Yes, it’s an arbitrary number.
Yes, it’s just a recurring gag for a job well done.
Yes, it’s beyond silly to care about a fictional symbolic element of a 42-year-old comedy show.
But it’s got to be said: Saturday Night Live’s Five-Timers’ Club is getting pretty full lately. And not with whom you might expect.
The Saturday Night Live tradition of welcoming guest hosts who’ve had top billing on five separate nights has been a tradition since the early 90s. The elite fraternity is full of all the beloved non-cast faces you’re imagining right now, plus a few more. And for every true comedy dynamo like Melissa McCarthy – who was inducted into the Club on May 13, 2017 – there comes a less-than-iconic performer, who just happens to be have hosted five times… (looking at you, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who will be added to the roster Saturday, May 20th. The organization is a bedrock of the SNL dynasty, and as such, should be treated delicately and with the admiration that it has earned.
Now, to be fair, few television shows are better at their legacy preservation than Saturday Night Live. For long-time and eagle-eyed viewers of the sketch comedy staple, the pageantry of the iconic series is literally everywhere: from extended backstage tours, to frequent call-backs and references, the SNL experience is a near-constant flow of joyous self-reverie. The show has always respected the fragile eco-system of new and old blood, but is always happy to welcome home friendly faces for guest spots and cameos, both in times of triumph and hardship. That’s why the series remains the dream job for up-and-coming funny people – everyone knows that all roads through modern comedy revolve around Studio 8H. For any comedy writer, cast member or special guest, the same maxim applies: Make it here, and you’ll always be remembered.
But that indeed sometimes turns out to be a problem.
When a show never forgets – manages to last for over four decades and counting – it turns out inevitably, you start seeing the same faces passing through. Over, and over, and over again.
When that repetition is intentional and knowing, that is, of course, how legends are born. Originally a stadium-filling stand-up comedian, Steve Martin (’78) first hosted the show in 1976, and has made 15 return visits to the host spotlight (among more than a dozen additional cameos). From King Tut to the Wild and Crazy Guy, Steve Martin’s earned his 5-Timers robe and serves as the group’s all-but official mascot. Steve Martin is an SNL legend.
Roseanne star John Goodman (’94) famously hosted once a season from 1989 to 2001, even serving as a last-minute inflatable host when an A-lister dropped out hours before air. With era-defining impressions like Linda Tripp and Rex Tillerson, the beloved character actor has earned the right his smiling face to adore the lounge’s wall. Legend.
Buck Henry (’77), the oddball co-creator of Get Smart, improbably hosted 10-times in the show’s first five years, (even getting butchered by John Belushi’s samurai sword), yet never has appeared with any cast but the original! That’s a legend.
Christopher Walken (’01), Danny DeVito (’93), Candice Bergen (’90) – they all earned their stripes across more than ten years, but developed memorable characters along the way. (Gold plated diapers, anyone?) Elliott Gould (’80) and Paul Simon (’86), both were very visible in the show’s early days, are card-carrying five timer as well (Though, perhaps the latter’s figures were inflated a bit to slip him in the penthouse…). Legend, legend, legend, legend, turkey dressed legend!
And there’s no denying that the former cast members to enter the VIP section, Chevy Chase (’86), Tina Fey (’15) and Bill Murray (’99), have all earned their spots independent from their work in the cast. While Chase is allegedly banned, he was the first cast member to return as a host and some of his most memorable gags comes from those voyages home. Murray famously crossed the invisible line of demarcation to host his first show during the Lorne Michaels-free Ebersol years. Even with her shortened timeline, Tina Fey has managed to make her mark the banner, thanks in no small part to a Sarah Palin visibility-bump and a special shared billing with fellow returning alum Amy Poehler.
Of course, you’ve got box office titan Tom Hanks (’90), the girl watchin’, mic checkin’, elevator hauntin’ Five-Timer for whom the iconic sketch was written for all those years back (when Conan was SNL’s doorman!). And there’s also the musically-inclined Justin Timberlake (’13), the last host to truly get the red carpet treatment as his induction during the show’s 38th season.
