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Posted at 11:15 AM ET, 03/20/2009

Friday List: Who Can Bring the Funny Back to 'SNL'?

By Liz Kelly

Last weekend, I sat through an entire "Saturday Night Live" for the first time in years. Despite a few rare exceptions -- Andy Samberg's collaborations with Justin Timberlake, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin -- the late night institution lost its edge sometime in the '90s and never seemed able to regain its reputation for cutting edge comedy.

But last weekend, guest host (and "SNL" alum) Tracy Morgan totally brought the funny back. Maybe it was his energy. Perhaps he helped the shows writers to polish up their usually lackluster comedy. Whatever it was, one thing is certain: Morgan acted as a catalyst for the entire show. We expected Morgan to totally crush, but somehow everyone else seemed funnier, too.

Here's a sampling:

Which brings us to today's Friday List mission: If one guest host is capable of bringing the flatlining "SNL" back to life, surely others can, too. Who should be on the list? You tell me. And don't be afraid to seek candidates outside the traditional comedy sphere. Some of the funniest guest hosts of years past -- Timberlake, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson -- surprised us with pitch perfect clever performances.

On my list (in no particular order):

Amir and Streeter from Prank Wars.

William Shatner. If this isn't comedy genius I don't know nothing.

E!'s snarky "Soup" host Joel McHale.

Joaquin Phoenix. This is a limited time offer. Phoenix could also double as musical guest.

Amy Sedaris. "Strangers with Candy." 'nuff said.

(By way of inspiration, a list of past hosts and Daily Fill offered these suggestions. Ryan Seacrest? I'm not buying it.)

By Liz Kelly  | March 20, 2009; 11:15 AM ET
Categories:  Friday Lists, TV  
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NBC should raid The Style Network's list of talent. Give me Danielle Fishel (The DISH) and Niecy Nash, Matt Iseman and/or Trish Suhr (Clean House).

Also stop by vh1 to steal away the people who riff on the "I Love the 80s" shows, etc. (Michael Ian Black, Rachael Harris, Hal Sparks).

Pop in an SCTV alum now and then (Andrea Martin, Catherine O'Hara, Rick Moranis). Also invite Brooke Shields -- her Funny or Die video "Playground Tales" was hilarious.

Last, have on-deck Denis Leary every week (just in case the planned host bows out) and let him talk for 90 minutes about whatever's on his mind.

While we're at it, let byoolin and mdreader1 write the show, bringing the rest of us here on board if/as needed. Gold, I tell ya!

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | March 20, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Bring back Brian Williams. He was hilarious when he hosted.

Posted by: ASinMoCo | March 20, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

I think Mike Rowe would be great.

Posted by: JLRGG | March 20, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

I must say that Peyton Manning was great a few years back when he hosted the show. His sketch about the Untied Way and playing football with those kids was hilarious!

Posted by: Osteph | March 20, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, UNITED Way, not Untied...

Posted by: Osteph | March 20, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Christopher Walken could Twitter the entire show.

Posted by: mdreader01 | March 20, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

What did you think about the 'chimp ripping your face off' quip during the non-motivational speech skit that seemed to fall quite flat?

Posted by: IrishFox | March 20, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Dick Cheney
With loaded shotgun

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | March 20, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

I'm going with serious comedy choices. Jon Hamm totally rocked when he hosted. I think Borat should host (the character).
Stephen Colbert would be terrific. And Alec Baldwin has always catalyzed the cast.

Posted by: scandibaby | March 20, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

I would like to see Kathy Griffin.

Posted by: cjbriggs | March 20, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

I nominate Derek Jeter. The one time he appeared as a guest host he did a skit in drag with three or four of the NRFPTP. They were a group of wives sitting together in the stands while their husbands were playing. I think Derek was a "newbie" since her hubby had just joined the team. Besides making a good looking woman, he delivered one of the best lines of the night: "that Derek Jeter looks like a muppet" or something along those lines.

Posted by: pennstatemom2000 | March 20, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

How about Chelsea from Chelsea Lately?

Posted by: ideallydc | March 20, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

The Daily Fill doesn't get it. You don't bring a HOST in to save a show, you get GOOD HEAD WRITERS.

A bit of trivia--producers asked Catherine O'Hara to join the cast in 1981, but she left before production because of a dispute with head writer Michael O'Donoghue.

John Candy was also invited to join, but chose to stay with SCTV.

Posted by: mdreader01 | March 20, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

I nominate Byoo and 'Quatch. I hit about 25% of the time. They average a whole lot higher.

Posted by: mdreader01 | March 20, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

What mdreader said. The host is just the vessel for the writing, good or bad.

Posted by: wadejg | March 20, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse

SNL has been Saturday Night Lame since at least the early 90s. The only sketches I find worth watching are those where Darell Hammond impersonates a politician or media celebrity. I can get those on hulu or YouTube and not waste 90 minutes waiting in vain to laugh.

