On March 9, 2013 Justin Timberlake hosted Saturday Night Live, and was also inducted into the Five-Timers Club. I myself didn’t realize he had hosted so many times, but it makes sense, given that he is arguably  one of the best hosts of the past ten years—maybe even of the entire history of the show.  He has officially joined my list of top SNL hosts. These are people who of course host multiple times, bring in high ratings, have the clout to bring other popular people with them in cameo form when they host, have recurring characters, fit in with the cast so well that you could almost mistake them for one of its members, and are of course just as funny as the cast members themselves. Here’s my list of best hosts who meet this criteria; Timberlake included.

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Tom Hanks

So many movies and so many roles. And yet one of the best thing he’s ever done in my opinion, is his hosting gigs on Saturday Night Live . Tom Hanks is great with making fun of himself. Not only that, but he’s known for making many random cameos on the show even when he is not hosting. In a lot of ways, he is the epitome of what it takes to be a great host: he’s so hilarious on it, that he himself has been a star-power cameo often; he’s hosted many times, and he can carry a show of weak cast members (as well as being able to hold his own among the more talented people on the show.)

There are a couple of Hanks’ moments on the show that really stick out in my mind. The first is the Wayne’s World sketch where he plays Barry the roadie for Aerosmith. Hanks does very little in the sketch; I’m not even sure that he’s meant to be the humorous part of it, but he manages to be the funniest thing in it- partially because he plays the character as taking his job too seriously, but mostly because of  the “sibilance” sound check. If you haven’t seen this sketch, you should. It’s guaranteed to get some laughs out of you.

The other one that sticks out in my mind is his part on “Celebrity Jeopardy” as a very dumb  version of himself.  Most of the cast members/hosts featured in Celebrity Jeopardy go the “over-the-top idiotic celeb” route, but not Hanks. Just the fact that he appears as himself, instead of playing a stupid version of another celebrity, is lovable enough. But added to that, he plays the dumb Tom Hanks almost as a lost puppy dog. I can never, ever watch this sketch without laughing until my sides hurt—AND falling more in love with Tom Hanks.

Christopher Walken

Christopher Walken

Christopher Walken has one of funniest and most memorable sketches in Saturday Night Live history. Of course, I’m referring to the “Cowbell” sketch, where Walken plays record exec Bruce Dickinson, recording with Blue Oyster Cult, who keeps insisting on the use of a cowbell as a musical instrument. Christopher Walken’s such a great SNL host because no one would expect him to be very funny, and that makes every joke that much funnier because it’s coming from him.

The “Cowbell” sketch is a classic because it plays on this very concept.  By having him be ridiculously obsessed with the cowbell, and by having him say absolutely ridiculous things, the “Cowbell” sketch gets guaranteed laughs even on multiple viewings because it’s as if the words wouldn’t be funny coming from anyone else. This sketch alone could make Christopher Walken one of the best SNL hosts. But for good measure, I’ll just point out that he is also known for his bit as “The Continental”, a sketchy playboy wannabe. Watch that and tell me he isn’t funny.

Steve Martin

Let me point out that I grew up associating Steve Martin with SNL so fully, that I once thought he was part of the cast. He was always mentioned when the  great moments of the show were discussed, and I just assumed that he was part of that ‘70s group of cast members that my SNL- loving parents watched when they were just about teenagers.

Steve Martin (a long record-holding host) was so much a part of show’s culture, that I was a teen before my dad informed me that he had never actually been a part of the cast. I remember being shown the perfect King Tut sketch, and (my personal favorite  recurring bit) “Two Wild and Crazy Guys”- a classic with Martin and Dan Aykroyd.  Two traits of a great host are a recurring character, and the number of times one is asked back to host. Here, there is none better than Steve Martin. 

Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin and John Goodman  

I couldn’t pick between these two. In my book, they’re in the same boat—both perfect fits as SNL hosts. John Goodman is, because he’s a rare one who truly fits right in with the cast. He’s the sort of comedic clay that could have easily been molded into any sketch at all. I could easily see him as one of the regular Chicago Bears guys, for example.

Sunday, November 5, 2000 (9-11pm ET) on NBC

His monologues have always been among the best, and who could possibly forget him recurring as Linda Tripp? When one thinks of him on SNL, that has to be one of the first things that come to mind. The funniest thing about his role as Linda Tripp for me is the fact that John Goodman made virtually no effort to change his voice when playing her. This only added to the humor of this historical, classic Saturday Night Live role. I should also mention that Goodman meets another criteria for “great host”- the star power cameos one is able to bring with them when they host (I’m thinking of Dan Aykroyd in a sketch about people who found their businesses suffering  after 9/11, here, for example).

And then there’s Alec Baldwin. Whatever the reason, when you find out he’s coming to host, you know it’s going to be a great show. He solidified himself as one of the best with the very famous Schweddy Balls sketch. I dare you to find one person who a) hasn’t heard of this sketch, or b) doesn’t at least smile at the mere mention of this one. Yes it’s juvenile, but it’s hilarious. A close second for him would be the sketch parodying Glengarry Glen Ross, where he basically does his big speech from the movie, changing only a few words to make it about Santa’s elves.  He took one of my favorite intense moments of his entire career and made it absolutely hilarious (made even better by the fact that he himself was so amused he sort of stumbled through it.)

Justin Timberlake

The most current person on my list, and the newest inductee to the Five-Timers club. After his latest show, where other five-timers (including the ones on this list) made cameos to welcome him, he meets too many of my criteria for him to be excluded as a great host. No one could have predicted just how good he would be. But from the very first time he hosted, it was if he belonged there. He was a natural. It didn’t take long for him to get his own recurring characters. Robin Gibbs on “The Barry Gibbs Talk Show”, the pervert R & B guy from his duo with Andy Samberg, and the “-ville” sketches. Homelessville and Omletteville, to name a couple. I think the “-ville” sketches are my favorite, because nobody could pull those off but him, and these bits showcase all his talents. The moments where he breaks character in these bits make for some of the best SNL times in recent years.                          

Justin Timberlake

There was once a time when great hosts weren’t such a major necessity; the cast members were such strong comedic forces that they could very well carry a weak or unfunny host. That time has gone. So many of the better players of recent years have left, and the talented ones left don’t seem to be able to carry the weak. In a time when non-hardcore fans mainly tune in to see popular entertainers host, hosts like Justin Timberlake are a HUGE gift.

All in all, the best hosts are so successful when they appear on the show because they are the exact opposite of what the worst hosts represent. The worst hosts are so bad they make even the weakest cast members seem top-notch in comparison; they don’t fit in with the cast—they stick out like a sore thumb, as it’s obvious they don’t belong and you could never picture them as part of the cast. The best hosts are so good they make the weakest cast members seem more hilarious than on other Saturday nights, just by association; and they blend in perfectly with the cast, so much so that you just know if they ever quit their day job…. they’d be perfect as a player on that little show on Saturday nights…..