BEST: 10. Garth Brooks
Double duty date: Nov. 13, 1999
Sure, the country megastar meant for his alt-rock alter ego Chris Gaines to be taken seriously. But if you ignore that minor detail and focus instead on Brooks’s easygoing charm, his surprising chemistry with Chris Kattan’s Mango, and how goofy he looked in that inky black wig and soul patch, we can consider Brooks’s double bill a solid SNL ep that included bonus musical sketches whenever ”Gaines” took the stage.
BEST: 9. Bruno Mars
Double duty date: Oct. 21, 2012
Before his SNL hosting debut, Mars had precisely one acting credit to his name: playing a pint-sized Elvis impersonator in the 1992 film Honeymoon in Vegas. And while most of the episode cast Mars in singing roles — which he executed predictably well — the hitmaker also proved adept at music-free comedy; for proof, just watch Mars as one of the creepy animatronic Merryville brothers or as a lonely costumed character in the surprisingly poignant short ”Sad Mouse.”
BEST: 8. Miley Cyrus
Double duty date: Oct. 5, 2013
Turns out that when she’s not distracting you with foam fingers and an errant tongue and several square feet of bare skin, pop music’s reigning bad girl has both a great singing voice and crack comic timing. And by addressing every scandalous thing she’d ever done opposite Miley impressionist extraordinaire Vanessa Bayer, Cyrus also proved that she wasn’t afraid to poke fun at her own image.
BEST: 7. Queen Latifah
Double duty date: Oct. 9, 2004
Modern-day renaissance woman Dana Owens does it all: She’s a pioneering rapper, a gifted singer, an Oscar-nominated actress, a veteran of Fox’s popular sitcom Living Single, and, now, a daytime talk show host. So it should be no surprise that the Queen was royally poised and funny when she reigned over SNL, even if the jazz album she was promoting turned out to be sort of dull.
BEST: 6. Stevie Wonder
Double duty date: May 7, 1983
Getting through an episode of SNL without obviously reading cue cards? Difficult. Getting through an episode of SNL without even the option of reading cue cards? Impossible…or so you’d think before watching Wonder take on the show during the height of the Eddie Murphy era. Even when he wasn’t singing (beautifully, as always), Wonder’s energy and infectious grin made him a sight to behold — especially when he played the world’s worst Stevie Wonder impressionist opposite Murphy.
BEST: 5. Dolly Parton
Double duty date: April 15, 1989
Whether she was gamely pretending not to notice the camera zooming in on her famous chest during her opening monologue, regaling the cast with a series of counterfeit ”mountain stories,” or agreeing to appear in a sketch called ”Planet of the Enormous Hooters” — yes, the night had an unofficial theme — Dolly exuded down-home charisma. And her singing wasn’t half bad, either.
BEST: 4. Ray Charles
Double duty date: Nov. 12, 1977
And speaking of not reading the cue cards: Charles didn’t exactly veer out of his comfort zone when he took over SNL, playing only variations of himself. Thankfully, Charles’s self was pretty wonderful — especially when he expertly parried the cast’s endless cache of blind jokes. (The best one: Writer Michael O’Donoghue takes out the ”Monet” SNL is donating to the Lighthouse of the Blind in Charles’s name, reveals it’s just a canvas printed with big block letters that read ”PLEASE DON’T TELL HIM!”)
BEST: 3. Paul Simon
Double duty dates: Oct. 18, 1975; Nov. 20, 1976
In the early, loosey-goosey days of SNL, the show’s format hadn’t yet been codified — so when heavy hitters like Charles, George Carlin, and Simon showed up, they had license to do pretty much whatever they wanted. Generally, what Simon wanted to do was perform music — and perform he did, sharing the bill with George Harrison on his second show and memorably reuniting with Art Garfunkel on his first. (Randy Newman and Phoebe Snow, the latter episode’s credited musical guests, showed up for good measure as well.) But Simon also wasn’t afraid to show his silly side: He opened the ’76 show by sheepishly singing ”Still Crazy After All These Years” clad in a giant turkey suit. No wonder SNL keeps inviting him back — 17 times at last count.
