Elon Musk joined the ranks of showbiz royalty this weekend when he hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time. “This is a dream come true,” the tech billionaire told a masked-up crowd at Studio 8h, 54 Rockefeller Centre, New York.
But Musk’s SNL dream rapidly became a nightmare as viewers jumped online to criticise the entrepreneur as awkward and flat. Ironically, it was on Twitter (where Musk spends much of his time) that people proved most ruthless.
Well Elon Musk was as bad as expected.
— Nate Blouin (@NatefromUtah) May 9, 2021
While Elon Musk has told viewers of Saturday Night Live that he “is the first person with Asperger’s” to host the US sketch show, this failed to prevent the comments rolling in. Typically, an SNL host will begin their stint with a monologue, and Musk was no exception.
Real quick has anyone checked in on the cast of SNL? I know how hard it was for some of them to work with Elon Musk so I just wanted to make sure they were okay
— Pat (@BarstoolPAT) May 9, 2021
Taking to the stage, he made a few cracks about his son’s name (X Æ A-12) before poking fun at the time he smoked a joint during an appearance on Joe Rogan’s show.
“A lot of times, people are reduced to the dumbest thing they ever did. Like one time I smoked weed on Joe Rogan’s podcast,” explained Musk.
“And now all the time I hear ‘Elon Musk, all he ever does is smoke weed on podcasts’. Like I go from podcast to podcast, lighting up joints. It happened once; it’s like reducing OJ Simpson to a murderer.”
During the opening, Musk also spoke of how he sometimes posted strange comments on his social media, saying: “To anyone I’ve offended, I just want to say ‘I reinvented electric cars and I’m sending people to Mars in a rocket ship, did you also think I was going to be a chill, normal dude?”‘
Anyone who has watched SNL will know that Lorne Michaels isn’t afraid to roll the dice when it comes to hosts. Over the years, the SNL team have welcomed a colourful cast of hosts and music guests onto the fabled stage. Sometimes it results in TV magic, and sometimes it serves up chaos, but either way, it’s always memorable.
So while Musk may have paid the price (quite literally, Dogecoin dipped more than 30% after his appearance on the show), at least he’s in esteemed company when it comes to SNL trainwrecks.
SNL: Best of the Worst
Ashlee Simpson, 2004: Lip-syncing disaster
There are few cringe-worthy internet moments that rival Ashlee Simpson’s crippling SNL performance. It was 2004, and Ashlee Simpson was no longer just Jess’s younger sister. She was a breakout pop star. Her debut album Autobiography was topping the charts, and Ashlee had been booked as SNL’s musical guest. Jude Law was hosting (also peak 2004), and everything went smoothly until the time came for Ashlee to perform her hit single, Pieces of Me.
While the band began to play the song, the vocals for the first track kicked in, and Simpson was exposed for lip-synching. Cue the world’s most excruciating jig as Simpson tried to buy time before eventually exiting stage left.
Returning at the end of the show alongside host Jude Law, Simpson passed off blame onto her band: “I feel so bad,” she said to the camera. “My band started playing the wrong song, and I didn’t know what to do, so I thought I’d do a hoedown. I’m sorry. It’s live TV. Things happen. I’m sorry.”
Not as sorry as we were, Ashlee.
Paris Hilton, 2005: Out of touch
Not to be outdone by Ashlee Simpson, a year later, Paris Hilton stepped up to the plate and proved that she too could bomb on SNL. This was peak Hilton fame after her sex tape had come out, but before The Simple Life had disappeared from view. Paris was hot property, but despite being one of the most famous faces on the planet, this didn’t translate on stage. The sketches were awkward, with Hilton mostly phoning it in and smiling cutely. Hilton’s less-than-impressive effort didn’t go unnoticed, with SNL cast member Tina Fey sounding off about the heiress years later.
“She’s a piece of shit,” Tina Fey told Howard Stern in 2006. “She’s awful and unbelievably dumb and so proud of how dumb she is.”
Kanye West, 2018: MAGA Hat and Trump Ad-Lib
Writing about Kanye West doing something stupid hardly feels worth it these days, but back in 2018, it was still a shock to see the rapper self-imploding.
As the musical guest for the evening, Ye took to the stage in a “Make America Great Again” hat, much to the crowd’s dismay. “He wore that thing the entire week,” revealed SNL cast member Pete Davidson during a later interview.
The MAGA hat is one thing, but following the performance of his third song, “Ghost Town,” Ye went off script (shocking). In his impromptu speech, West defended Donald Trump and subsequently accused the Democratic party of taking “fathers out the home to promote welfare.”
West also used the platform to announce his plans to run for president – and we all know how that turned out.
Donald Trump, 2015: A Sign of Things to Come
In the months before he swanned into the White House for a tumultuous four-year term as President, Donald Trump was living it up on the campaign trail. As part of his push for publicity, Trump landed a hosting gig on SNL. Despite being a long-time New Yorker, Trump’s presence at 30 Rock was highly controversial, with around 200 people gathered in protest around the Trump Tower.
While Trump certainly knows how to work an audience, his hosting gig was surprisingly flat, with the sketches feeling laboured and Trump looking unable to make fun of himself. A trait that would come to haunt his Presidency. However, in a further sign of things to come, Trump may have crashed and burned, but people lapped it up. The episode received the highest ratings SNL had seen in nearly four years, with 9.3 million viewers.
Sinead O’Connor, 1992: Pulling Apart the Pope Picture
Arguably the most iconic moment in SNL history involved Sinead O’Connor taking it to the entire Catholic Church on live TV. It was October 3, 1992, and O’Connor was amid her second appearance on SNL.
Her first appearance had made headlines thanks to a haunting rendition of Prince’s/The Family’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” But this time around, O’Connor had a different plan: take down the church.
As she belted out the final few bars of Bob Marley’s song “War,” O’Connor broke off and stared down the barrel of the camera.
Holding up a picture of Pope John Paul II, Sinead tore it to pieces while declaring, “Fight the real enemy.” O’Connor had long been a critic of the Catholic Church after being raised in Ireland and seeing systemic abuse up close. But in 1992, the crimes of the institution weren’t widely known, and the Catholic Church was still revered as an institution.
Little wonder that her stunt was met with shocked faces and outraged phone calls, NBC reported more than a thousand complaints within minutes of the episode airing.