23. George McGovern (Host, 1984)
McGovern’s laugh-free stint — which came a month and a day after he dropped out of the presidential race — was about as embarrassing as Nixon on Laugh-In. In one uncomfortable bit, the three-term Senator asked SNL‘s studio audience to help him pay off his enormous campaign debt. The joke hit way too close to home… and only got less funny when McGovern began physically taking bills from the folks in the front row.
22. Steve Forbes (Host, 1996)
Analysts criticized the millionaire for acting awkward, inarticulate, and just plain weird when he ran for the Republican presidential nomination in ’96. But Forbes’s wacky campaign persona and creepy, wide-eyed gaze didn’t translate to onscreen laughs — especially since even a pro couldn’t have generated giggles with lame jokes about a flat tax rate.
21. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (Cameo, 1980)
Why did this genial, grandfatherly senator narrate a sketch about overgrown leprechaun Dan Aykroyd in SNL‘s 100th episode? Who knows — but his random appearance would have been more memorable if the fake fairy tale he read were the least bit funny.
20. George Pataki (Cameo, 1996)
New York’s governor and SNL vet Mayor Rudy Giuliani appeared together in a cold open — a very cold open — the weekend after the punishing Blizzard of ’96. It’s clear that the state leader wasn’t comfortable doing comedy: throughout his appearance, robotic hand motions and flubbed lines betrayed Pataki’s nervousness.
19. Chris Dodd (Cameo, 2008)
The former senator and current MPAA boss appeared alongside his longtime buddy, SNL czar Lorne Michaels, in a ”Laser Cats” digital short and spoke just three lines of dialogue. (One of them was ”No.”) His cameo wasn’t painful — but its brevity made it pretty pointless.
18. Paul Simon (Cameo, 1987)
Musician Paul Simon is one of SNL‘s most frequent guests. Senator Paul Simon looked snappy in a bow tie. So it made sense, in theory, to have the latter show up during the former’s monologue in this Dana Carvey-era episode. But in reality, Senator Simon didn’t make much of an impression — either on the show or in the ’88 Democratic primaries.
17. Ron Nessen (Host, 1976)
Gerald Ford’s press secretary was the first political figure — and the first non-performer, period — to host SNL. Otherwise, his competent but unremarkable episode is notable for just two reasons: It featured Dan Aykroyd’s hilarious ”Bass-o-Matic” commercial, and it opened with a pre-taped shot of President Ford himself saying, ”Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” (NBC exec Dick Ebersol swears that Ford tripped over a camera cord after delivering his line.)
16. George H.W. Bush (Cameo, 1994)
It’s become a cliché for a public figure to confront his SNL impersonator on the air. Back in 1994, though, the bit hadn’t been done to death — which gave an extra charge to seeing Dana Carvey’s absurd, cartoonish Bush chat with the real thing. Unfortunately, our 41st president didn’t actually make the trip to Studio 8H; maybe if he had appeared live rather than on a video screen, Bush No. 1 wouldn’t have seemed so stiff.
15. Janet Reno (Cameo, 2001)
Watching Bill Clinton’s Attorney General burst through a solid stone wall? Pretty funny. Seeing that same woman half-heartedly boogying alongside her gruff, deep-voiced doppelganger (Will Ferrell)? Less funny. Noticing a young Mena Suvari appear in the same sketch and wondering what happened to her career? Not very funny at all.
14. Bob Dole (Cameo, 1996)
Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole dropped by to console Norm MacDonald after losing to Bill Clinton, which deprived MacDonald the pleasure of playing the Commander in Chief each week. The former Senate Majority Leader was game enough to engage in some gentle self-parody; too bad Dole’s four-and-a-half-minute sketch was about two minutes too long.
13. Sarah Palin (Cameo, 2008)
Fourteen million people watched SNL when Alaska’s former governor stopped by, giving the show its highest ratings since Nancy Kerrigan hosted in 1994. Palin’s appearance itself, though, was disappointing — she didn’t lampoon her own image, deliver many jokes, or interact at all with Tina Fey, whose impersonation of Palin is justifiably beloved. At least the vice presidential candidate’s chair-dancing on Weekend Update kept her cameo from being a total wash.
12. Ralph Nader (Host, 1977)
Nader presided over an unusually eventful episode: The show he helmed included Bill Murray’s first SNL appearance, the first ”Coneheads” sketch, and a legendary guest performance by Andy Kaufman. But this second season installment is memorable more in spite of Nader than because of him; the future Green Party nominee mostly acted as a straight man, though his energy was higher than that of Nessen, his only political host predecessor.
