Who Was the First Celebrity to Host ‘SNL’?

Now in its 45th year, Saturday Night Live continues being relevant in satirizing everything. Though the early years of the show might turn into a blur without having those episodes readily available. Fortunately, SNL does have an app that lets viewers find classic sketches from that time period.

Nevertheless, it’s not always possible to find complete episodes from those early days. Although, the very first episode is one that’s been re-aired on NBC a number of times, and it’s available to stream on NBC.com.

For those not born until the ’90s or later, the first episode might still seem like a pop culture mystery. Who was the historic first host of SNL? The format was a little different from how it works now. It’s a format Lorne Michaels should consider reviving where the main host isn’t an expert comedian.

The first ‘SNL’ host was a real comedian

The 'SNL' set on display for an exhibition celebrating the program's 40-year history.
The iconic SNL set | TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

Many of the episodes in the first season were taken up by comedian hosts, other than some notable exceptions. The first episode on October 11, 1975, managed to land George Carlin as host, a major coup considering he was the smartest comedian around at the time. Even though he was at the height of his drug problems then, he obviously fit into the surroundings due to everyone else likely doing the same imbibing.

If you can argue the times then were typical 1970s excess, Carlin kicked off the tone of the show, despite doing something not seen in later years. Carlin did several standup sets, something audiences don’t see today in favor of the musical performances.

One could easily argue his standup was more entertaining than forcing him to act in an underwritten sketch. The skits for the night were works in progress while still showcasing the undeniable talent of the soon-to-be iconic cast.

The musical guest for the night was Billy Preston, a highly undervalued musical legend who did keyboard work for The Beatles and later had some hit albums of his own.

Other noteworthy names from the first season

Not every week consisted of a comedian host. Even though big comedic names like Robert Klein, Richard Pryor, and Dudley Moore/Peter Cook hosted, the show managed to land big Hollywood A-listers like Raquel Welch and Anthony Perkins, a trend still seen to this day.

Also, as seen today, not all of these actors were as funny as they could be. Only people like George Carlin could understand the sketch concept and manage to make it work.

Over time, the SNL writing team has had to face similar challenges with the hosts, leading to some embarrassing clunkers once in a while. Nobody can fault the first season, though, which is worth studying if new to the history of SNL.

It’s also worth studying George Carlin’s comedy, all of which was timeless and loaded with hilarious observations about everything. Should SNL bring back standup comedy segments like this throughout the show?

Standup might provide more energy than a filler sketch

A few times in recent years, audiences have seen comedian hosts do a standup set in place of an opening monologue. However, doing a second or third standup set on SNL was eliminated years ago.

Outside of the filler sketches (usually in the last ten minutes of the show) being legendary and sometimes massive train wrecks, imagine how much comedic energy could be regained having an extra standup set. Even if the host isn’t a comedian, per se, bringing standup comedians on the show would offer major showcases.

Late-night talk shows are the only mainstream network places to see new comedians perform in front of a national audience. SNL should reconsider this idea to keep people watching closer to 1 a.m. rather than push the sketch writers to burn out for no real good reason.