At the risk of starting an all-out internet war, we have decided to compile a list of “Saturday Night Live” comedians ranked from the most cringeworthy to the absolute best. Disclaimer! These are not necessarily in terms of “funniest” to “least funny.” But we’re also counting the lasting impressions made on the show. Prepare your knees for a slapping as we unravel the very best performers to come out of “Saturday Night Live.”
Schtick only sticks for so long as Victoria Jackson found out. The comedic actress had recurring roles as a cliche-ridden, empty-headed blonde character. Jackson overcapitalized on the character and the gags, which elicited a few giggles early on in her syndication, grew to outright resentment from die-hard "Saturday Night Live" fans.
Her goofy characters could eventually not hide the narrow-minded, almost bigoted, undertones of her skits. Stunningly, it took six years before "Saturday Night Live" eventually yanked the actress off the stage and canceled her contract. Jackson continues to court controversy up to today where she has been found to be making fun of less fortunate people on her YouTube channel. Yikes.
Yes – THAT Gilbert Gottfried. The iconic, shrill-voiced actor and comedian was first introduced to American audiences during a single season of "Saturday Night Live" way back in 1980. It seems that 1980 was not ready for Gottfried’s comedic style. Or, perhaps, Gottfried needed to hone his humor before unleashing it on the very unsuspecting public.
Sporting a mop of curly hair and his trademark rubbery smile, Gottfried tripped over his jokes one after the other during his humiliating stretch on "Saturday Night Live" and was a unanimously unloved character. Thankfully, Gottfried never gave up on his career as '90s kids would have been left with a very different-sounding Iago from "Aladdin!"
Comedic (depending on who you ask) actress Sarah Silverman got her first, very bitter, taste of the entertainment industry on "Saturday Night Live." Silverman had been performing stand-up comedy when she applied for and landed a part on "Saturday Night Live" in 1993.
Silverman’s time and performance on the show was a disaster and the producers did not hesitate to toss her contract into the paper shredder after one season. Not a single skit of hers was good enough for airtime and she had to resign herself to playing background bit characters. And who can forget that "Matt Damon" sketch she did?
Listen - the Quaids are a very talented family. And the ever-eccentric Randy Quaid proved that over-the-top and outlandish impressions do not make someone an instant "Saturday Night Live" hit. Although he went on to a successful acting career in some very memorable slapstick blockbusters, Quaid crashed during his time on "Saturday Night Live."
The Texan-born Quaid struggled to find the perfect balance between comedic delivery and timing and the interactions with his cast members were marked by cumbersome and clumsy performances. The "Saturday Night Live" fandom did not miss his erasure from the show as he was pulled after just a single season.
Jay Mohr is a bit harder to place on the best-to-worst "Saturday Night Live" rankings. Mohr certainly had his share of devoted fans but overall his presence on the show grew more and more out of favor with the audience as he stretched his jokes out over two years.
Mohr was known to overreach his comedic limits and would often find himself way out of his depth. This created a very evident on-screen clash between him and the far more gifted "Saturday Night Live" actors. Adding fuel to the fire, Mohr was reported to be very egotistical and hard to work with.
Granted, the late Charles Rocket joined "Saturday Night Live" during its notoriously difficult season of 1980 to 1981. But he held his own during that dark period. Rocket brought some huge expectations to the show as he was marketed to be a hybrid of Chevy Chase and Bill Murray – two titans of the show.
Rocket’s final blow came when he blurted out an expletive - think of a bomb with the prefix "F" – while performing a bit parodying the “Who Shot J.R.?” episode. The 1980s was far less forgiving of such transgressions and Rocket’s launch into comedic stardom was quickly extinguished.
Anthony Michael Hall
It’s often said that an actor making the leap from stage or television to the big screen is the hardest divide to successfully bridge. In Anthony Michael Hall’s case, the big-screen actor bombed by going the opposite direction: becoming an actor on "Saturday Night Live."
