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Saturday Night Live best host final: Was Fred Armisen good enough?

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Hosting Saturday Night Live is a little like running for president. I don’t mean the marathon trial that candidates endure, the fundraising, handshake lines, and invasions of privacy. But as cruel as the campaign process is, it serves as an excellent x-ray of a candidate’s character. Sooner or later, whether during a weak moment in Iowa or under the hot lights of a televised debate, the true candidate emerges, for better or worse.

Same deal on Saturday Night Live. A host can skate by for a few sketches, and the show’s writers can even build a skit that makes the guest look capable. But it’s awfully hard to make it to 1 a.m. unscathed unless you are the real deal: smart, funny, courageous, versatile, spontaneous, self-deprecating, enthusiastic, and a team player. It’s nearly an impossible order, which makes it so special when a guest host takes the stage at Studio 8H and actually delivers. It’s difficult to do well on SNL unless you truly love being there, and for at least six episodes of the show’s 41st season, the guests were champions.

With the conclusion of season 41, we now get to crown this year’s best host. For five years, Entertainment Weekly has asked its online readers to vote for the best Saturday Night Live host each week, and though winners don’t immediately win the prestige of, say, the Five-Timers Club, Mr. Saturday Nights (the first four honorees have been men) have belonged in the pantheon of great SNL performers — from Jimmy Fallon to Justin Timberlake to last year’s surprise winner, Martin Freeman.

There’s a good chance, however, that the new Mr. Saturday Night will be a Ms. The leader in the most recent polls has been Ariana Grande, and the superduo of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have also been near the top all season. Russell Crowe has a new movie in theaters and his surging candidacy has been buoyed by a passionate online following. Drake, like Grande, doubled as host and musical guest, and his show aspired to be Timberlake-esque. Meanwhile, Fred Armisen returned to Rockefeller Center in the season finale, and his episode was one of the season’s most enjoyably ludicrous. There really has never been anyone like Armisen on SNL. His is such a strange sense of humor, and he commanded the show with such confidence. But the contest’s dark horse might be Larry David, who was rescued from elimination last week in our second-chance poll. Last year, Freeman took the same route to the crown, and David has a solid chance to repeat that feat. Not only was he a great host, but he may be the season’s MVP, with his multiple cameos as Bernie Sanders. 

Now, if you’re coming to our contest late, you might be asking, “Why can’t I vote for Ryan Gosling, or Amy Schumer, or Peter Dinklage?” Those guests were voted out during the course of the season, fair and square, and David was the lone exiled guest selected to earn a second chance. That’s democracy — unless some superdelegates change their minds in the next 90 minutes…

Well, the rest is up to you. Review the six candidates on the ballot, dive down the rabbit-hole of SNL videos to refresh your memory, and vote for the host you think was best. Vote your conscience and your funnybone, but ask yourself three questions before you cast your vote:

1. Which host’s sketches were you still watching days or weeks after the episode originally aired?

2. Which host could join the cast tomorrow and hold his or her own, week-in and week-out?

3. Which host do you most want to see on Saturday Night Live again?

Scroll below to see the tale of the tape for all six finalists, and cast your vote for a Mr. or Ms. Saturday Night we can all be proud of.

TINA FEY & AMY POEHLER

Date of episode: Dec. 19, 2015

Number of times they’ve hosted: 5 (Fey), 2 (Poehler)

On the show to promote: Sisters

Musical guest: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

TV ratings: 5.1/13

Special guests: Maya Rudolph, Darrell Hammond, Amy Schumer

EW Odds: 4/1. On pedigree alone, this might be the team to beat. Fey and Poehler put together a great holiday episode, reprising their Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton impersonations and getting laughs with completely new characters. Perhaps some voters have discounted them because they are a duo, but there’s no doubt they’re worthy of the title.

LARRY DAVID

Date of episode: Feb. 6, 2016

Number of times he’s hosted: 1

On the show to promote…: Nothing

Musical guest: The 1975

TV ratings: 5.1/12

Special guests: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson

EW Odds: 9/2. If Bernie Sanders didn’t so resemble David, perhaps the Curb Your Enthusiasm star would never have been drafted to return to SNL. But he’s been a great election-season find, and his frequent cameos as the Democratic candidate have been a highlight. But his episode was so much more than one character (“Can a bitch get a donut?”), and presented the rare opportunity where David couldn’t hide the fact that he was having a good time.

ARIANA GRANDE

Date of episode: March 12, 2016

Number of times she’s hosted: 1

On the show to promote: Dangerous Woman

Musical guest: Ariana Grande

TV ratings: 4.0/10

Special guests: Larry David, Darrell Hammond

EW Odds: 3/1. Grande is the odds-on favorite, leading the weekly polls ever since she hosted in March. Not bad for a first-timer! Several of her sketches made great use of her musical talent, but it was a spot-on impression of Jennifer Lawrence during “Celebrity Family Feud” that put her in the discussion for elite status. 

RUSSELL CROWE

Date of episode: April 9, 2016

Number of times he’s hosted: 1

On the show to promote…: The Nice Guys

Musical guest: Margo Price

TV ratings: 4.0/10

Special guests: Jason Sudeikis, Al Sharpton

EW Odds: 11/2. The Nice Guys star isn’t known for his comedy — a fact that became the thesis of his opening monologue — but his first gig as SNL host proved surprisingly durable with voters. In recent weeks, he’s surged in the polls, and if his loyal fanbase responds again, he is a real threat for an upset. 

DRAKE

Date of episode: May 14, 2016

Number of times he’s hosted: 2

On the show to promote…: Views

Musical guests: Drake

TV ratings: 3.9/10

Special guests: Chris Rock

EW Odds: 19/1. Drake checked all the right boxes in his most recent stint as host. He was enthusiastic and self-deprecating, and his musical capabilities gave him some great highlights. He might be a little boxed in, though: Grande seems to have him beat in the host/musical guest department, and Fred Armisen’s more recent show could ultimately overshadow him. 

FRED ARMISEN

Date of episode: May 21, 2016

Number of times he’s hosted: 1

On the show to promote: His one-man show, Love, From New York, I Did Saturday’s Right: Fun, Fame, & Fred on the 17th Floor

Musical guest: Courtney Barnett

TV ratings: 3.7/10

Special guests: Maya Rudolph, Jason Sudeikis, Andy Samberg, Larry David

EW Odds: 9/2. Hosting the season finale has a distinct advantage in our contest, and it won’t hurt that Armisen was excellent. His humor is so distinct — calling it quirky doesn’t do it justice — and so many of the show’s sketches embraced his WTF strangeness: Lewis & Clark, his all-in opening monologue, and the laugh-out-loud Dead Poets’ Society parody. For 11 seasons, Armisen was a completely original SNL comedic flavor: he wasn’t the next anyone, and no one could possibly replace him. His go-for-broke style and cool confidence made for a perfect ending to a fun season. 

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