BEST: 2. Lily Tomlin
Double duty date: Nov. 22, 1975
Technically, Tomlin isn’t credited as the musical guest of SNL‘s sixth show ever — but she switched ably between sketch work and musical performances, largely creating the template for future SNL overachievers. (In Simon’s first double duty episode, which aired a few weeks prior, he appeared in a measly single sketch.) Her Laugh-In-honed skills made Tomlin a natural fit for the SNL stage; she’s the rare host who also seems like she could credibly be part of the show’s cast. Plus, she sang ”I Got You Babe” with a Muppet named Scred. What more can you ask for?
BEST: 1. Justin Timberlake
Double duty dates: Oct. 11, 2003; Dec. 17, 2006; March 9, 2013
Sure, he’s the obvious choice now — but back in 2003, when Timberlake was still dealing with ‘NSync jokes and an acting resume that boasted titles like Touched by an Angel and the TV movie Model Behavior, no one could have guessed the late-night juggernaut he’d turn out to be. With his first solo bill, though, Timberlake proved his timing was as sharp as his singing and dancing — and with every successive appearance, his reputation grew. These days, it’s tough to imagine a world in which Timberlake’s drop-ins aren’t SNL‘s most highly anticipated episodes. Bring it on down to MVPville!
NEXT: The five celebs who put the ”threat” in ”SNL double threat?”
WORST: 5. Sting
Double duty date: Jan. 19, 1991
The English troubadour wasn’t bad, per se, but he also wasn’t particularly memorable; though Sting was the show’s nominal host, the episode’s real stars were early ’90s SNL staples like Wayne Campbell, Jack Handey, Linda Richman, Phil Hartman’s Frank Sinatra, and even Rob Schneider’s odious Richmeister, a.k.a. the ”makin’ copiiies!” guy. Sting may be watching us, but viewers weren’t watching SNL for him.
WORST: 4. Justin Bieber
Double duty date: Feb. 9, 2013
EEEEEEEE!!!!! That’s the sound of the indefatigable army of Beliebers who stormed Studio 8H when their beloved took over the show last year. Unfortunately, they were the only ones cheering on the Biebs; though Justin’s musical performances were fine, his shaky sketch work was marred by obvious cue card reading and an impenetrable aura of smug self-satisfaction. Bieber’s vocal range is impressive; his acting range, not so much.
WORST: 3. M.C. Hammer, a.k.a. just ''Hammer''
Double duty date: Dec. 7, 1991
A show that will live in infamy: The M.C.’s star was already waning by the time he made his first and last appearance on SNL, turning in performance plagued by awkward line readings and a monologue largely delivered in the third person (”Hammer is very happy to be here, in New York, hosting Saturday Night Live. It’s been a pretty good year for the Hammer. Hammer’s new album is selling like hotcakes”). Please Hammer, don’t hurt us.
WORST: 2. Deion Sanders
Double duty date: Feb. 18, 1995
This one’s a bit of a cheat because Sanders wasn’t technically this episode’s musical guest; that’d be Bon Jovi, who performed both ”Always” and ”Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night.” Still, the ex-49er deserves a spot on this list because he capped off an evening of excruciating comedy by performing two terrible tracks from his terrible 1994 rap album Prime Time. (The album was released via Hammer’s own Bust It Records; coincidence?)
WORST: 1. Frank Zappa
Double duty date: Oct. 21, 1978
Snide antiestablishmentarian Zappa made a show of purposefully breaking character when he appeared on SNL for the second time. He mugged for the camera, he blatantly called out the show’s cue card holders, he burst into laughter in the middle of a ”Coneheads” sketch — and though his musical performances went off without a hitch, his hosting was such a disaster that SNL creator Lorne Michaels reportedly banned Zappa from ever appearing on the show again.