‘SNL’ Has a Lazy Habit of Objectifying Hot Hosts

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty

Sydney Sweeney is hosting Saturday Night Live this weekend and all week fans have been wondering: Are they gonna give her the hot host treatment? Or put another way, are we about to get a repeat of Jacob Elordi’s divisive episode from back in January?

The Elordi episode became notorious for its aggressive pandering to the actor’s fangirls in the audience. From “Crown Your Short King” to “Women’s AA Meeting” to “Acting Class,” the episode spent half its runtime on jokes that amounted to little more than “isn’t Jacob hot?”

If you were one of the many viewers who swooned over Elordi in Saltburn or Euphoria, this was one of the best episodes of the season for you. If you were anybody else, it all felt a bit lazy. You were probably wondering if Elordi actually had any comedic chops, or you were trying to figure out if the excessive thirsting from the cast was Elordi’s idea or something thrust upon him by the writers.

Either way, it was hard not to end the episode wondering if it was a waste of Elordi’s talents. His résumé has shown that he’s a strong dramatic actor. Even if he couldn’t do many funny voices, previous hosts like Sterling K. Brown have demonstrated that you don’t need to be that funny to create comedy. Sometimes all you have to do is give your regular serious delivery to a nonsensical script. The fact that SNL didn’t even attempt this approach with Elordi, an actor who’s so good at playing terrifying and compelling characters, just feels kind of insulting. Elordi’s more than a piece of meat, SNL—surely you could have done better with him than this.

Elordi is not the first male host to be written like this. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson got a sketch all about Pete Davidson having to suck on his body while a horny Kate McKinnon begs to take Pete’s place. Bradley Cooper played a game show host who had sex with all his contestants’ wives. Jason Momoa got to cuckold poor Andrew Dismukes in the world’s horniest Cast Away parody.

For female hosts, these sorts of sketches are a lot more common—and they’ve often delved into borderline-predatory behavior. Take, for instance, the 1992 sketch “Airport Security Check” with Sharon Stone, in which the actress plays a woman at an airport who’s forced by security to take off her clothing one item at a time. The joke is that none of the male security guards actually think she’s hiding a weapon; they just really, really want to see her naked.

The comments on the YouTube version are filled with exclamations about how the show couldn’t air the sketch today, and they’re probably right. Today, the show would at least have the security guards experience some sort of comeuppance for their behavior. Or, as in a recent sketch about workplace harassment, they’d have the guards be played by women with mustaches to take the sting out of what’s happening.

The ’92 sketch, meanwhile, lets the guards successfully get away with as much of what was allowed on network TV at the time, with Stone’s character only being spared from taking off the rest of her clothes because the guards get distracted by a hot lady at another gate. The sketch’s saving grace is that Stone’s character is at least portrayed as a sympathetic person, not necessarily the butt of the joke. Still, it’s not enough to offset how the sketch’s whole punchline, repeated ad nauseam, is “Man, isn’t sexual harassment hilarious?”

SNL has changed a lot since the ’90s, but maybe not as fast as we’d like. 12 years later, the show gave us the infamous Hot Hermione sketch. This is the one where 17-year-old Lindsay Lohan plays the (then 14-year-old) Hermione Granger and the much-older cast members make jokes about jerking off to her. To be fair, the clip knows (to at least some extent) how creepy this all is, which might be why they had cast Rachel Dratch as Harry Potter. But it doesn’t really change the fact that it’s six minutes of the same terrible joke told over and over again.

The sketch’s only claim to plausible deniability is that it’s centered on a basic, familiar truth: Girls tend to hit their growth spurts earlier than boys, which leads to awkward situations. There are plenty of women out there who can recall growing up with a similar experience to what Hermione’s feeling here, where boys suddenly start treating them differently.

