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Posted at 1:10 PM ET, 04/23/2010

Friday list: The most surprisingly funny SNL hosts

By Jen Chaney

Gabourey Sidibe is scheduled to host "Saturday Night Live" this week. Yes, that Gabourey Sidibe, the Oscar-nominated actress who played the mumbly, perpetually downcast, abused teen in "Precious," a movie now officially listed as a synonym in Roget's Thesaurus for the words "serious" and "depressing."

Can Sidibe show us an unexpectedly funny side? Considering that she's actually pretty sunny and giggly in real life, we think it's entirely possible. And we're rooting for her to rock it tomorrow night.

Our hope that Sidibe finds her place in the SNL Host Hall of Fame got us thinking about past hosts who surprised with their graceful, hilarious ability to slip into sketch-comedy mode. Which brings us to today's Friday List: our top 10 most surprisingly funny "Saturday Night Live" hosts from the past decade.

Which guest hosts surprised you with their comic stylings? Share your picks below...

1. Justin Timberlake

We knew Mr. "Rock That Body" was pretty talented. But we had no idea how freaking funny, agile and amazing he was until he hosted SNL in 2003. He's now hosted three times, and often pops up when he's not hosting to do bit parts, like mixing it up in a unitard in this Beyonce video parody. While much has been made of Timberlake's genius roles in Digital Shorts like "[Bleep] in a Box," he even raises the level of more traditional sketches like "Immigrant Tale." (See below) Seriously, can't he put his lucrative movie and music careers on hold so he can do SNL every week?

2. Jon Hamm

When Hamm hosted SNL for the first time in 2008, most people knew that he could play mysterious, serious and smokingly-retro hot, as he does on "Mad Men." But what we didn't know is that Don Draper is hi-LAR-ious, a fact he's since proven further by appearing on "30 Rock" and hosting SNL again earlier this year. And with that, we present Don Draper's Guide to Picking Up Women.

3. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson

The Rock's first hosting gig on SNL back in 2000 was so mind-blowing, it helped launch his movie career. He's held the gig on three occasions and in that time, he's dressed in drag, he's portrayed "The Rock" Obama and he's proved he has a pretty smooth singing voice:

4. Peyton Manning

Athletes don't have the best track record as far as SNL hosts go. (See Michael Phelps and Andy Roddick for just two examples.) But the Super Bowl-winning Colts quarterback not only was totally game for every bit (the United Way spoof -- a classic), he even demonstrated an ability to use that hulking, awkward football body to its full comedic advantage in this clip that never ceases to crack us up.

5. Natalie Portman

You knew her from her serious dramatic work in films like "Closer," "Garden State" and -- no snickering -- the "Star Wars" prequels. But Padme showed no fear when she hosted SNL back in 2006, giving us, among other things, a self-parodying Digital Short on par with the brilliance of "Lazy Sunday."

6. Brian Williams

We had seen the journalist crack jokes with David Letterman. But could he rise to the challenge of being the first TV anchor to host SNL, and actually make us laugh? The answer turned out to be yes.

7. Ben Affleck

Affleck has starred in many comedies. And he's often funny in interviews. But -- how to say this diplomatically? -- he isn't exactly known for being a mad-talented thespian. But in all four of his appearances as SNL host, he's shown a versatility that flicks like "Pearl Harbor" and "Armageddon" never captured. And even if he didn't deliver a spot-on impersonation of Keith Olbermann (see below), he took the pundit's persona to a level of hyper-intensity we had to admire.

8. Jake Gyllenhaal

Yet another of those usually serious actors who showed America he can do funny with the best of 'em, Gyllenhaal pretty much had us at his opening monologue, when he belted out "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" in a high falsetto while changing into a full-on evening gown and wig. And may we just say: Good God, he looks good in a dress. Sadly, we couldn't find an embeddable clip, but you can watch it on YouTube in all its over-the-top glory.

9. Matthew Fox

We swear we're not just saying this because he plays Jack Shephard on our favorite TV show ever. When he helmed SNL in 2006, Fox showed a willingness to poke fun at himself, while also taking on the roles of traffic cop, House DJ and a professor, among other things. You can watch clips of most of his sketches here (warning: downloading involved); below, watch him play straight man during a hilarious send-up of obsessed "Lost" fans.

10. Lindsay Lohan

Sure, Lohan had done comedies like "Mean Girls" and "Freaky Friday" before she scored her first SNL hosting gig in 2005. But it wasn't clear whether she could translate her skills to live television. Guess what? She handled sketch comedy like a pro. In fact, she keeps it together during the famous Debbie Downer sketch far more effectively than then-cast regulars Jimmy Fallon and Rachel Dratch. Watch, and remember a time when Lohan was known for her promising talent instead of her ridiculous Tweets.

