Job Analysis of an SNL Host

I have been away from my blog for too long. There are several factors that have contributed to my absence. I’m trying to determine what I want to actually do with this blog. What’s the best way to use it? How do I communicate I/O psychology principles and ideas to the general public using this blog? I’m open to any ideas that you my humble reader might have. One thing I have decided is that I’ll be writing shorter posts. One of my early mistakes was treating these posts like mini-journal articles. I’ll try to keep future posts more conversational and fun. Another reason I haven’t written much for this blog is that I’ve been very busy writing papers for my original research and working with the Long Island Chapter of the Association for Talent Development. But I’m hoping to dedicate some time to this blog on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

eddie murphywill ferrell

For those of you who have been following this blog, you know that I’m a big fan of comedy. I like all kinds of jokes and I enjoy starting off every blog post with something that I find amusing or fun. I read a lot of nerd websites (in addition to the requisite I/O research journals and blogs). One of my favorite sites for commentary on pop culture is the AV Club. The site has a lot of terrific commentators from a variety of backgrounds. The AV Club covers pop culture in all its forms: TV, film, books, music, and comics.

gilda radner

It’s rare that comedy and I/O psychology ever intersect, but a recent piece in the AV Club allowed me to consider the possibilities. Upon the arrival of the 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Live, Noel Murray (not to be confused with Bill) asks a question that has puzzled many SNL fans: What makes a good SNL host? Murray comes to the conclusion that there are three unique skills that a good SNL host needs to have. I wonder if he ever took a course in I/O psychology, because what Murray attempts to do in his piece is a job analysis.A job analysis is defined as “procedures to identify the content of a job in terms of activities involved and attributes or job requirements needed to perform the activities” Essentially he’s trying to determine the necessary Knowledge, Skills, Abilities, and Other characteristics (KSAOs) needed to be a good SNL host. Let’s take a look at what KSAOs Murray identifies.

Murray breaks down his factors for a high-quality SNL host into three broad categories:

1) The ability to read: Murray doesn’t mean that the host needs to be literate. Literacy is the knowledge necessary for this particular skill. The ability to read off a teleprompter while acting has become a core skill for performers on the show. This is really more about multi-tasking and performing in the moment than just the ability to recite words aloud.

wally_cue cards

2) Gameness: Murray also identifies what he calls gameness. Which he seems to define as a willingness to put oneself “out there”. In the world of  psychology, we might refer to this as openness to experience (I’m open to other suggestions but this seems to make the most sense to me). In order to succeed as a host you have to be willing to accept some embarrassment without shame. If you don’t know how to accept shame, let Rudy Guilliani teach you how.

Rudy in Drag!

3) Talent: Murray identifies his last characteristic as just talent. He defines it in terms of being an old school vaudevillian. The closest to that in the modern era is probably Joseph Gordon Levitt. His version of Make ’em laugh is a great vaudevillian turn that shows off his singing and dancing ability. Some of you might have voted for his Magic Joe monologue, but you’ll have to look that up for yourselves This is a family blog.

phil hartman

In his analysis Murray does a few things that I/O psychologists tend to do in the process of job analysis. He touches upon some of the core activities that an SNL host has to do (monologue, be funny) and he tries to relate some individual differences (i.e. talent, ability to read) to those particular tasks. This is the classic model of job analysis. However, there is a crucial difference between what Murray does in this piece and what I/O practitioners do when conducting a job analysis. As a layman, Murray doesn’t draw a distinction between tasks, knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics. Just like many subject-matter experts with whom I’ve had to deal with in the process of conducting a job analysis,Murray doesn’t distinguish fully between tasks and KSAOs.  Now I don’t mean to criticize Noel Murray (I’m a big fan of his writing) but its important to draw the distinction between how a lay person might approach this process versus an I/O practitioner.







I/O practitioners never forget that the process of job analysis is a form of applied research and whether we decide to use functional job analysis, the Position Analysis Questionnaire, or another job analysis method, I/O practitioners try to develop an objective assessment of the job through rigorous research methodology.

What really fascinated me about what’s necessary for an SNL host to be effective is that the nature of the tasks and activities of an SNL host appear to be so amorphous. Even the idea of coming up with tasks and KSAOs for the job of actor, singer, musician seem a bit abstract. However, if we really worked at it, we could define the core tasks, and characteristics necessary to perform all of these jobs. Noel Murray takes a solid approach he starts to think about which hosts were successful (similar to the Job Elements Method) and which hosts were not. This is a great starting point. Identifying the characteristics of actors, singers, and musicians presents unique challenges but every job offers its own unique challenges when it comes to job analysis. Part of the fun of conducting a job analysis is figuring out how to discover something new and exciting about a job that you had not imagined before.

molly shannon

Thanks to the AV Club, I’ve conducted a mini-thought experiment that I would never have considered. Feel free to leave the tasks and KSAOs that you think are most important for a good SNL host in the comments below. Please let me know who your all-time favorite SNL host is.

As far as the original piece goes, good try Noel Murray, but if you really want to know what makes a good SNL host, you’re going to need more cowbell.

more cowbell

Special thanks to Andrew Martins, Michael Chetta, and Nayir Choudhury for providing me with some feedback before this post went live. If you need to blame anyone, blame them for not stopping me. the meantime, i’m going back to my van down by the river.

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