The live-action leap failed as Michael Hall tumbled into the abyss of small-screen disappointment. With little chance to get a cue wrong in front of a live audience, Anthony Hall managed to miss most of his marks. Truth be told, Hall probably should have carried on working with John Hughes to work on classics like "The Breakfast Club."
'90s audiences had an avalanche of Chris Elliott cameos. He might be best remembered for his role in “Scary Movie 2” (mashed potatoes will never taste the same after that scene) or as the jilted, obsessive ex of Cameron Diaz in “There’s Something About Mary.”
As endearing as Elliott was to his burgeoning legion of big-screen fans, his small-screen stint on "Saturday Night Live" was something his fans – and Elliott himself – would prefer forgetting. Even by Elliot’s own admission, “I didn’t ever really fit in there. I was too weird.” Weird was one way to put it. Elliott’s dark humor put the actor in the SNL black hole.
Another example of a family who seemed to share their talent across the board - the Wayans are hysterical! Damon Wayans joined a small band of comics that have their names forever blazoned on "Saturday Night Live’s" “fired” scroll. Audiences fell in love with Damon Wayans as part of the Wayans brothers.
But "Saturday Night Live" audiences fell distinctly out of love with him during his single 1985 to 1986 season. Wayans had a reputation for going against the writers’ and producers’ wishes. This eventually came to a head when Wayans broke character and did an over-the-top impersonation of a police officer. This got him fired immediately.
Fresh-faced comedic actor Tony Rosato joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live" at the start of its 1981 season, the show has come out of what some television aficionados believe to be its most disastrous season ever the previous year.
The new direction the show was going in was a challenge for newcomers such as Rosato to find traction with. He was let go during his second season. In a 2007 interview, Rosato conceded that he was miscast in "Saturday Night Live" and did not get the opportunity to redeem himself. Sadly, Rosato passed away in 2017 after suffering a heart attack.
Coming off hot from her breakthrough role in “Sixteen Candles,” Joan Cusack seemed a perfect fit for the eccentricities of "Saturday Night Live." A single season of the show was enough to prove that even though blockbuster-quality talent can create magic on the silver screen, it may be best to stay there.
Cusack’s performance on "Saturday Night Live" was not considered terrible but the actress’ comedic style often seemed out of sync with the sketches and her cast mates. Her departure allowed the actress to keep establishing herself in her preferred home: the big screen - showing up in flicks such as "Addams Family Values" and "School of Rock."
American actress Casey Wilson has had her fair share of experience in many forms of entertainment media. The budding actress got a break in 2008 when she was signed to star in "Saturday Night Live." Sadly, her star was not meant to burn too bright.
Wilson was let go a year later and even described the firing as “relief outweighing the regret.” Wilson admitted in an interview that she felt as if the cast were a “sports team” and she was always left on the bench. There were no hard feelings around her firing and producer Lorne Michaels remained supportive of the actress’ future endeavors.
Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr. may have needed his Iron Man suit to repel the scathing criticism during his miserable spell on the 1985 to 1986 season of "Saturday Night Live." The renowned actor, who has won over legions of Marvel Comics fans, did not win over a single "Saturday Night Live" fan.
Although Downey Jr. has always been a brilliant actor, he failed abysmally at finding his rhythm with the live comedy format. The plummeting viewership put the entire cast in a bad light and Downey Jr. found himself square in the firing line and was booted at the end of the season.
There is a fine line between pushing the comedy envelope and giving a loyal audience what they expect. When British comedienne Morwenna Banks brought her humor from across the pond to "Saturday Night Live," the comedy envelope sadly remained unopened.
The cultural nuances between the American audience and Morwenna’s distinctly British style and delivery did not gel well at all and her skits were often misunderstood. This left Banks at a serious disadvantage as her American counterparts would often overshadow her. Morwenna Banks’ husband revealed in a tweet that she had no fond memory of her time on the show at all.