By Jen Chaney  | April 23, 2010; 1:10 PM ET
Categories:  Friday Lists, Pop Culture, TV  | Tags:  SNL, Saturday Night Live  
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Comments

I almost stopped reading with "Timberlake's genius roles" (?!) but I'll give you Jon and Ben. The Rock wasn't bad, though that sketch went off the rails a bit for me.

But based on those two clips of Natalie and Jake, I think I prefer Nancy Kerrigan's comedic stylings instead (and she had none when she guest hosted).

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | April 23, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I was pleasantly surprised by JLo's hosting, as well as being the musical guest, earlier this season. Her Hispanic-based skits were amusing. Admittedly it was partly a matter of having low expectations, although I assume that's part of the point of this list.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | April 23, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

It's even more unusual when the musical guest can step in and do funny. Michael Buble (who, I'm sorry, I hadn't heard much of before the SNL gig) was hilarious in a skit with Jon Hamm. And he sang at the same time!

Posted by: koenigeducation | April 23, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Agreed koenigeducation, I actually thought Justin Bieber (who I had never see before SNL) did a pretty good job as in a couple sketches.

Posted by: sjcpeach | April 23, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Al Gore.

Come on, you KNOW you were expecting a train wreck when he went on. Then he did the Stuart Smalley sketch and the West Wing set sketch.

Posted by: dkp01 | April 23, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Come on, Alec Baldwin! I don't think anyone knew how great he was at comedy when he first hosted in 1990 and now 30 Rock...

Posted by: ozpunk | April 23, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Gotta agree, it really begins and ends with Alec Baldwin but also...

Christopher Walken. I mean, the guy was a Bond villain. And then he offers you some "fine French Champagne" or demands: "I gotta have more cowbell!" OK, I admit, he was a song and dance man at one point, but that was long ago.

Posted by: dbrue | April 23, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Completely surprised by Brittany Spears, who I never thought would be funny but actually did a good job acting and being funny.

Posted by: slewis1 | April 23, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

You have got to put Sarah Michelle Gellar on the list. She was hilarious. The awkward dinnertime skit with Will Ferrel and Ana Gastyer...priceless!

Posted by: skitch00 | April 23, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

dbrue, we totally agree re: Walken, but had to confine our list to guest hosts who did their *first* hosting gig in the last decade. Sadly, Walken started hosting in the '90s.

Posted by: Liz Kelly | April 23, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Taylor Swift. I gained a whole new appreciation of her after her SNL hosting outing. My hopes were not high after the monologue (when all she did was sing), but I was a fan by the time of the "Scared Straight" skit.

Posted by: FormerDCer | April 23, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

I wasn't sure if Anne Hathaway could pull off sketch comedy, but her "Mary Poppins" skit was hilarious. And the girl can belt.

Posted by: ras4q | April 23, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

derek jeter totally surprised me. derek jeter's taco hole, the jericurl sketch, the baseball wives. pretty funny.

Posted by: nachomama1 | April 23, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Agreed on Jeter; he was way better than I thought he'd be. I think my favorite surprisingly good host was Colin Farrell; he was even funny in the sketches they dumped in the last half hour of the show. ("RTE2 - Ireland's Other Television Network!")

Posted by: hannnah | April 23, 2010 7:15 PM | Report abuse

geez can you give us girls a break? 3 out of 10 and that is the best you can give us gal?. You choices for the females are lame.

Posted by: humanrace | April 23, 2010 7:43 PM | Report abuse

Rudy Giuliani was surprisingly good as an SNL host.

Posted by: schmert | April 24, 2010 12:34 AM | Report abuse

I think Taylor Lautner did a pretty good job last fall. My new SNL watching rule is that if some teeny bopper whose movies/music/whatever I'd never be interested in is hosting or somehow involved in the show, just expect it to be hilarious.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I was surprised at how exceedingly awful Megan Fox was at hosting. That train wreck was impossible to predict.

Posted by: JBourgeios | April 24, 2010 2:39 AM | Report abuse

They're all good, but it's totally Andy Samberg in a unitard that does it for me. . .

Posted by: hlchappell | April 24, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

LeBron James was hilarious in the Solid Gold Sketch. He wasn't even around in the 80's heyday and he portrayed a Solid Gold Dancer incredibly! I can't remember any of the other skits - but it solidified my admiration as an all-around-good guy and usually, I don't have the love for the athletes.

Agreed on Brian Williams and Christopher Walken! I wish they'd get Betty White on there. She's become a gem in her advanced years!

Posted by: atomicgirl | April 24, 2010 9:46 PM | Report abuse

Timberlake is brilliant and Jon Hamm is this generation's Alec Baldwin. Especially "Hamm and Bubbly".

The one that is missing from the list is Garth Brooks. Those episodes are absolute classics. Especially "Who's More Grizzled?".

Posted by: zonkerscm | April 25, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

LiLo was hilarious in a Harry Potter skit on SNL years ago. She played Hermione who'd blossomed over the summer break. The boys were all dumbfounded. Too bad she's such a train wreck now. Girl's got talent.

Posted by: carusocm | April 26, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

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