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Some SNL cast members aren’t happy about Elon Musk. He’s part of a long tradition of disliked hosts.
Billionaire Elon Musk is set to host "Saturday Night Live" on May 8. He faces criticism from both fans of the show and its own cast members. (Allie Caren/The Washington Post)
ByEmily Yahr
May 6, 2021 at 6:00 a.m. EDT
Tesla CEO Elon Musk will host “Saturday Night Live” this weekend, and creator Lorne Michaels is no doubt thrilled about the outrage this move has already managed to stir. Plenty of people on social media had thoughts on SNL giving a platform to the controversial billionaire and SpaceX founder, who has gained even more notoriety this past year by playing down the coronavirus pandemic.
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Some SNL cast members were among those skeptical of the move, including Aidy Bryant, who reposted a tweet from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that pointed out that the 50 wealthiest Americans own more wealth than 165 million Americans combined, deeming it “a moral obscenity.”
When Musk tweeted “Let’s find out just how live Saturday Night Live really is” along with a devil emoji, Bowen Yang wrote on Instagram, “What … does this even mean.” Neither Chris Redd nor writer Andrew Dismukes seemed thrilled by Musk landing the gig. (This was countered by Michael Che calling Musk’s appearance “exciting” and Pete Davidson telling Seth Meyers, “I don’t know why people are freaking out.”)
SNL announced Elon Musk as a host. The disgust on Twitter may be just what the show is after.
Alas, Musk is part of a long tradition of the show’s stars and writers speaking up about hosts they can’t stand. It is a bit more unusual for this to happen before the episode airs, but not unprecedented. In 1990, when comedian Andrew Dice Clay was announced as host, cast member Nora Dunn boycotted the show because she was so disgusted by the “hateful” misogynistic jokes in his stand-up routine.
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“I don’t want to be part of providing an arena for him to make himself legitimate because I don’t think he is,” she told the Associated Press. “Although I feel he has a right to express himself, I have a right to strongly state my position.”
Shortly after, musical guest Sinead O’Connor also announced she would no longer perform. “It would be nonsensical of ‘Saturday Night Live’ to expect a woman to perform songs about a woman’s experience after a monologue by Andrew Dice Clay,” she said in a statement.
Michaels appeared irritated about both, telling the Los Angeles Times that he respected Dunn’s decision but wished she had talked to him before going to the media. As for O’Connor, he complained, “We’re not asking her to endorse Andrew Dice Clay — we were merely asking her to sing two songs. What gets lost in all of this is that this is a comedian we’re talking about.”
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Although Michaels hasn’t addressed the cast’s comments about Musk, an anonymous source told Page Six that the creator “won’t ever make them do anything they don’t want to do” and they can skip the episode if they feel strongly. This chatty source added, “Whether you like him or not, Elon is a very interesting character. … He’s very much a showman.”
A few other “very interesting characters” who have hosted over the years managed to tick off the SNL stars so much that they publicly vented. Tina Fey famously let loose about Paris Hilton — who hosted SNL in 2005 — during a 2006 interview with Howard Stern, saying the socialite was “awful” and “unbelievably dumb and so proud of how dumb she is.”
Bill Hader and Jay Pharoah agreed in a 2018 “Watch What Happens Live” appearance that Justin Bieber, who pulled double duty as host and musician in 2013, was among the worst. “He just was in a bad place,” Hader said, explaining that most guests are typically on their best behavior. “Maybe he’s in a better place … but then, it was rough.”
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Several SNL mainstays were vocal about how much they hated working with Steven Seagal in 1991. “He just wasn’t funny, and he was very critical of the cast and writing staff,” Tim Meadows told Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller in their SNL tome “Live From New York.” “He didn’t realize that you can’t tell somebody they’re stupid on Wednesday and expect them to continue writing for you on Saturday.” David Spade confirmed this on Rob Lowe’s podcast last year, and said Seagal clashed with the writers on sketches. “He was too cool and he had his image. He couldn’t be relatable,” Spade said.
Michaels joined in on the fun: In 1992, host Nicolas Cage fake-fretted during his monologue that the audience probably thought he was “the biggest jerk who’s ever been on the show.” Michaels appeared to assure him, “No, that would be Steven Seagal.”
Of course, one of the most famous incidents that drew plenty of anger — from both inside and outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza — was the enlisting of then-presidential hopeful Donald Trump as host in 2015. The former “Apprentice” star had hosted once before in 2004 to less-than-rave reviews from the stars: Maya Rudolph said in a Vanity Fair interview that the cast was irritated when Trump was announced as host, and Seth Meyers told Howard Stern that Trump “didn’t have any sense of humor.”
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Things didn’t go any better a decade later. Kenan Thompson said that at one point, Trump interrupted a table read to take a phone call. Bobby Moynihan said that Trump didn’t realize one sketch — in which Moynihan played his racist “drunk uncle” character as a huge Trump fan — was making fun of him. “He was like, ‘Thank you so much. That was so nice to hear such nice things being said.’ And I was like, ‘You moron,’ ” Moynihan told the Daily Beast.
Taran Killam spoke out multiple times, telling NPR that Trump’s episode “was not enjoyable at the time and something that only grows more embarrassing and shameful as time goes on.”
“Most of the cast and writers were not excited to have him there,” he said in an interview with Brooklyn Magazine the following year. “I didn’t get the feeling that he was excited to be there, and it felt like a move for ratings from both sides.”
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And that, in a nutshell, is the reason the show will continue to court polarizing celebrities to take the helm: ratings. Hosts from Trump to Clay generated big viewership numbers, and the producers are clearly banking on the fact that Musk’s appearance will do the same.
CORRECTION
An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Andrew Dice Clay hosted "Saturday Night Live" in 1991. It was 1990. The article has been amended.
Read more:
Bowen Yang steals SNL playing the iceberg that sank the Titanic
Aidy Bryant doesn’t think ‘fat’ is a bad word. Her show ‘Shrill’ proves it.
Anne Beatts, original SNL writer who broke into boys’ club of comedy, dies at 74
Emily Yahr is an entertainment reporter for The Washington Post. She joined The Post in 2008 and has previously written for the Boston Globe, USA Today, the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader and the American Journalism Review.
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