on whether the host is a musician or an actor or a comedian, and sometimes aren't even dependant on whether the celebrity has a history of being funny on television.
The reacting hosts are the hosts that aren't funny. They may be funny on their respective shows or their CDs, but they are the ones that tend to bring the show down. The reason I call them reacting hosts is because that is what they spend the majority of their skits doing: they play the straight man, the so-called "normal person" who reacts (hence the name) to the crazy characters played by the SNL performers. They may have a few half-hearted funny skits, but reacting is what they spend most of their time doing.
The participating hosts are the hosts that are the most entertaining, the ones that make the show worth watching. They do not simply stand by and let the SNL guys take the spotlight - they often participate in the craziness, and sometimes even come up with a hilarious character of their own. Let's put it this way, in Cheri O'Teri's "Simmah Down!" skit, the reacting host would be the offended person who's on the receiving end of her "Simmah Down!", and the participating host would be the lady's manager behind the counter, giving their own classic rendition of "Simmah Down!" (Tobey Maguire's "Donna Summer" gag is an example.)
Sometimes the reacting host isn't always bad - sometimes they get the short shrift, but the main reason that a host is reacting is this: they aren't funny on live TV. However, the skits aren't the only indication that this particular episode that you're watching is going to be sub-par. Here are a few indicators of bad hosts:
1. They star as "themselves" in skits: This is a prime factor in whether they are bad or not. With "fake talk show skits " like the "I'm Just Keeding!" guy and the "Prince Show", the participating (ie: good) hosts usually do impressions of some other celeb. However, the bad hosts are forced to play themselves because they can't be funny otherwise - they have to squeeze laughs out of the fact that they are playing themselves and doing weird things "as themselves". Sad examples of this would be Colin Firth, Jennifer Aniston and Robert DeNiro. Exceptions to the rule would be Ben Affleck's classic skit where he spars with a mentally retarded man while filming Gigli.
2. They're not the centre of their opening monologues: This is a good indicator - it tells you straight off the bat who's going to be taking centre stage in the skits later on. The awesome Sir Ian McKellan did an entire monologue by himself with no help from others, Steve Martin was the centre of an entire musical number, and Ben Affleck had the hilarious T-Shirt joke about how he couldn't profit off of the "Bennifer" name because the branded T-shirts arrived after he and JLo broke up. Even Christina Aguilera sang one of her songs acapella (let's see Ashlee Simpson do that!). Examples of how this goes wrong would be Cameron Diaz's monologue - where her talented ass-shaking was upstaged completely by Will Ferrell's "ass choreographer" character, or Reverand Al Sharpton's bit when he was pushed aside by Tracy Morgan's impression of him.
3. "Featuring a Cartoon by Robert Smigel": The reason they show animations? Because that means less time for a bad celebrity to make an ass out of him/herself.
Remember what I said at the beginning that a host's hilarity factor has little to do with fame, or whether they are funny in other shows? This holds true - here are some examples of horrible hosts:
Jennifer Aniston and Megan Mullaly - I know! They're hilarious on Friends and Will & Grace! Why not here? Well, Jennifer falls prey to the "look at me I'm funny just because I'm Jennifer Aniston" attitude, and Megan Mullaly basically rips off her character from W&G for every skit. Dullsville!
Halle Berry - We don't care that you won an Oscar. Your skit about the Quickie Pills does nothing except reveal to us that you must have a really good sex life, because you're really bad at faking an orgasm.
Colin Firth - Don't make fun of Jude Law! That doesn't make us laugh, that makes us angry!
Al Gore - have you people even seen him on TV? Why would you want him to bring that vibe to SNL?
Now, the good thing about good hosts is that sometimes they surprise you. They come out of nowhere, waving their arms and pitching their voices in ways you never thought possible. Some of these people made me groan when I heard they would be hosting - but they quickly changed my mind with their surprising talents.
Justin Timberlake - 6 words: "Bring it on down to Omeletteville!" I thought you'd be some stuck-up person who used his "Justin Timberlake" persona to phone it in. You didn't! You danced in an omelette costume to "I'm a Slave 4 U!" You blasted Michael Bolton and Jessica Simpson! You said "I was only partially diddled" and "We need another napkin - this one's on FIRE!" with a straight face, and yeah, you did have to hide your face to keep from giggling over Jimmy Fallon's "Brothers Gibb Political Talk Show" skit, but we forgive you because Jimmy Fallon laughs at his own jokes, too.
Sir Ian McKellan - I didn't even know you were gay until this show! Your "Hot Air Ballon Inspector" skit was pure comedy gold, you gave two nerds an orgasm by "imitating" Gandalf from LOTR and then promptly disappointed them with your "horrible" rendition of Magneto from X-Men. You seared Dame Maggie Smith and Dame Judi Dench with one blow and then promptly did what millions of women have longed to do - catch Jimmy Fallon helplessly by surprise by turning what was meant to be a harmless peck on the cheek into a French kiss that Jimmy will never forget.
Elijah Wood - I guess something about the Lord of the Rings films makes actor's reading to try new things. Your "Soprano Choir Boy" performance is one that I will always remember at Christmas time, and your imitation of Boy George is almost disturbing in its accuracy. You also added some new life to Chris Kattan's tired "Old Vegas Comedian" gig, even if you did look like Screech from Saved by the Bell, only with better '80s clothes.
Jack Black - my dad keeps mistaking you for Meat Loaf, and you only added to his confusion with the brilliant "New Birthday Song" gag that roasts Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf's love for long, complicated, and "epic" song styles. You skewered fairy tales as the monster who "doesn't want a fair maiden, but a slutty older woman because she knows more", and then potheads with your "High Times Investigative Reporter" skit. Way to go! You met all expectations!
Ben Affleck - If your next high-profile relationship pans out, if your latest big-budget film goes down the crapper, if your career seems totally washed up - fear not. You will always be welcome at Rockefellar Center. The fantastic turn-around on Jimmy Fallon's last "Boston" skit - as the recurring macho character who turns out, at the very end, to be gay, or as Dan, Dan, the Garbage Man who schools Jimmy Fallon's repulsive "Shock Jock" - you can turn even old, dead skits into gold - at least while you're in them. You are not afraid to make fun of yourself - and that is a must for good hosting.
Did you think we'd really forget you? Never! The Holy Quadrulogy of SNL Hosts - Steve Martin, John Goodman, Alec Baldwin, Tom Hanks. There isn't enough space to congradulate you for all the good hosting you have done. You are integral to SNL culture. Three cheers!