American comedian Dean Edwards may have had the misfortune of joining the cast of "Saturday Night Live" at a time when a slew of imposing comedic talent was also rising – Will Ferrell, Maya Rudolph, and Rachel Dratch, to name a few. Edwards had a solid performance on the show but he relied heavily on his impressions of famous figures.
While entertaining, the dependence on this as being his draw card became lost in the far more versatile skits performed by his cast mates. Of course, Edwards had some pretty big hits outside of "Saturday Night Live," appearing on shows like "The Sopranos."
The manner in which Lorne Michaels, the famed "Saturday Night Live" producer, hired Dan Vitale may have been foreboding of Vitale’s brief time with the show. Vitale recalls how after not a single producer laughed at his routine, he uttered some choice (read that as expletive) words at them and began storming out of the audition.
Michaels was seemingly impressed with this act of bravado and offered him a slot on the show. Vitale developed a substance abuse struggle while on the show and spent most of the season trying to rehabilitate himself. Sadly, Dan Vitale passed away in May 2022.
The world of entertainment is a paradoxical one. On one hand, media can totally shatter boundaries and throw all social etiquette right out the window. On the other, when “PG” is slapped on it – it goes to every length possible to ensure nothing goes beyond that sacred threshold.
And this is where Jenny Slate may have violated that ancient, television agreement: by slipping an obscenity in her skit. Slate’s single season on "Saturday Night Live" was marred by her skit whereby she said “frickin’” throughout. At one point, she slipped and said...well...you know exactly what! And Slate has certainly stayed relevant since SNL.
The radar barely blipped when Laurie Metcalf made an appearance on "Saturday Night Live." Although she was listed as a recognized member of the cast, Metcalf only appeared in two skits throughout the season. Her presence went so unacknowledged even Metcalf herself struggles to recall her time on the show!
To be fair, the producers created a skit whereby she was put in an ill-fitting suit and was filmed asking strangers if they would “die for the president.” Besides the skit being incredibly awkward, Metcalf was brand new to New York and was totally out of her depth. It's a distant memory now, though.
Michaela Watkins’ unceremonious departure from "Saturday Night Live" has different reasons, depending on who you ask. Watkins made "Saturday Night Live" history as the oldest (at the time) female performer to be hired on the show. Watkins had high hopes for "Saturday Night Live" being her gateway to stardom but producer Lorne Michaels axed her after just a single season.
In retrospect, Watkins said she may have been overconfident about her presence on the famed comedy show. Michaels reportedly told her that she had been fired so she can “have her own show." Was that supposed to be some kind of compliment?
It is said that a bad worker will blame their tools. Was this the case for '90s funny woman Janeane Garofalo’s tenure on "Saturday Night Live?" Garofalo had already begun establishing a name for herself after parts in iconic '90s movies such as “Reality Bites.”
"Saturday Night Live" producers managed to bank on her burgeoning stardom and signed her up with high hopes that her deadpan delivery would work well in a live format. It did not. Garofalo has not divulged too much opinion about her reason for departing but has laid the blame on bad writing and bad directing.
Gary Kroeger enjoyed three not-too-terrible seasons in front of and behind the camera on "Saturday Night Live." Kroeger’s writing skills lent heavily to the show’s 1980s age of infamy. His on-screen appearance left some memorable impressions but it was one of his final ones that raised one too many eyebrows – and one that saw his departure not long after.
In it, Kroeger sang a duet with Julia Louis-Dreyfuss in a parody skit of Donnie and Marie Osmond. Not too controversial, right? Well, the fact that it concluded with the siblings having a make-out session may have pushed a few buttons too far!
Garrett Morris held his own on "Saturday Night Live" from the years 1975 to 1980. This was not a particularly golden era for the show (that was to come in the 1980s) but Morris helped contribute to the show’s success.
Morris himself was not exactly thrilled with his stretch on "Saturday Night Live" and in hindsight, he recalls how the producers and writers typecast him into oblivion and so he was not able to reach his full range of acting potential. Eddie Murphy famously said to the show’s producers “Don’t Garrett Morris me!” when he was referring to becoming pigeonholed.
