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October 9, 2015

Why are athletes so much funnier than other SNL hosts?

by Joel Keller, posted Mar 26th 2007 4:03PM
Peyton Manning teaching kids on SNLAnnie's review of last Saturday's SNL pretty much encapsulated how I felt about it; it was above average, especially if you understood some of the jokes directed at guest host Peyton Manning. Since I'm a football fan, that was no problem; the NCAA sketch where the studio guys kept saying certain players "pulled a Peyton Manning" was funny to me because, until he won the Super Bowl last month, Peyton had a bit of a choker's reputation.

Anyway, the funniest bit of the entire episode was the phony United Way PSA, showing Manning "helping" a bunch of kids. Even watching it today on NBC.com, I couldn't help but laugh when Peyton not only checks the play at the line of scrimmage, like he does on every play he runs in the pros, but then he whips the ball at his receivers, whether they're ready or not. When he knocks them over, he calls them "losers;" he's so angry at one kid, he banishes the boy to a Port-O-Let so he can think about the error of his ways.

Also funny: Peyton showing the kids how to break into a car, especially when he hears a siren. "Cops!" he yells before everyone scatters, and telling another kid to "get the fuck out of here" after berating him for not catching the ball.

Why am I singling this sketch out? Because it shows the comedic skills that Peyton's shown on the three kajillion TV commercials he's done during his career (as I cited once before, not many sports stars would be in an ad chanting "Cut That Meat!"). It's actually pretty unusual for an athlete to show these kind of skills; of all the sports stars that have guest hosted on SNL, Peyton is right up there near the top. Makes me think the guy has an acting career ahead of him after he retires, if he chooses to do so.

Anyway, what does it say about the hosts that the show has picked that athletes like Manning, Derek Jeter, and Tom Brady have done a better job than actors like Robert DeNiro (one of the most painful SNL episodes I've ever seen, and I'm a DeNiro devotee) and Forest Whitaker? I've got my theories, but I'm curious to hear yours. Let me know what you think in the comments.

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Peyton Manning was so funny in that United Way PSA skit, where he is so cruel to some of the kids, but in a funny way. He even hit a football behind one kid--that had me laughing so hard! I feel that he should get into acting--he's a natural at it, even with the countless commercials he's made (Cut that Meat! D-Caf clap-clap, D-Caf clap-clap--his punchlines and hooks are infectious!). If he does retire from football, which might be in 10 years, he should go for a full-scale acting career. He has comedic elements of either Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler, sometimes crazy or out of the way funny. Some athletes did SNL, but they weren't that good. Peyton did it, and he was great at it.

March 31 2007 at 4:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jason Lloren

Actually, that's the skit I had in mind when I wrote that. The skit's punchline is indeed pretty hilarious but the journey to get there was tortuous. Thanks for pointing it out.

March 27 2007 at 1:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No one's mentioned the Barkley vs. Barney sketch, or Shaq getting spanked by Tracy Morgan, or Jordan's positive affirmations with Stuart Smalley? The rest of the episodes they were on are imminently forgettable (other than Barkley's musical guest being Nirvana), but those were sketches were as funny as anything on Peyton's episode.

March 27 2007 at 12:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I like Elf's theory the best, but I have three more ideas.

First, the KISS principle. I wonder if the writers, producers, etc, are "simplifying" the writing/humor. Where you might expect a big-name star to take on nuanced, timed performances, the "civilians" might get something that isn't a stretch. As others observed, SNL is more like stage, and the actors want to play up to their game (take on the challenge).

Second, for the most part, actors/actresses come in when they are trying to sell something (new movie, for instance). This is probably stop number 69 on their press tour. The athletes are on their off season, relaxed, and able to focus.

Finally, I think everyone has sacred cows they don't want SNL to touch--they don't want to be made a fool. For an athlete, they have nothing to lose. An actor or actress wants to make sure they can still get acting work in the morning. Likewise, they don't want their unmarketable side to show.

March 27 2007 at 8:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Here's a theory: You have a low threshold for comedy.

Peyton was OK, but let's not over-react to this episode. The best hosts are still the regulars, e.g. Alec Baldwin and Christopher Walken. Justin Timberlake is working his way up too.

March 26 2007 at 11:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sportscenter's "Big Buddy" take on ultra-competitive athletes with kids was far, far better.

March 26 2007 at 11:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jason Lloren

On the flip side, Joel does make a good point: There have been a few actual actors (some Oscar-winning) who are less-than-stellar when it comes to hosting SNL. Most obvious mistakes/errors that come to mind are too many hosts who are obviously reading the cue cards or just don't have that knack for comic timing on live TV.

March 26 2007 at 9:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Also, in Mississippi, where the Manning family is originally from (and where I live), Peyton's dad, Archie and his brother Eli do commercials for local banks that are quite funny. So I really think they are just a very close-knit, funny, southern family who know how to lighten up and make people laugh. Although, I did wonder how his mom felt about some of the language! But being married to football player and raising three boys, she's probably heard a lot worse!!! I really enjoyed the show, and really liked that they brought out a birthday cake for him at the end. It looked like they all enjoyed working together this past week. It showed.

March 26 2007 at 9:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

wireboy makes a good point. Lets not get carried away by thinking all athletes are good on SNL. Montana sucked, Walter Payton sucked, Jeter was passable, and Pete Sampras was not unwatchable. Personally I say no athletes and Lorne Michaels needs to be a lot more choosey over who gets to host, not just who's hot at the moment (e.g. Paris Hilton.)

March 26 2007 at 8:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wireboy, while I agree that Montana was a little overwhelmed, he still participated in the greatest skit involving a Superbowl Champion.

I believe the skit featured the late great Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks where Hartman and Montana were roommates. Hooks and Hartman were on a date and hoped they wouldn't bother Joe by sitting on the couch and chatting. When Joe dropped this bomb:

"That's OK, I'll be up in my room masturbating"

March 26 2007 at 8:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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