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WTS Extra: The Most Surprising Hosts of Seasons 1-5
Sure, Steve Martin and Buck Henry are consistently fantastic. But who provided an unexpected jolt of energy to the show?
Of all the familiar sketches from the original cast of Saturday Night Live, everyone has their favorites - Coneheads, Samurai, Land Shark, and the like. Similarly, everyone probably remembers the great hosts of that era - Steve Martin, Buck Henry (both of whom effectively became extra cast members), Richard Pryor and Eric Idle, all of whom are in the pantheon of hosting greats.
But as we finished up the fifth and final season with the original cast, we realized there were plenty of hosts that surprised us. Hosts who, despite the varying quality of material they were given, brought their best and elevated the show.
So here is our list of the hosts that provided the most unexpected jolt to the show in its first five years.
1. Candice Bergen (Season 1, Episode 4)
Bergen’s value to SNL cannot be overstated. As the show struggled to find its shape in the first few episodes, Bergen jumped in Episode Four and helped it find its voice. Her episode was the first that began to resemble the show we know today, and it was in large part because of how fully she bought in. She was so good, she was invited back a few weeks later to host the Christmas show.
2. Rodney Dangerfield (Season 5, Episode 13)
We definitely give Rodney plenty of respect here. During a weak run of episodes in Season Five, when cast members were worried more about what their post-SNL career would look like, Dangerfield came in and sprinkled the show with five-star one liners. Sure, the long satire of the Woody Allen film Manhattan, in which Dangerfield dates a 10-year-old, is creepy - but he brings it in underrated sketches like “Dr. Shockley’s House of Sperm.”
3. Ralph Nader (Season 2, Episode 11)
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader said he was going to SNL to have some fun, and boy, did he. He was perfectly game as the show made fun of his overzealousness and stiffness. He even starred in a sketch in which the writers suggested he had an apartment full of sex dolls, which he tested to make sure they adhered to rigorous safety standards. One of the best - and unexpected - episodes of Season Two.
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4. Kirk Douglas (Season 5, Episode 12)
Douglas is Hollywood royalty and didn’t need to do SNL. But he clearly wanted to do it, because he shed his debonair imagine to star in sketches like “The Micro Dentists,” in which he is shrunk down to remove plaque from Garrett Morris’ mouth.
Douglas also showed class and compassion off the screen, as well. During rehearsals, Garrett Morris, on a cocaine high, reportedly ripped off his own shirt and began screaming at the cast and crew. Douglas, who no doubt has seen plenty of crazy things during his long Hollywood career, tried to downplay Morris’ outburst, saying it was the best acting he had seen in a long time.
5. Christopher Lee (Season 3, Episode 15)
Lee had made his career as the star of dozens of horror movies, but he clearly had a sense of humor and fully invested himself in all his sketches. Plus, his mustache is one for the ages.
6. Richard Benjamin (Season 4, Episode 16)
Neither of us were familiar with him prior to the show. But he starred in a couple of classics on this episode, including the wildly underrated “Pepsi Syndrome” sketch. Also did a bang up job as Todd’s older brother in the best “Nerds” sketch in the show’s run.
7. Mary Kay Place (Season 3, Episode 7)
Had never heard of her before this episode, have never heard her name since. But she jumped right in and got it, seeming like she had always been a cast member. She’s especially good in the “Married in a Minute” sketch, an underrated satire of romantic comedies in which women move to New York and all their dreams come true immediately.
She also sings a great duet with Willie Nelson, making her a multiple-threat.
8. Peter Boyle (Season 1, Episode 13)
Not an outstanding episode, but Boyle had read the assignment, perfectly assimilating himself in with the cast. He had already starred in movies like Young Frankenstein and All the President’s Men, but he also had a long career in the theater, which explains why he handled SNL with such ease. Also, it is comforting to know there can be stars that look like Peter Boyle.