15 of the Best Jokes and Moments from ‘Saturday Night Live’ Monologues
Saturday Night Live, of course, begins with a monologue. But unlike the weekday late-night shows, it’s not the series’ signature element — that would obviously be the sketches that follow. And yet, there have been quite a few memorable SNL guest host monologues over the years, either because they provided the episode’s biggest laughs or because of their larger meaning in the show’s history or the cultural zeitgeist.
In our humble opinion, here are the 15 best…
Ah, the very first SNL episode. The show was still trying to figure out its overall format, and the original idea was to have a roster of alternating hosts. Carlin was the first, but he didn’t appear in any of the sketches, partly because he wasn’t confident in his acting abilities. He was also on a shit-ton of cocaine at the time. So instead, he did his stand-up act in three segments throughout the show, with most of that material coming from his most recent comedy album — An Evening with Wally Londo Featuring Bill Slaszo.
“Many of you know that I’m 88 and a half years old, so it’s… Well, it’s great to be here for a number of reasons. You know, I’m not new to live TV — in 1952, I starred in my first live sitcom, which was Life with Elizabeth. And, of course, back then we didn’t want to do it live. We just didn’t know how to tape things. So I don’t know what this show’s excuse is.”
When the infamous insult comic hosted in January 1984, he did his best to roast damn near every individual audience member. It’s hard to say who was more worried — the camera operator or the censors.
He quickly addressed the elephant in the room — being asked to host the show a year and a half after being fired from it for “not being funny”: “So I wondered, how did I go from being not funny enough to be even allowed in the building, to being so funny that I’m now hosting the show? How did I suddenly get so goddamn funny?! It was inexplicable to me, because, let’s face it, a year and a half is not enough time for a dude to learn how to be funny. Then it occurred to me — I haven’t gotten funnier, the show has gotten really bad! So, yeah, I’m funny compared to, you know, what you’ll see later.”
Expectations were pretty low for Kardashian’s 2021 SNL hosting gig, but she gamely burned her family to a crisp — from her mom leaking the sex tape that launched her career, to her dad being O.J. Simpson’s lawyer. But this line took the cake, especially since it prompted her then-husband (and failed 2020 presidential candidate) Kanye West to storm out of the studio: “Now, I know we’re divided as a country, but I’d love for America to come together. Which is why I’m here to announce that I’m running for— I’m just kidding, guys. I’m not running for president. We can’t have three failed politicians in one family.”
The most tragically bittersweet monologue in SNL history. On May 20, 1989, when the news broke of the death of founding cast member Gilda Radner, Martin and the cast were in the middle of the show’s final dress rehearsal. So, at the last minute, Martin’s original monologue was scrapped in favor of a loving tribute to Radner. Martin fought back tears as he said, “You know, I’ve been coming here to do Saturday Night Live since 1976, and the thing that brings you back to the show is the people you get to work with. And I’d like to show you something that we recorded on this stage in 1978.”
Then he played a clip of a silly dance number that he and Radner had done together. After nearly a minute of applause, Martin closed out by saying, “I can’t help but think how great she was, and how young I looked. Gilda, we miss you.”
Hanks’ fifth time hosting back in 1990 gave rise to one of the most classic and longest running gags in SNL: The Five-Timers Club. Also in this bit, the attendant who helps Hanks into his club jacket looks awfully familiar...
No one wins over a tight crowd better than Burr, with his first time being center stage on SNL serving as a prime example.
“I was the second person from my family to leave Pakistan and come to the West. I had an uncle who was going to Scotland to study, and the Nanjianis were very excited. But they were like, ‘Hey, remember the deal, be good.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, got it.’ Then he got to Scotland, and fell in love with a white woman, married her and the Nanjianis were devastated. We were like, ‘Never again, let’s tighten this up.’ And then for decades, nobody left. Nobody left until 40 years later. I came to America, fell in love with a white woman, married her and then made a movie about it — just to rub it in their face. Nanjianis: zero, white women: two. When I called my mom to tell her, she wasn’t even upset. She was like, ‘You know what? This time, shame on us.’”
Moranis’ monologue in 1989 is a standout because it wasn’t a monologue at all. He came out on stage, and the band kept playing as he excitedly danced his way around all of Studio 8H, playing in the band, operating a camera, ironing Jon Lovitz’s pants, punching buttons in the control room, applying Nora Dunn’s lipstick, and ultimately, delivering a baby?
Having spent years as an SNL writer, Mulaney had written jokes for countless monologues. So when he hosted the show for the first time in 2018, his monologue was giving off huge “My time to shine!” vibes. Granted, the jokes about his wife and their decision not to have kids haven’t aged well since the announcement of his divorce/new girlfriend/having a kid with said new girlfriend, but as he joked in the monologue, “Fourteen years ago, I smoked cocaine the night before my college graduation, Now, I’m afraid to get a flu shot. People change.”
Carmichael hosted the show just six days after the Will Smith/Chris Rock Oscar slap, and his monologue was almost entirely about it without actually talking about it — but also calling out Lorne Michaels for telling him that he needed to talk about it: “Then Lorne came into my dressing room. He was like, ‘I think you need to talk about it.’ He said, ‘The nation needs to heal.’ Don’t turn your back on me, Lorne. Nation needs to heal. I said, ‘The nation needs to what? Do you want me to do that? The nation don’t even know me. The nation has no clue who I am. I have to be the least famous host in SNL history.’”
The 2008 Christmas episode monologue featured Malkovich sitting down to read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to a group of children, with his own little annotations along the way: “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in the hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there. Now, you know what they say about hopes, they’re what we cling to when reality has left us nothing else.”
Murphy had famously refused to ever be a part of the show or any reunion special because the show had made some jokes about him over the years that he didn’t like (thanks for nothing, David Spade). But after years of animosity, Murphy and Michaels were able to finally bury the hatchet, and Murphy received a hero’s welcome when he hosted the 2019 Christmas episode. He kept the solo part of his monologue brief before being joined on stage by his good friends Tracy Morgan, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle.
“My kids are pretty much my whole life now,” he joked. “But if you would have told me 30 years ago that I would be this boring stay-at-home, house dad, and Bill Cosby would be in jail, even I would’ve took that bet. (Bill Cosby voice) Who is America’s Dad now?”