I usually get more laughs in the first 5 minutes of Stewart or Colbert than I do in 90 minutes of SNL.

A number of years ago, the first Ms. Snatchquatch developed an SNL viewing measure. Watch the opening sketch. If it's funny as hell, the rest of the show may be worth watching. If it's adequate, there might be one other sketch in the show worth watching. If it's mediocre, forget watching the show.

It's long past time to put the current version of SNL out of its mediocrity. Kill it, and take 1-2 years to come up with something different.

mdreader, I think you and a number of others hit the mark as often as I do.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | March 20, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

All Tracy Morgan did was bark out lines while reading cue cards.

He didn't even try to give the impression that he wasn't reading.

Of course, he is not the first guest host to do this (in fact, it seems to be becoming standard practice for some of the regular cast members themselves). Probably too busy self-medicating...

But if someone can't be bothered to learn ANY of their lines, then I don't think they are air-worthy and I don't want to be bothered watching them.

Posted by: trwv | March 20, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Alec Baldwin

Posted by: pras40 | March 20, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Only if he brings back his Schweddy Balls

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | March 20, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

I thought that was one of the WORST episodes of SNL in years!!! Tracey Morgan looked high/drunk. The skits were juvenile/awful.

Posted by: nojunk4me | March 20, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I heard this same song and dance in the 90s when reporters were complaining how the show had gone down hill without Steve Martin and the other we get the same dumb reporters reminiscing about how the show was so great in the 90s.

Posted by: wolfcastle | March 20, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

That was by far one of the worst "SNL" episodes in a very long time. As someone stated above, Tracy Morgan can't act. He merely read off the cue cards. He shows no emotions, no variety, no comedic timing. Much like the current cast every "character" is exactly the same. I would argue that "SNL" has gone down hill BECAUSE of the likes of Tracy Morgan. The show has not been funny since he became a member of the cast.

Posted by: lordscarlet1 | March 20, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

I like to call these kinds of posts:

Saturday Night Live was SO MUCH BETTER when *I* was in the target age group.

Now that I'm older than the target age group, it's just not funny anymore.

I had people tell me with a straight face that SNL was "dead" during the Mike Myers/Dana Carvey era. I had people tell me SNL was "dead" last year, yet this Sept/Oct it was as strong as it ever was.

SNL was SO MUCH FUNNIER when I was in the target age group...

Posted by: bbcrock | March 20, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Somebody please 'splain why an old fart crytpid like me thinks that shows skewing towards a young demographic -- Stewart, Colbert, South Park -- are so much funnier than SNL.

I think it's because my 18 year-old inner cryptid is alive and well.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | March 20, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Chelsea Handler

Posted by: amandaj | March 20, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Somebody please 'splain why an old fart crytpid like me thinks that shows skewing towards a young demographic -- Stewart, Colbert, South Park -- are so much funnier than SNL.

I think it's because my 18 year-old inner cryptid is alive and well.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | March 20, 2009 3:20 PM

I think it's because funny is funny and lame is lame.

Posted by: jes11 | March 20, 2009 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who could write a good Lindbergh baby skit!

Posted by: elias_howe | March 20, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

if you want SNL to be funnier than it is - then put Horatio Sans on reading a phone book.

Improve the show with a guest host? Amy Winehouse - she could do beer bongs then projectile vomit on the cast for 90 min. I'd watch that.

Posted by: quintiliusvarus | March 20, 2009 8:00 PM | Report abuse

Bring back Tina Fey as head writer. The show was pretty good then.

Posted by: aallen1 | March 20, 2009 8:12 PM | Report abuse

Amy Adams, Anne Hathaway and Hugh Laurie had done good jobs of hosting in the past season or so. Agree re Peyton Manning and Derek Jeter. But please, don't ever let Michael Phelphs anywhere near 30 Rock again!

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | March 20, 2009 8:36 PM | Report abuse

Funny. I had exactly the same reaction to the SNL hosted by The Rock. Me likes what he's cooking.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | March 20, 2009 9:46 PM | Report abuse

The episode a few weeks ago w/ Alec Baldwin, my all-time favorite guest host, was disappointing. Why did the no-talent Jonas Brothers have to be in every skit? They ruined the episode. They can't sing and they sure as hell can't act. Peyton Manning was a great guest host. Lorne Michael should re-hire Chris Parnell (Dr. Spaceman to 30 Rock lovers) ~ he was an incredible cast member. Has Stephen Colbert ever hosted?!?

Posted by: MOE1960 | March 21, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

How can you be a judge of recent SNL skits if you haven't sat through an entire one in years? Amy Poehler and Tina Fey on weekend update? MacGruber? Kristen Wiig? Kenan Thompson in Scared Straight? Funny stuff.