11. Al Sharpton (Host, 2003)
As the last presidential hopeful to host SNL — so far — Sharpton gave a performance somewhere between ”not bad” and ”surprisingly capable.” While his timing left something to be desired, the Reverend gets points for doing a decent Johnnie Cochran impression — and for donning a safari suit as Ryan Fellow, brother of Tracy Morgan’s absurd animal lover.
10. Barack Obama (Cameo, 2007)
Obama’s no comedian, but the future president did just fine in this Halloween-themed sketch. As with Palin, Obama didn’t say anything that carried the slightest whiff of controversy — but the sight of a man taking off his Barack Obama mask, only to reveal that he’s actually Barack Obama, was amusing enough to make up for the segment’s lack of edge.
9. Mike Huckabee (Cameo, 2008)
Huckabee’s finely tuned sense of humor may have been what got Arkansas’ former governor on the ballot in ’08. What’s really surprising, then, is that his Weekend Update cameo — in which he explained why he hadn’t dropped out of the Republican race yet — wasn’t funnier. Even so, Huckabee displayed a good sense of timing… especially when he refused to exit stage left after his bit had supposedly concluded.
8. David Paterson (Cameo, 2010)
Fred Armisen’s wicked impression of New York’s former governor was often a Weekend Update highlight. And when Paterson himself showed up to confront Armisen, he gave as good as he got by slinging a few killer lines (”You’ve poked so much fun at me for being blind that I almost forgot I was black!”). Sure, he flubbed the delivery — but give the guy a break! Everyone else on SNL reads cue cards; Paterson had to learn his dialogue by heart.
7. Hillary Clinton (Cameo, 2008)
Clinton was relaxed and incredibly likeable when she stopped by Studio 8H during primary season. She also seemed genuinely thrilled to be on the show — though maybe standing next to Amy Poehler just has that effect on people. Honestly, if Clinton’s campaign persona had been more like her SNL persona, the ’08 election may have turned out differently.
6. Ed Koch (Host, 1983)
The mayor who guided New York through the gritty, turbulent ’80s was charming and charismatic on SNL — an adorably corny Catskills comedian in politician’s clothing. (On Ronald Reagan: ”He’s got the second-toughest job in America. Nancy’s got the toughest — she has to wake him up in the morning!”) But don’t take our word for it: Koch proved so telegenic that he was invited to host the show again in 1984.
5. Julian Bond (Host, 1977)
A season 2 episode hosted by Bond — a Georgia state senator who eventually became the NAACP’s chairman — exemplified SNL‘s early, edgy era. Throughout the show, Bond demonstrated an easygoing charm and poise in biting, racially charged segments like a ”Black Perspective” sketch with Garrett Morris. It’s the type of material that seems shocking even in the 21st century — and Bond completely pulls it off.
4. Al Gore (Host, 2002)
Like Clinton, Gore was much more easygoing on SNL than he had been on the campaign trail. Whether the future Nobel Prize winner was making racist cracks as Senator Trent Lott, playing sober accountant Glen Wonka, or sharing a rose-petal-filled Jacuzzi with Chris Parnell’s Joe Lieberman, his commitment and timing made the bits work. Heck, somebody give this man an Emmy! Oh, wait…”
3. John McCain (Cameo, 2008)
Though the Arizona Senator did pretty well as host in 2002, an ’08 QVC sketch marked his funniest appearance on the show — and one of the best political cameos SNL has ever seen. While it was a little tough to watch McCain mock his own losing campaign days before the presidential election, the Republican candidate’s twinkling eyes and winning manner made the bit seem hilarious rather than desperate.
2. Rudy Giuliani (Cameo, 2001)
America’s Mayor has appeared on SNL five times, including a hosting stint in 1997. But quantity alone doesn’t guarantee a high ranking. Instead, Giuliani gets the #2 spot thanks to the somber monologue he delivered during the show’s Season 27 premiere — its first post-9/11 episode. The mayor’s inspiring words comforted a hurting nation — and his subsequent exchange with Lorne Michaels (Michaels: ”Can we be funny?” Giuliani: ”Why start now?”) showed us it was okay to laugh again.
1. Jesse Jackson (Cameo, 1991)
The Reverend wasn’t particularly memorable when he hosted SNL in 1984 — but he totally killed in this Weekend Update appearance seven years later. His passionate, rhythmic reading of ”Green Eggs and Ham” — done to commemorate the recently deceased Theodor Seuss Geisel — isn’t just the best political cameo in SNL‘s history; it’s also one of the funniest SNL cameos, period.