Players gon' play: A brief history of athletes as SNL hosts

Barkley does a good job as SNL host — for an athlete.

By Kristen Herhold | Jan. 20, 2012


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"Saturday Night Live." Those three words add up to a show that elicits laughter, pokes fun at popular culture and attracts audiences and celebrity hosts from across the nation. This show has been on air since 1975 and has had a total of 714 episodes, and though some of them do elicit the previously mentioned laughter, sometimes the episodes simply fall flat. However, basketball phenom Charles Barkley was hilarious as a third-time host of the popular NBC show.

The best episodes are the ones in which the host is able to poke fun at himself, and Barkley was able to do just that. One sketch mocked "Inside the NBA," a show Barkley co-hosts. It was obvious the performers were on the brink of laughter themselves at times, and this was easily the funniest skit of the night and showed a funny, yet realistic, depiction of all the hosts, which are Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith. The actors nailed this skit, and it felt as if it was an actual episode of "Inside the NBA" and not simply just a parody.

Although some skits were not as good as "Inside the NBA," there were many others in which Barkley was perfect, such as "White People Problems" and a satirical commercial for a new game analysis by Barkley. Another standout in this episode was a commercial making fun of the ridiculous amount of college football bowl games. However, many other skits fell flat, such as one in which Barkley was dressed as a woman and decided to come out to her husband and friends. But overall, Barkley was much better than expected, especially for someone whose profession is so different from acting.

Barkley is not the first athlete to have hosted the show. There are 34 others, which include Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Barkley is right in the middle of that list as far as humor and success on the show goes. Michael Jordan in 1991, as the first athlete host of the show, easily gave the greatest performance of any athlete thus far on the show. Although that was nearly 21 years ago, Jordan really set the bar high for future athlete hosts, something that has not yet been met.

The ever-popular swimmer Michael Phelps was an awful host in 2010. It could have been bad writing or it could have been bad acting, but the skits just were not that funny. That performance proved there's a reason he never took up acting. Manning and Brady are on par with Barkley as hosts with some hilarious moments and some skits that were simply dumb.

It’s always a treat when athletes become actors for just one night to host "Saturday Night Live," and though some are great, many, many others are horrible. Yet, it’s still funny to watch them and their ability to make fun of themselves.

Now, I’m just waiting for Tim Tebow to host, which has been in talks recently. Seeing a very serious athlete joke about himself will surely make for a memorable episode.

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