And of course, there’s Alec Baldwin (’94). As hard as it is to believe, the then-dramatic actor shocked the country when he first showed his funny side in the early 90s. Since: he’s gone on to overtake Steve Martin’s long held hosting record, creating must-see SNL moments (that Phil Hartman kiss or those flailing CNR glasses), as well as co-starring on the SNL-lite series 30 Rock and even inspiring his own Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor. As Baldwin is currently serving as an informal cast member with his weekly cameo as President Trump, the 59-year-old may legitimately be considered the face of the show itself these days. If Baldwin’s not the Five Timers Club President, he better have his own VIP table with all the free pie he can eat.
So… let’s be honest. That’s already more names than you probably could have remembered right off the top of your head. Yet… there are still card-carrying five timers on the board. Did you know that Drew Barrymore, who first hosted the show at a staggering 7 years old, was inducted in 2007? Or, what about Ben Affleck (’13)? The actor/director slipping into the hall just a few months after Timberlake got all the glory – a fact the show Mea Culpa’d in Oscar-winner’s monologue. And don’t lie – you absolutely did not realize that Scarlett Johansson entered the Five-Timer’s Club a mere two months ago! The Avengers star was joined by an already crowded docket of 2017 honorees, as McCarthy and Johansson join back-to-back in May.
If that’s all there were to the Five-Timers’, that would be… understandable. The club’s hit ratio is pretty damn high, even if we ignore the perhaps lacking qualifications of some of the purely movie-plugging entrants (as Tom Hanks stated all those years ago, appearances 2 and 4 are specifically designed with that in mind). But SNL isn’t going anywhere, and neither is its overly full bucket of potential returnees. Louis C.K. and Jonah Hill, both current four-timers, are all but guaranteed to get their cards in the next season or two. No complaints here, they’ve both made indelible impressions. Ditto Dana Carvey, who last hosted in 2011, but is only one pop-in away from an honor worthy of an Emmy-winning former cast member. Outside of the sadly deceased Phil Hartman, Carvey is emblematic of the show’s second golden era and deserves nothing more than to have his face behind the bar Jon Lovitz serves drinks at. Every one of those performers seem at least seem likely to get their names on the list at some point.
But then, it doesn’t stop there! Crazy as it sounds, embattled child star Lindsey Lohan is also only one hosting spot from entering the club. Debbie Downer breaking aside, that’s surprising. Actress Cameron Diaz, who last hosted in 2014, has actually appeared on the SNL stage nine times! Wow! As talented as she is, do you particularly remember many of these spots? Beyond this, what about the current three-timer’s? For every obvious future inductee who may earn the status (Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell, Emma Stone, Seth Rogen, Zach Galafinakis, and Julia Louis Dreyfus all seem like virtual locks), there are equally shocking how-the-hell’d-you-get-this-close-rs (Miley Cyrus? John Lithgow?? John Malkovich??? Tom freakin’ Arnold????). No disrespect intended, but there’s certainly a lot of recidivism happening here.
The Five-Timers’ Club, if it had any true intention beyond its initial joke, was meant as a means to recognize valuable contributions of those who significantly added to the comedic legacy of Saturday Night Live. Induction meant you brought something to the table: a character, an impression, even just a willingness to play off your public persona, all in service of the almighty laugh. Many get the offer to visit once, but few click enough to return. At its soul, the Five-Timer’s Club was a admission that if the cards had been dealt differently, perhaps Don Pardo would have been saying YOUR name in the opening credits weekly. You belong in the strange brotherhood of variety.
Too much of a good thing usually dilutes significance. Keep the recognition a treat and perhaps dole out those return offers more carefully, powers-that-be. And to those on-the-bubble inductees closing in on membership, always remember: never belong to a club that would have you as a member.