NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” has a long tradition of having a ball. From the WWE to the NBA to the NFL, athletic superstars always find their way to SNL. Yankees legends and Super Bowl Champions alike have tried their hand at the sketch comedy hosting gig.
Athletes ranging from NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon to boxing’s George Foreman to football’s John Madden have appeared in Weekend Updates alongside cast members and musical guests since the show’s inception. Fran Tarkenton started the trend in 1977 during the show’s second season. But who is the greatest SNL champion of them all? Well, it depends on how you define the question.
For this list, we’ll rank SNL athletes by their funniest sketch, not their athletic accomplishments. That gives us an even playing field. Plus, it’s a reason to pit usually incomparable athletes like J.J. Watt, Wayne Gretzky, Deion Sanders, Andy Roddick and Ronda Rousey against one another. (Note: the rankings are by funniest single sketch. For this list, monologues are sketches.) (Double note: None of those athletes mentioned above made the top ten.)
No top 10 list is complete without some honorable mentions. Without further ado: Live, from New York! It’s…????
Every four years, the world unites as one to watch the Olympics. Every four years, new Olympic superstars arise, catapulted to fame by their incredible accomplishments. These stars land in commercials, on Wheaties Boxes and occasionally on SNL.
Two-time medalist Nancy Kerrigan, Olympic tennis player (and only female tennis star to ever host) Chris Evert and 28-time medalist Michael Phelps all hosted during their peak of stardom. But only one sketch made the cut: the eternally weird, Andy Samberg-fueled SNL Digital Short “Space Olympics.”
SNL typically has one host. On rare occasions, usually due to promotional reasons or performance anxiety, fans enjoy two hosts, like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in 2015. Two sets of sports stars have performed double-hosting duties for both reasons.
Hulk Hogan and Mr. T hosted in the ’80s for promotional purposes. Either performer athlete is a talented enough entertainer to host the gig on their own. We’re just glad they didn’t.
Joe Montana and Walter Payton co-hosted to lighten to load. Though experienced football performers, neither Hall of Famer was an actor. Dana Carvey’s Church Lady carried their best sketch, though they landed a few punchlines of their own.
Though not controversial when they hosted their episodes, O.J. Simpson and Lance Armstrong are no longer known for their athletic achievements. In a strange twist of prophetic irony, O.J. joked about stabbing a voodoo doll during one of his sketches.
That’s the rest. Now on to the best.
Top 10 Funniest Athlete Sketches on SNL
10. Shaq: Big Bernard Gets a Spanking
Season, Episode, Musical Guest: 24, 2, Sheryl Crow
The Gist: Cranky father Tracy Morgan spanks Shaquille O’Neal.
Best Line: “Okay, using the art of subtraction, how late exactly are you?”
Shaq is a cameo in this episode, not the host. Kelsey Grammar handled hosting duties, but Tracy Morgan managed Shaq’s big butt in this slap-happy, slap-stick routine from the late ’80s. We just need him to recreate it again with Charles Barkley.
9. John Cena: Romance Bookstore
Season, Episode, Musical Guest: 42, 9, Maren Morris
The Gist: Romance bookstore attendants play out their favorite genre’s most poorly-written fantasies at work.
Best Line: “I’m a horny, wealthy ghost… with full-throttle knockers!”
Wrestler John Cena stars as a Fabio look-a-like with the brain of a beautiful squirrel alongside Aidy Bryant as the closet freak we all knew from high school.
8. LeBron James: Read to Achieve
Season, Episode, Musical Guest: 33, 1, Kanye West
The Gist: Former high school basketball player and current P.A. gets competitive with LeBron James.
Best Line: “It’s a book!”
LeBron, a stiff actor, performed admirably in this skit. It’s similar to his role in “Trainwreck” alongside Bill Hader, but you have to admire Jason Sudeikis’s tenacity.
7. Tom Brady: Tom Brady’s Falafel City
Season, Episode, Musical Guest: 30, 17, Beck
The Gist: Unbeknownst to anyone, Tom Brady’s dream is to open a Middle Eastern restaurant.
Best Line: “I’m Tom Brady, and ever since I was a kid, I’ve had one dream, and one dream only: to open up a restaurant selling high-quality Middle Eastern cuisine at discount prices.”
A wildly inappropriate sketch from 2005 that would never get past the first table read today, Patriots QB Tom Brady is doing his best. It’s the absurdity of the concept that really brings the laughs.
6. Charles Barkley: The NBA on TNT
Season, Episode, Musical Guest: 37, 11, Kelly Clarkson
The Gist: Satire of TNT’s popular basketball round-up, starring Barkley as a lifeless Shaquille O’Neal and Kenan Thompson as Barkley.
Best Line: “We’re all black friends.”
Kenan Thompson’s Charles Barkley impression is undoubtedly better than Barkley’s Shaq, and Thompson carries the sketch. Hader’s “black friends” line fails gloriously, to the delight of every single person on stage.
5. Derek Jeter: Yankee Wives
Season, Episode, Musical Guest: 27, 7, Shakira/Bubba Sparxxx
The Gist: Baseball players in drag.
Best Line: ” … Jeter does not do it for me. He looks like if the Rock had sex with a Muppet.”
World Series champion Derek Jeter plays Alfonso Soriano’s wife alongside Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer. The best part comes when Jeter roasts himself with an insult clearly written by a Mets fan.
4. Eli Manning: Little Brothers
Season, Episode, Musical Guest: 37, 20, Rihanna
The Gist: After suffering a childhood under tyrant big brother Peyton, Eli Manning seeks to avenge little brothers everywhere with his new charity.
Best Line: “Maybe now you’ll learn to treat your younger brother with some respect, Peyton!” “My name is not Peyton!” “Whatever!”
A spiritual successor to Peyton’s United Way sketch (more on that in a moment), Eli’s Little Brothers sketch is pitch-perfect. It’s every little brother’s twisted fantasy, played out by a two-time Super Bowl champion. The screaming at the end is a lovely touch.
3. Michael Jordan: Daily Affirmation
Season, Episode, Musical Guest: 17, 1, Public Enemy
The Gist: Manly man Michael Jordan receives positive energy from the effeminate Stuart Smalley.
Best Line: “Michael … denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”
Future politician Al Franken plays an explicitly unlicensed therapist named Stuart Smalley in the Daily Affirmation sketches. Chicago Bulls GOAT Michael Jordan dropped by between his first and second championships for some of Smalley’s wisdom.
2. Peyton Manning: United Way
Season, Episode, Musical Guest: 32, 16, Carrie Underwood
The Gist: Peyton Manning is a cruel bully, untrustworthy around children.
Best Line: “Okay, I’m sorry. Do you want to lose? I throw, you catch. It’s not that hard, okay? Okay, now get the f*** out of here.”
What looks like poor mentorship from Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning soon turns to juvenile delinquency and petty crime. Spend time with your kids, so Peyton Manning doesn’t.
1. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: World’s Most Evil Invention
Season, Episode, Musical Guest: 42, 21, Katy Perry
The Gist: At the World’s Most Evil Invention contest, one evil scientist takes the objective a little too literally.
Best Line: “Benito Mussolini used to force-feed people castor oil until they literally died of diarrhea. I mean, that’s got to be where the goalposts are, right?”
After a rocky start, the Rock gets rolling. Playing the seemingly normal Roy, the Rock has built the evilest invention in the world. Too bad that isn’t what the other scientists signed up for.