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Ready for Prime Time? 9 of the Best SNL Athlete Hosts

by: Howard Cosmell On  Tuesday, September 28, 2010

payton manningIn honor of the announcement that SNL is moving every SNL episode to Netflix this week, we at TPS decided to run through the collection of athletes good enough to host the late-night sketch show. While there have been more misses than hits with athletes, the low expectations set by putting jocks on stage can often result in some of the more ridiculously funny premises and skits. In short, cause these guys are ballplayers and not actors, they are capable of drawing laughs where even Will Ferrell can’t. Here are a few of the best in the show’s history.

We apologize to those of you viewing from outside the United States. Hulu and NBC feel that only Americans should get to watch SNL clips online.

9. Wayne Gretzky
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While not known to be much of an actor (in his biography he relates a story in which he wasn’t able to deliver the line “Bo knows hockey” for a Nike commercial), he was able to make it work for his hosting duties of SNL in 1989. His acting chops were never called into question during such skits like “Waikiki Hockey” and one of the first “Wayne’s World” skits, before it had really caught on. Also, kudos to the producers for finding a way to work in his hot wife for at least two skits. When in doubt, cut to the hot girl.

8. Michael Jordan
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While Michael didn’t look as smooth in front of the camera as he did on the court, the writers at SNL realized that when you get 23 on to host your show, you make it work. And they did. While you never escaped the sense that it was an athlete trying to host SNL, skits such as “Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley” were certainly good for a laugh as we see a gentle self-help coach try to convince Michael Jordan that he’s good at what he does. Also, Michael Jordan playing the first black Harlem Globetrotter captured Jordan doing what he does best – schooling white guys on the basketball court.

7. Nancy Kerrigan
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Kerrigan was notorious for being a flavor of the week and one of the worst hosts in SNL history. So why does she make the list? Because it was such a beautiful trainwreck to behold. After the monologue went fairly smoothly, the rest of the show was a master’s course in “why you don’t get a host that is only famous for getting hit with a crowbar.” The competently written skits fell flat because young Nancy couldn’t take her eyes off the teleprompter, and not in a charming Christopher Walken-type way. Also, the spectacle of laughing at such a clear pity case made any attempt at humor an exercise in awkwardness on par with “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The nervous energy alone could power a city for days.

6. LeBron James

King James reigned supreme for one Saturday night in 2007, running through the standard mainstream skits. But his real time to shine didn’t come until the last skit of the evening, in which he played high school LeBron, going to meet his guidance counselor to talk about his desire to attend college. SNL player Chris Parnell and James go back and forth beautifully as the counselor tries to convince young James that he needs to go to the NBA and forget about college. Sadly, that clip isn’t available online due to NBC’s draconian internet policies, but the above clip gives you a taste of what LeBron was working with that night.

5. Lance Armstrong

After becoming a celebrity in the truest sense over the past decade, the leap to hosting SNL was a no-brainer for both parties involved. The above skit demonstrates SNL’s bread and butter when it comes to athletic hosts – taking the world’s most finely tuned athletic machines and making them look like total jackasses. Everyone knows Lance is a champ, so why not turn him into a buffoon who runs like an orangutan cross-bred with a spastic toddler? Based on the comedy of the skit above, there’s no reason NOT to do that.

4. Tom Brady

Divisive pretty boy Tom Brady withstood scrutiny when he hosted SNL in 2004. Though he wasn’t a natural under the camera, his off-putting manner was charming enough to make it work, especially with stray lines like “I’m gonna get my ass another funnel cake.” Brady’s appearance, like many others’ on this list is a testament that taking the athletes out of their comfort zone may not always be a home run, but at the very least can surprise the viewer by demonstrating how funny these guys and girls can be, even when they’re not trying.

3. Charles Barkley

Barkley has never been one to clam up in front of the camera, and that talent is apparent in his hosting of SNL earlier this year. As with most athletic hosts, their best work is usually done in taped segments, though this clip has a bit of both. Nonetheless, the premise of an entire skit based solely on insulting Chuck’s golfing abilities is pretty much comic gold. Though Barkley sells primarily through one-word reactions, is there anyone that can put you in a good mood just by being there any more than the Chuckster can? Joe Montana could never have sold it.

2. The Rock

Unsurprisingly, The Rock knocked his hosting gig out of the park. His mugging skills from the WWE, coupled with his self-deprecating humor made for a winning combo that made even several of his line flubs laugh-worthy. It’s amazing how well a simple raised eyebrow can go towards selling a joke that wasn’t that funny in the first place. Unfortunately, The Rock’s appearances were largely before the Hulu era, so get to Netflix to check out his comedic genius. Run, don’t walk.

1. Peyton Manning

After winning his first Super Bowl, Manning made a Timberlake-esque leap from “good ole’ boy” to a true comedic force. Of course, Manning did have a head start afforded to him by appearing in every commercial ever made during the late 00’s, but his timing and rhythm seemingly came out of left field. While most athletes appear on SNL for publicity’s sake, Manning’s appearance proved that he was on par with any actor when it came to running the show. The fake United Way ad, though taped, is probably the best demonstration of this during the lights-out funny episode.




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