Posted by: NatsDLite | March 21, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

this clip wasn't funny and neither is Tracy Morgan; you need your head examined

he is the worst kind of buffoon but maybe that's what white America likes...

Posted by: lize3 | March 21, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

I disagree that it's across-the-board not funny anymore. But Tracey Morgan was horrible. I was waiting to laugh and it just never happened. And Kenan was literally mouthing every word that came out of Tracey's mouth during the scared straight skit which was bizarre. But SNL does still have a lot of funny cast members. Kristen is AMAZING and practically carries the whole show on her own. Her Kathie Lee is hilarious! Bill Hader is great, Will Forte, and some of the new kids are funny too. Regardless of who is hosting. Give it another chance Liz!

Posted by: daytripper | March 21, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

George Clooney
Sheldon & Leonard from Big Bang Theory
Whoopi Goldberg

Posted by: doobrah | March 21, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

I really like Brian Fellows(sp?)... it was one of the best segments...

Most of SNL I don't find funny, sometimes the guest is better than the cast (Justin Timberlake, Alec Baldwin)... FUNNY left SNL - will ferrell, adam sandler... they were OK with looking TOTALLY foolish (ferrell in flag briefs was great) but not most of this crew, they're average... so I started watching MAD TV, starts 30 min before SNL here and often funnier.

Posted by: geomguy | March 21, 2009 5:55 PM | Report abuse

The fact that a resurrected Brian Fellows Safarti Planet was one of the best skits says it all about the quality of last week's show.

Kristen Wiig is about as funny as Fran Drescher. And just as annoying.

Seth "Head Writer' Myers' version of the fake news should be called Weekend Upchuck. Contrast that with Colbert's demand that Florida Congressman Bill Posy get DNA tested to determine whether his grandmother bred with an alligator.

The best recent comedy take on the Jonas Brothers and their purity rings was on South Park.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | March 21, 2009 10:32 PM | Report abuse

I'm not quite sure how you can call this embedded skit a good example of SNL being funny. The skit had a couple of lines that almost prompted me to laugh, but not quite. I will laugh out loud at lines from 30 Rock or The Office, but SNL has largely ceased to be funny. Occasionally a host spices things up a little, but rarely enough to wipe away the unfunny writing, and occasionally the writers get lucky. But outside of a few of their political satires, SNL has mostly ceased to be a serious comedy vehicle.

Part of the reason for this, I think, is that the comedy circuit has changed in its style. SNL is still trying to draw from the same pools of comedians, but those comedians aren't doing the same comedy anymore that was the style 20 years ago. The more contemporary observational humor simply does not translate into an SNL format, except maybe for the Weekend News segments. These are not people who are necessarily talented at slapstick or at impersonations. Although they often do pretty well with the political characterizations, the writers and even the SNL actors simply are not always suited to creating bizarre but convincing characters that are the staple of comedy sketches. Occasionally a star actor pops up, but too many are forgettable, and the skits are even more forgettable.

Or maybe there are such writers and actors out there, but this is a problem of the senior creative control of the show. Lorne Michaels has been doing SNL for a long time, and perhaps revitalizing the show will require someone else taking it over.

I am certain, though, that the Tracy Morgan clip was not funny. In the time it took me to write this, I'm struggling to remember what it was even about, let alone a funny line, characterization, or behavior from it.

Posted by: blert | March 22, 2009 1:31 AM | Report abuse

You admit it's been awhile since you've seen an entire episode. Too bad for you. This new season has been fabulous, and the Morgan show was actually one of the weaker ones so far this season -- I was disappointed and I'm a Morgan fan. The Dwayne Johnson episode, for one, totally rocked -- forgive the pun. And so did most of the others -- Morgan fell flat.

Posted by: bibleburner | March 22, 2009 5:13 AM | Report abuse

I thought the Morgan skit was stupid. He just sat there reading the lines off the cue card without any emotion. He didn't even pretend to act. Please. He looked like my friends when they sit around talking and watching a Lifetime movie at the same time--eyes staring straight ahead while the conversation goes at a quick clip. That skit was tired and trite. They ought to snatch up Anjelah Nicole Johnson from Mad TV. Her Bon Qui Qui skit is funny the first and the 101st time you see it.

Posted by: bevjames | March 23, 2009 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I don't mean to be rude, but I think most of the commenters on here are a good deal older than the target age group that SNL is trying to appeal to. Suggesting Topanga from Boy Meets World and Whoopi Goldberg as people who could "spice up" SNL? I hope that in 20 years I am going to be able to accept the fact that what 25 year olds think is funny is what is going to be popular. If you don't think it's funny, don't watch and do not suggest cohosts from The View as the solution.

Posted by: fra84 | March 23, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

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