Of course, this relatable experience for girls is definitely not why the sketch has 72 million views on YouTube, making it the third highest-viewed sketch in the channel’s whole history. There was no shortage of viewers who wanted to watch mid-2000s Lindsay Lohan walk around in a skimpy schoolgirl uniform, and the SNL writers would take advantage of that regardless of any ethics involved.

The bright side is that SNL gave Lohan plenty more to do than just be eye candy. (This was, after all, the same episode that gave us the most iconic Debbie Downer sketch.) The same can’t be said 15 years later during Jennifer Lopez’s latest hosting gig. Her 2019 outing gave us “Surprise Home Makeover,” about how Lopez’s character is clearly out of her husband Matt Schatt’s league. Then it gave us “Chad & JLO,” which was all about how how Lopez is clearly out of another character’s league. Both sketches were sequels, and like most sequels they showed diminishing returns.

The most successful sketch from that episode was “The Corporal,” which centered around two evil sisters (Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant) trying to hide from a potential suitor their beautiful sheltered sister (played by Lopez), whom they’ve tricked into thinking is hideous. On its own, the sketch works due to the delightfully devious scheming of the two evil sisters. It falls flat when watching the whole episode in order, however, because it plays right after those other two sketches. It’s the sort of thing that begs the question: Did Lopez ask for them to write all these sketches about how hot she is? Or was this simply the best the writers could give her? Either way, somebody clearly dropped the ball here.

Thirst sketches around the female hosts aren’t inherently terrible, of course. And Margot Robbie’s episode in 2016 is perhaps the best example of this. The Barbie star’s hotness was present in most of her sketches, but it was never the main element. The episode’s best-remembered sketch, “Live Report,” focuses on a news segment that goes off the rails when the reporter finds out Robbie’s beautiful character is married to Mikey Day’s unimpressive Matt Schatt. (This was Schatt’s first ever appearance.) The joke might seem like it’s putting Robbie on a pedestal and punching down on conventionally unattractive men, but the sketch is more of a commentary on how shallow and close-minded people can be. The Schatts seem perfectly content together, not in spite of but because of how much they ignore societal norms. And their genuine happiness drives the rest of the world insane.

Robbie also starred in “The Librarian,” which began by giving the horny teenage boys in the audience exactly what they wanted from her episode, before descending into gross-out absurdity. What starts off as sexy slow-motion dancing from Robbie quickly turns into her showing off her Haley Joel Osment tattoos and snapping another woman’s neck. It all works because it’s a subversion of the sort of sketches that the Elordi episode played straight.

Like the horny Totinos’ sketch with Kristen Stewart (which functions as a much-needed liberation of Vanessa Bayers’ twice-neglected housewife character) or “Why is Benedict Cumberbatch Hot?” (which argues that quiet confidence is the most attractive trait of all), every good version of these sketches has put a twist on the formula. It can never just be straight-forward leering at the host.

But the historical tendency on SNL’s part to go for the easy, low-hanging fruit of emphasizing a host’s sex appeal at the expense of surprising comedy is still concerning in light of this week’s promos for Sydney Sweeney’s episode.

“Weirdly, a lot of my fans are men,” Sweeney says in one of them, pretending to be innocently confused. It’s a harmless joke on its own, but to fans still annoyed after the Elordi episode, it reads as more of a threat. Will SNL take the easy route again? Will they give us multiple sketches dedicated exclusively to how hot their latest host is? If they do, they’ll almost certainly rake in tens of millions of easy views on YouTube—regardless of what loyal viewers think.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with acknowledging a host’s sex appeal and playing around with it in a sketch or two. Sexualization is not the same as exploitation or degradation, as Sweeney herself has pointed out. And we know from Margot Robbie’s episode that it’s perfectly possible to do all this in good, fun taste. It’s only a problem when the show leans on it too hard, when they give us a one-note collection of sketches that seem to sell the host short.

We know from Sweeney’s past projects that she’s a genuinely talented actress, one who can easily handle funny material. Throw her a thirst sketch if you must, SNL, but don’t let that be all she gets to do.

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