the gold rush

A Brief History of Saturday Night Live As an Oscar Campaign Stop

Photo: NBC

One of the great benefits of this year’s Oscar season is that it’s gonna get us Daniel Kaluuya hosting Saturday Night Live. The day after Oscar nominations were announced, SNL snatched up two newly-minted nominees as their April hosts. Daniel Kaluuya, supporting actor frontrunner for Judas and the Black Messiah, will host the April 3 episode with musical guest St. Vincent, and Best Actress nominee Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) will host on April 10, with musical guest Kid Cudi. This continues what’s become a reliable tradition on the Oscar campaign trail, with nominees trying to maximize visibility and SNL trying to capitalize on the hot actors or actresses of the moment. It’s a win-win, especially if the host can bring it in the sketches.

While Saturday Night Live only became a regular Oscar campaign tactic in the 2000s, through the years, fourteen actors and actresses have hosted Saturday Night Live en route to their Oscar nomination, either in the weeks before the Oscars or while promoting the films they’d ultimately win for. Some performed more memorably than others, but all of them ended up on a podium with an Oscar in their hands before long, so honestly who’s laughing now?

Louis Gossett Jr.

Episode date: October 2, 1982
Musical guest: George Thorogood & the Destroyers
Oscars date: April 11, 1983

Gossett was promoting his performance in An Officer and a Gentleman when he hosted the second episode of season 8 of Saturday Night Live. He only appeared in four sketches, though, not counting the opening monologue, where he parodied his character’s famously brutal addressing of Navy recruits. He didn’t get to appear in a sketch with Mr. T, who showed up as a special guest but he did get a sketch with Eddie Murphy where the two parodied — and then broke the fourth wall to reject — Black dramatic stereotypes.

Kevin Kline

Episode date: December 10, 1988
Musical guest: Bobby McFerrin
Oscars date: March 29, 1989

A Fish Called Wanda was a summer movie in 1988, but as Kevin Kline started to accumulate Oscar buzz through the end of the year, en route to a Supporting Actor Oscar win that spring, he showed up at Saturday Night Live for the first of his two career hosting gigs. He wasn’t in the cold open that parodied Donald and Ivana Trump (everywhere a landmine), but he participated in an obligatory Big Chill parody sketch and performed alongside two recurring Jon Lovitz characters: the Master Thespian, in his monologue, and playing Peter Allen in the “Harvey Fierstein Talk Show.”

Jeremy Irons

Episode date: March 23, 1991
Musical guest: Fishbone
Oscars date: March 25, 1991

A mere two days before he would triumph as Best Actor for his performance in Reversal of Fortune, Jeremy Irons hosted SNL for the first time. The monologue was a bit about him claiming to not have his mind on the Oscars while taking up hobbies that reveal he’s completely obsessed with the Oscars. It wasn’t a particularly memorable episode overall, though now and forever Irons will get to say that he got to be in a sketch with Rob Schneider’s “makin’ copies” guy. One interesting footnote is that Irons played Hannibal Lecter in a Silence of the Lambs parody sketch. That film had just opened a month prior and would end up sweeping at the next year’s Academy Awards, making Irons the rare performer to have played a future Oscar winner just before he became an Oscar winner himself.

Helen Hunt

Episode date: December 13, 1997
Musical guest: Hanson
Oscars date: March 23, 1998

Hunt, who was also starring on NBC’s Mad About You at the time, was promoting her performance in As Good As It Gets that would eventually land her a Best Actress trophy. Her co-star in that film, Jack Nicholson, cameoed in the monologue — while everybody in the cast got to try out their Jack impersonations — marking his first-ever SNL appearance. Hunt’s episode is probably most notable simply for the era of SNL she got to participate in, perhaps the last true golden age of recurring sketch characters. Hunt appeared in sketches for The Delicious Dish with Molly Shannon and Ana Gasteyer, The Ladies Man with Tim Meadows, and The Roxbury Guys with Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan.

Gwyneth Paltrow

Episode date: February 6, 1999
Musical guest: Barenaked Ladies
Oscars date: March 21, 1999

Gwyneth Paltrow’s run to a Best Actress win for Shakespeare in Love is the textbook case of Oscar backlash setting in while the Oscar run was still happening. That said, her Saturday Night Live episode while on the campaign trail in an incredibly significant one, both for her contributions and outside of them. This was the first episode after Bill Clinton beat the impeachment charges, with the cold open featuring the Clinton team struggling not to gloat, including Tracy Morgan as Betty Currie dancing stone-faced to “Chain of Fools” (though the streaming version on Peacock tragically has the music swapped out). Paltrow gets in a good Mary Katherine Gallagher sketch opposite Molly Shannon where she plays a cigarette-smoking Catholic bad girl, but the best sketch, and honestly one of Paltrow’s career highlights, was an E! Impeachment Coverage sketch where the trial was covered like a red-carpet event, in which Paltrow played Sharon Stone in a parody that was mean enough to have Stone fire back in the press that Paltrow “isn’t getting enough oxygen.”

