Everything We Know About Steven Seagal Being the Worst ‘Saturday Night Live’ Host Ever
In 1992, Nicolas Cage hosted Saturday Night Live, the kick-off show of its 18th season. He immediately got off on the wrong foot, praising the beautiful breasts of his Honeymoon in Vegas co-star Sarah Jessica Parker before glorifying the amazing ass of Moonstruck pal Cher. Before Cage could dig his #MeToo hole any deeper, the director interrupted and instructed Cage to see Lorne Michaels backstage. After Michaels explained why Cage’s monologue was so sexist and inappropriate, the host apologized profusely. The audience must have thought he was “the biggest jerk who's ever been on the show.”
“No, no,” clarified Michaels. “That would be Steven Seagal.”
You won’t get a lot of arguments from anyone who was on the show at the time about that. It’s hard to get an SNL cast member to talk trash about any host — these are guests, after all — but Michaels, Tim Meadows, Julia Sweeney, David Spade, Dana Carvey, Jan Hooks, Norm Macdonald, Rob Schneider, writer Bob Odenkirk and producer Marci Klein have all gone on the record to say that Seagal was just the worst.
Let’s start with the actual comedy. The action star seemed like a perfect candidate for a Hans and Franz sketch, Odenkirk told Howard Stern, but Seagal would only play along under very specific conditions: “If I do this sketch, if I do it, I have to beat them up.” Odenkirk chalked it up to “some ludicrous John Wayne thing,” as if the audience was in doubt about whether or not Seagal could beat up Carvey in a padded muscle suit.
Seagal had other objections, too. In the first draft of the sketch, Hans and Franz razzed Seagal by declaring that Arnold Schwarzenegger could destroy him in a fight. Seagal rehearsed the sketch as written, “very serious,” according to Carvey, who sensed that something was off. “So, I went up to him and I said, ‘Steven, are you okay?’ And he didn’t look at me. He was looking straightforward and he goes, quote, ‘I just wish Arnold was here so I could kick his fucking ass.’”
Seagal was worked up enough that Klein had to calm him down while writers reworked the bit to make it absolutely clear that the ponytailed host would win any hypothetical comedy fight. “He didn’t want to go along with what the plan was that week, and as a result, I think that was the first week that I heard talk about replacing the host and just doing a cast show,” David Spade has said in the oral history Live From New York.
Cutting Seagal loose midweek would have been pretty drastic, but he had proved to be double trouble. Not only was he a pain in the ass, but he was also arguably the most lifeless performer the show had ever seen. Pretty much every Seagal sketch is cut from his own episode on Peacock’s Saturday Night Live archives, but this YouTube supercut gives you a chance to cringe for yourself.
But you can’t say Seagal didn’t try. He brought his own sketch ideas to the table, described as both “heinous” and “hilariously awful” by Julia Sweeney. “He had this idea that he’s a therapist, and he wanted Victoria Jackson to be his patient who’s just been raped,” Sweeney has explained. “And the therapist says, ‘You’re going to have to come to me twice a week for like three years,’ because, he said, ‘that’s how therapists fucking are. They’re just trying to get your money.’”
Seagal came up with a hilarious kicker as well: “And then he says that the psychiatrist tries to have sex with her.”
Another of Seagal’s pitches actually made it to the show as the night’s final sketch, remembers Odenkirk. Somehow, Seagal paid homage to both his Buddhist philosophy and his ass-kicking reality by playing a pacifist (for a couple of minutes anyway) wildlife photographer. “It was insane,” Odenkirk has explained. “There’s like this board of directors, a bunch of stuntmen in suits. As a viewer, you’re like, ‘Who are these actors? They’re not in the cast!’ There’s some speech and (Seagal) enters the banquet room. It’s live, and he’s beating them up and throwing them around the room. And it goes on for like eight minutes. It’s the longest scene you’ve ever seen.”
But at least there was a moral to the story. At the end of the sketch, Seagal stopped kicking and punching and looked directly into the camera. “This is what happens,” he warned, “when you pollute the planet.” The audience was silent, dumbstruck by what had just played out in front of them.
“Just not a nice guy,” was how Norm Macdonald heard it. “Rob Schneider had this great story that he came out of his dressing room and (Seagal) said, ‘I just read the greatest movie script ever,’ and Rob Schneider said, ‘Who wrote it?’ and he said, ‘I did!’” Was Seagal just pulling Schneider’s leg? “No,” the Richmeister told Macdonald, “he definitely wasn’t joking.”
The biggest problem with Seagal, according to Tim Meadows, was that he would gripe about jokes that he didn’t understand. “So it was like — you can’t explain something to somebody in German if they don’t speak German,” Meadows has said, lamenting Seagal’s inability to speak comedy. “He just wasn’t funny and he was very critical of the cast and the writing staff. 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.”
There is one nice thing about working on Saturday Night Live with a lousy guest, though: There’s always a new host on Monday. “Steven Seagal,” sighed Jan Hooks. “We got through him.”