Diehard fans of late-night shows will immediately recognize the name and smooth scalp of maestro Paul Shaffer. The glabrous musician occupied the role of David Letterman’s band leader on the notorious late-night show for decades, from 1982 right through to 2015.
Shaffer had a few roles on the show. Primarily, he served as the musical director. Then the band leader and ultimately he would go on to join in on the live-action skits. The musician held his own and proved he had what it takes to shine alongside heavyweights such as Gilda Radner and John Belushi. These days, Shaffer hosts the radio show "Paul Shaffer Plus One."
Actress Beth Cahill caught the attention of "Saturday Night Live" producers after her role in a stage production of The Brady Bunch. Cahill quickly found her feet in a handful of personas that she used throughout her fleeting stint on the show.
These characters and impersonations did not leave much of an impression on the audience and her popularity grew less and less as the season stretched on. By the time the season wrapped up at the end of 1992, the "Saturday Night Live" producers already had their signatures on the termination of her contract. Cahill has branched out into designing over the years.
Highly eccentric Mark McKinney joined the world of "Saturday Night Live" when the comedy world was having to evolve. Humor was becoming edgier and performers and writers were experimenting with the fine lines of the PG label while appealing to a whole new generation of audience.
McKinney managed to navigate this fine line and saw two full seasons of the show out. His characters and performances were well-received enough to land him numerous spots on big-screen "Saturday Night Live" spinoffs. McKinney did admit to never being able to fully relax in the live-action format though. McKinney has since been one of the leads in his own sitcom - "Superstore."
Patrick Weathers did not “weather” his time on "Saturday Night Live" particularly well. The fresh-faced musician had a few aces up his sleeve but sadly he was pulling them out when the Kings and Queens of the deck were all abdicating.
The big names of the show were all pulling out one after the other and Weathers stated that no matter what any newcomer did it would not trump the loss of the more established performers. He eventually became more of a background actor than starring in skits and quietly faded from the show after one season. Weathers was actually a successful musician prior to his time on "SNL."
Julia Sweeney’s departure from "Saturday Night Live" came as a relief for both her and many "Saturday Night Live" fans. Sweeney saw four seasons of the show through but decided to pull the plug before committing to a fifth season. Sweeney was quite ambivalent about her time on the show.
On one hand, she praised the producers, actors, and her cast mates. On the other, she accused the show of being a “boy’s club” and said most of her ideas were disregarded. Sweeney’s key character on the show was, however, one of the least popular characters in "Saturday Night Live" history.
A. Whitney Brown
A. Whitney Brown occupied a sizeable share of the small screen in the 1980s. The actor wrote for and starred in six seasons of "Saturday Night Live." Brown’s signature character on the show, a straight-laced, vanilla reporter – even though quite one-dimensional - had enough wit to keep the character a fan favorite.
Brown enjoyed a fulfilling tenure on the show before abandoning it in 1991 for reasons still undisclosed. Fun fact: Brown spent many years in a juvenile prison for grand theft auto! These days, Brown likes to spend lots of quality time with his family, especially with his granddaughter.
Heidi Gardner may be a latecomer to the "Saturday Night Live" family but she has left an indelible impression on the manic live comedy scene. Gardner joined "Saturday Night Live" in 2017 and has gone on to become a firm favorite in six seasons.
Gardner is noted for her highly diverse range of characters and the ability to deliver flawlessly timed punchlines. A highlight for fans of Gardner’s performances is the “New Year’s Kiss” skit where the hapless actress disastrously attempts to make out with guests as the clock strikes twelve. Gardner has since starred in shows such as Apple TV's "Shrinking."
Colin Quinn arrived to the "Saturday Night Live" family in its 1995 season armed with a long history in comedy stretching all the way back to the '80s. The accomplished comedian and writer fulfilled both acting and writing roles on "Saturday Night Live" when he joined.