Hilary Swank

Episode date: February 19, 2005
Musical guest: 50 Cent
Oscars date: February 27, 2005

The week before Swank took her second Best Actress Oscar, this time for Million Dollar Baby, she hosted SNL for her first and only time. It wasn’t a great episode, though you can probably triangulate its place in the cultural timeline in that it featured a sketch about the first season of Project Runway (Swank played Heidi Klum). It’s no fun to say you were in the fourth Debbie Downer sketch (did you know there were eight of them?). Probably the most memorable sketch was a send-up of L.A. plastic surgery, “Sheila Choad’s Los Angeles Face,” where Swan, Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, and Rachel Dratch espoused the virtues of the newly buzzy botox (speaking of time capsules) from behind frozen mugs.

Forest Whitaker

Episode date: February 10, 2007
Musical guest: Keith Urban
Oscars date: February 25, 2007

Look, at least Forest Whitaker was triumphant at the Oscars, winning Best Actor for The Last King of Scotland, because his Saturday Night Live gig two weeks prior was mostly a non-event, aside from a sketch where he played a singing waiter with an endless rendition of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” Whitaker did get to appear opposite Maya Rudolph in a Whitney Houston Valentine’s Day-themed sketch, however. And is any night at SNL truly a lost cause if you get to guest on “Bronx Beat”?

Anne Hathaway

Episode date: November 10, 2012
Musical guest: Rihanna
Oscars date: February 24, 2013

The first SNL episode back after Obama’s 2012 reelection saw Anne Hathaway show up to promote the performance in Les Miserables that she’d eventually win the Oscar for. After the obligatory “One Day More” parody in the monologue, Hathaway delivered in a “Girlfriends Talk Show” sketch opposite Aidy Bryant and Cecily Strong, and she slayed the Claire Danes part in a Homeland parody. She also got green-vomited on by Taran Killam in “Mokiki Does the Sloppy Swish,” so don’t let anyone tell you Hathaway didn’t work hard to earn that Oscar.

Jennifer Lawrence

Episode date: January 19, 2013
Musical guest: The Lumineers
Oscars date: February 24, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook fever had so apparently gripped the nation that SNL signed Jennifer Lawrence to host, a month before she’d win Best Actress, and they got The Lumineers to “Ho, Hey” their way through as the musical guests. For as much as Lawrence was a big, charismatic personality on the campaign trail that year, her SNL ep was pretty lackluster, though she did become the second actress in that same campaign season to star in a “Girlfriends Talk Show.”

Christoph Waltz

Episode date: February 16, 2013
Musical guest: Alabama Shakes
Oscars date: February 24, 2013

Christoph Waltz became the third of the three 2013 Oscar winners in acting to host Saturday Night Live, just one week before he won his second Oscar for Django Unchained. The episode wasn’t great (sensing a theme here?), though a highlight was Waltz playing Jesus in a Tarantino revenge parody called “Djesus Uncrossed.”

J.K. Simmons

Episode date: January 31, 2015
Musical guest: D’Angelo
Oscars date: February 22, 2015

Beloved character actor J.K. Simmons’s run to the Best Supporting Actor win for Whiplash was heartening for anyone who’d seen his work in countless small roles on film and TV. But he was never exactly known for being a huge comedy guy, which is why his rather excellent SNL appearance was so much fun. The most memorable sketch was probably the pre-taped “Teacher Snow Day,” but he really delivered in the Casablanca-themed “Cinema Classics,” where he played the perfect Bogart to Kate McKinnon’s increasingly nervous Ingrid Bergman.

Casey Affleck

Episode date: December 17, 2016
Musical guest: Chance the Rapper
Oscars date: February 26, 2017

Saturday Night Live had both eventual Best Actor and Best Actress Oscar winners host in December of 2016. Manchester by the Sea’s Casey Affleck’s was the far less memorable episode, despite the fact that he got the usually fun and freewheeling pre-Christmas slot. Affleck didn’t shine much in the redux of the alien-abduction where Ryan Gosling had so memorably lost his composure a year before, though the requisite Affleck-sibling-in-a-Dunkin’ Donuts sketch was, predictably, on point.

Emma Stone

Episode date: December 3, 2016
Musical guest: Shawn Mendes
Oscars date: February 26, 2017

Emma Stone is one of the best Saturday Night Live hosts of the current era, and in her run-up to winning Best Actress for La La Land, she was really firing on all cylinders. This episode featured the first Krissy Knox sketch, in which she played a lewd poster in Pete Davidson’s bedroom come to life to moan unhelpfully about hot dogs. She also joined Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon for their Christmas ballad about regifting that one true candle. But the most memorable sketch in a very good episode was the Julio Torres-penned “Wells for Boys,” where Stone took a moment to furiously demand ONE THING for her sensitive little son.

Sam Rockwell

Episode date: January 13, 2018
Musical guest: Halsey
Oscars date: March 4, 2018

In the run-up to his Best Supporting Actor win for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Sam Rockwell made his first appearance as SNL host. He played an irritable science teacher and an optics-concerned Captain Hook (the episode aired shortly after #MeToo began to take hold in the media, and a lot of the sketches were very caught up in the brave new world of not committing sexual harassment). The best and most memorable sketch of the night saw Rockwell playing a dad who recognizes his son’s boyfriend from gay porn, a rite of passage for any future Oscar winner, really.

A Brief History of SNL As an Oscar Campaign Stop