It’s another rebuilding year for Saturday Night Live. The sketch institution recently hired three new featured performers, promoted two writers from within and hired a collection of new scribes, but each year, the show hands its fate over to a new host every episode. So come Saturday night, we’ll see how much Margot Robbie‘s monologue sets the tone for the highly anticipated inaugural night.
By design, surprise guests, big production musical numbers and audience Q & A’s tend to generate applause and Internet views. But over the years, the best openers happen when fearless monologists transform the platform into long-form high comedy. Chris Rock, Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin are hosts who cracked the code whenever they held court, taking their stand-up to impressive heights on live TV.
These were ten of the best SNL monologues ever.
Steve Martin (1991)
That time Steve Martin dropped the “too smug to care” act and went all out with a high-production number that took on the cast’s real struggles — and the ensemble all over the studio. This is classic SNL at its finest. A prime example of what people love about the show.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (2015)
Two players doing the same thing and then swapping roles is always reliably funny, but with the Fey-Poehler treatment, it’s even more deeply satisfying. With well-earned confidence honed from years of working together, this smart song that played Poehler’s Christmas cheer against Fey’s somber tune recreated the well-matched comedic partnership you imagine them having in life.
Billy Crystal (1984)
Consummate host that he is, Crystal in the coming of age zone always delights, but the typically relatable everyman really let his freak flag fly recounting his experience as a hormonal teen. Stay for the puberty sound effects.
Martin Short (1996)
Framed as a tribute to great hosts, this premise was pure joy for Short to pivot around, and he sold it with commitment, battery-powered legs and sincerity.
Chris Rock (2014)
With his inviting critical perspective, Rock unloads his hypocrisy grudges with the world tackling guns, terrorism and other topics with conversational material, spiked with genuine beliefs throughout.
Joan Rivers (1983)
Talking trash about L.A., the hardworking comedian was warm and bonded with the audience in a way that still holds up. This was Rivers before her acid-spitting fashion critic days when she became a beloved parody target. But this wasn’t her last word. She even roasted everyone from heaven.
Robin Williams (1988)
A comedy Olympian whose mind exists in constant state of motion, Williams hit his marks cleanly and spent all that famous endless energy at a measured velocity that you could follow here. Contemplating sexual politics, this opener was bursting with more athleticism than any of his others on the show.
Lily Tomlin (1983)
Tomlin always killed, and the titan’s witty comedy was hip for its time. Here, Lorne Michaels’ collaborator channels the collective anxiety of a financially strapped city by rattling off a catalog of irrational fears before breaking into some era-defining beat poetry (nice observational wordplay!) She could have carried the entire show on her back that night, and you can still feel that through the screen.
Louis C.K. (2015)
Daring enough to mine taboo topics for laughs, Louis C.K. proved he knew what an honor the show was by working hard on this one. His ache for your laughter crept back up to the surface where it was during his earlier stand-up days, and his routine arguably made for one of the funniest monologues ever. It’s telling that the jokes that wring the biggest laughs were also the most line-crossing.
Eddie Murphy (1982)
Thanks to some brutally honest self-referential stand-up, we were in capable hands with the influential former cast member who revels in fearless impressions.
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