Quinn’s deadpan delivery held its own in the highly competitive comedy arena and he managed to deliver at one of "Saturday Night Live’s" most crucial moments: taking over from Norm Macdonald. On the downside, Quinn was notably sarcastic and this did not always land well with the audience. Quinn recently showed up in Adam Sandler's movie "Hubie Halloween."
Norm Macdonald. So much to say about the late, legendary comic. Macdonald held no punches in his biting, sometimes jaw-dropping, comedic commentary on the “Weekend Update” slot. Macdonald’s early foray into the mainstream comedy circuit proved that “acquired taste” is a real thing for audiences.
Luckily, almost everyone acquired a taste for the sardonic joker and he held a firm place on "Saturday Night Live" for five years before being fired. Macdonald was tight-lipped about the reason but rumors include him making too many distasteful jokes about OJ Simpson. Sadly, Norm Macdonald passed away in September 2021 after complications from acute leukemia.
Gail Matthius may have been an unfortunate victim of the notorious 1980 season of "Saturday Night Live." Matthius was well-received in the thirteen episodes she appeared in but she landed smack bang in the middle of a cutthroat arena of comedians all fighting for "Saturday Night Live's" legacy.
Matthius had three recurring characters and pulled off celebrity impersonations with startling skill. Matthias did not survive the behind-the-scenes politics, and writers' strikes that plagued the 1980s seasons. Matthius took it in stride however and in later years expressed no regret and said she was happy not “pushing and shoving my way to the top.”
Ellen Cleghorne left an enduring impression on "Saturday Night Live." The boisterous comedienne saw four full seasons as a full-time, starring member of the show during the early '90s, from 1991 to 1995. Cleghorne secured her place amongst the "Saturday Night Live" alumni with her almost endless ability to parody and pull off celebrity impressions, with no famous figure being off-limits.
Fellow SNL castmate Jay Mohr wrote about Cleghorne being an antagonistic colleague. Cleghorne wrapped up her time on the show to pursue a career in sitcoms by starring in her eponymous show “Cleghorne!” which sadly lasted for only a single season.
Tom Davis is best remembered as comprising one-half of the “Franken and Davis” twosome on "Saturday Night Live." Davis’ writing talents helped him break into the entertainment industry when "Saturday Night Live" hired him as a writer in 1975. Davis contributed tremendously to the show during his tenure as both a long-time writer and actor.
After battling a terminal illness for three long years, Davis eventually succumbed and passed away in 2012. The world of "Saturday Night Live" owes many of its characteristics to the multitalented entertainer. Sadly, in 2012, Davis died after a bout with throat and neck cancer.
"Saturday Night Live" can lend a lot of thanks to Nora Dunn for being part of a new generation of comics that helped save the show from its catastrophic downturn in the 1980s. Loyalty to the show was low as actor and actress turnover was reaching a fever pitch.
Dunn injected the show with a much-needed boost as her characters reinvigorated the comedic landscape. The degree to which she could create social commentary while having the audience choke with laughter was instrumental in pulling the ratings out of the prime-time gutter. Dunn has been featuring in the sitcom "Home Economics" since 2021.
In a field of charcoal, Denny Dillon stood out like a diamond during her – sadly brief – time on "Saturday Night Live" between 1980 and 1981. That season was threatening to turn the entire enterprise of "Saturday Night Live" into “Saturday Night Dead.” But she came to save the day.
Dillon was unapologetic in her approach to the writing and her risks paid off. Dillon managed to balance highly theatrical acting without turning it into all-out slapstick. Producers almost rued never hiring her initially; Dillon was rejected as a full-time cast member in 1975. Five years later, producers finally realized the error of their ways!
Chevy Chase. What to say about one of "Saturday Night Live’s" most controversial members: the only cast member to be outright banned from performing on "Saturday Night Live" even though he was part of the original cast. Chase’s brief time on the show in the 1970s showcased his razor-sharp wit and launched him into stardom.
