Saturday Night Live is the epitome of cultural institutions, combining television, popular music, current events, and high powered celebrity hosts. Being asked to host the iconic show is, without a doubt, proof that you have “made it”. But while being asked to host once is an honor, being asked to host again after that is a truly distinctive accomplishment. Over the course of the show’s 41 seasons, 550 different individuals (or in some rare cases pairs) have hosted the show. Of those 550, only 125 have returned to host a second time. The silly, but still somewhat prestigious “5-timers Club” is an even more elite group, featuring just 15 members (if you count Tina Fey’s episode co-hosting with Amy Poehler). Alex Baldwin holds the record for most times hosting at 16 (if you include the time he co-hosted with Kim Basinger).
SNL Season 42 will certainly feature some popular past hosts returning. With all these hosts returning over and over again it made us wonder: Can you get better at hosting Saturday Night Live? It certainly seems like that should be the case. Hosting is difficult and demanding, even for professional actors. So it would follow that having past experience would make someone a better SNL host. We dug into the numbers to see if that was actually the case.
To obtain a standard rating for every episode of SNL we turned to IMDB user ratings which had a fairly large sample size, even for seasons that aired before IMDB existed. We then looked at how user rating changed across all the times that each member of the 5 timers club hosted the show. If the overall trend was upward, we could assume that hosts got better each time the hosted. Here’s what we found:
It appears that one can’t really get better at hosting Saturday Night Live. Our trendline is very flat, indicating that, on average, someone’s first time hosting is about as good as their 5th, 9th, or 15th time. Of course there are a lot of other factors that go into making an individual show good or bad, but with a large sample size it seemed plausible that we’d see the effect the host would have on the show if there was one. With no such effect being evident, we have to conclude that practice does not make perfect when it comes to hosting SNL.
It’s worth noting that pretty much all the episodes hosted by members of the 5-timers club are fairly highly rated. Which makes a lot of sense. You would not get asked to come back and host again if you were bad the first time (though as we will demonstrate in a future piece, that’s not always the case). It does appear that the most popular episode for the returning hosts in the 5-timers club usually falls around the 3rd or 4th time.