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A groan of disapproval met the announcement that Elon Musk would host this weekend’s episode of Saturday Night Live. Cast members Bowen Yang, Aidy Bryant and Andrew Dismukes all posted social media barbs directed at the unbeloved Tesla CEO and billionaire space-travel entrepreneur.
(Traditionally, it is millionaires, not billionaires, who are asked to helm the satirical sketch institution, broadcast on NBC since 1975.)
The contentious tycoon, whose mother is Canadian and whose partner is Canadian indie musician Grimes, is set to be the first non-actor or non-athlete to emcee Saturday Night Live since then-presidential candidate Donald Trump cracked wise in 2015.
“Let’s be honest,” SNL producer Lorne Michaels once said, “it doesn’t matter who hosts.” Indeed, in 1977, the show ran an Anyone Can Host contest that resulted in little old lady Miskel Spillman getting the spotlight for a night.
A random emcee may have flied when the cast was stocked with household names such as John Belushi, Eddie Murphy and Billy Crystal, but more recent ensembles are full of lesser-known comedians. The weekly hosts today are focal points, along with the musical guests. (Miley Cyrus sings this Saturday.)
Whether a polarizing oddball such as Musk has any comedic chops remains to be seen, but he does join a list of controversial choices to lord over a late-night show that is built to provoke.
Andrew Dice Clay
May 12, 1990
Known for his vulgar misogyny, the Diceman was a superstar comedian in 1990 and yet reviled among some SNLers. Cast member Nora Dunn boycotted the show, and the network implemented a five-second delay as a precaution. In the end, the show itself wasn’t controversial. The writers reined in Clay and even worked the hoopla surrounding his appearance into some of the sketches.
Nov. 7, 2015
The buffoonish real estate mogul hosted in 2004, but it was his return engagement in 2015 that raised eyebrows. It was seen as inappropriate that a platform as significant as SNL be given to any presidential candidate, let alone such a bizarre one. Though protesters rallied outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza in advance of the show, the angry build-up was much more eventful than any of the sketches. The then-candidate Trump wasn’t overworked and seemed oblivious to any lampoons directed his way. The ratings were high, though, even if the comedy fell flat.
April 17, 1975
He was Ron Nessen, and we were not. But who’s Ron Nessen? He was the press secretary for Gerald Ford, the Oval Office occupant often portrayed by cast member Chevy Chase as an accident-prone oaf. Playing a relatively minor role in the episode, Nessen was used as a publicity stunt. His monologue was innocuous; the Ford administration was mocked in various sketches. The then-president himself appeared in a couple of taped bits, at one point saying, “Good evening, I’m Gerald Ford, and you’re not,” a riff on a Chase catchphrase at the time.
April 14, 1979
The onetime Mr. Television was out of his element as a 70-year-old host to a cast of young lions. Bill Murray purposely dropped a pipe off camera to disrupt the comedic legend’s opening monologue. Berle’s scripted ad libs were painfully old-timey, and he was furious when his opening routine was cut short. “Only five minutes? I usually bow for 20!” Producer Michaels disliked the episode so much that it was almost banished from the airwaves after its original broadcast.
April 20, 1991
A disaster on every level. The oaken actor clashed with cast members and writers to such a degree that there was talk of replacing him midweek. According to SNL performer Julia Sweeney, some of Seagal’s own sketches ideas were “so hilariously awful, it was like we were on Candid Camera.” After the debacle, Michaels labelled the tough guy the “worst host ever.”