His colleagues had no positive memories of him though, and he and Bill Murray had a legendary fistfight moments before going on air. Chase was eventually banned after assaulting Cheri Oteri in 1997. From "National Lampoon's Vacation" to his time spent on the sitcom "Community," Chevy Chase really has done it all.
Twenty-first-century audiences can thank YouTube for a slew of talent that would have otherwise gone unknown and unnoticed in the entertainment world. Jay Pharoah had no idea how much his life would change after he uploaded a video of himself satirizing and impersonating then-American president Barack Obama.
"Saturday Night Live" producers took note and signed Pharoah up in 2010. His appearance was an instant hit and he was called the “breakout” performer for the 2010 season. Pharoah spent six, lucrative years on the show before moving on to other ventures. There really aren't many better impressionists in the world than our boy Jay.
Horatio Sanz burst onto the "Saturday Night Live" screen as a larger-than-life comedic triple threat; the funny man could sing, perform, and deliver sketches like few could. His musical performances were among the best the show created in its almost 30-year history (at the time).
Sanz was initially meant to stand in for Tina Fey but his appearance was so successful, he found full-time success with the show even after Fey’s return. Budget cuts to the show tragically saw Sanz make an exit. Fun fact - Sanz actually had a small role in the pilot episode of the Disney+ "Star Wars" series "The Mandalorian."
New Zealand-born Pamela Stephenson made "Saturday Night Live" history as the first – and at the time – only female performer not born in the United States of America. To date, Stephenson remains the only New Zealand-born performer to star in the show!
Stephenson’s time with the show was very limited and she only filmed a single season between 1984 and 1985. Stephenson’s wit and charm were a welcome relief for the struggling show. Stephenon’s true talents may have been overlooked at the time when producers were desperately trying to prevent the show from tanking and let her go at the end of the season.
Audiences became familiar with Jane Curtin in 1975 when she was signed up as a full-time cast member on this brand new show called "Saturday Night Live." Yes, Curtin was amongst the very first of the groundbreaking minds that brought the long-running show into every family’s living room every Saturday night.
Curtin was cast as the “square” – the straight-laced counterpoint in a sea of hysterical madness. Looking back, Curtin recalls that the show was still relying on sexist humor to get its laughs. Over the years, Curtin has starred in movies such as "Coneheads" and "I Love You, Man."
Do you recognize the surname? With the distinctive double "t" at the end of Elliott. Yup, Abby Elliot is the daughter of another "Saturday Night Live" alumnus by the name of Chris Elliott. The actress and comedienne extraordinaire graced four seasons of "Saturday Night Live."
While some would yell “nepotism!” at the fact that Abby was a second-generation performer on the show, the expectations might have been too much to fill. Elliott did her best work when she was doing impressions and impersonations of fellow celebrities. She lost steam though with any original characters and that is partly the reason she left the show.
Comedian and actor Jeff Richards was the first and one of only two performers who shared the stage on both "Saturday Night Live" and its wayward contemporary “MadTV.” Richards was snapped up by "Saturday Night Live" in 2001. The then 26-year-old was in high demand and made a name for himself portraying memorably ditzy characters - most notably “Drunk Girl.”
Richards left the show after four seasons for other career opportunities, mentioning that "Saturday Night Live" required “all of your time.” Since 2020, Richards has hosted his own podcast, "The Jeff Richards Show," hosting guests such as Bob Saget, Brad Garrett, and Alec Baldwin.
Multitalented Taran Killam, who credits himself with singing, acting, directing, writing, and comedy in his resume, was a master of impressions on "Saturday Night Live" during his time there. Parodying everybody from foreign dictators to Michael Cera, there was nothing off-limits for Killam.
Killam had a successful run on the show but his seven-year contract was cut at the end of his sixth. Killam cites no ill feelings towards the show but says it was a highly political time and he regretted having given former president Donald Trump a “platform” on the show. Killam has also appeared on shows such as "How I Met Your Mother."
"Saturday Night Live" rolled the dice when the producers signed up comedian Kyle Mooney. The comic actor took an unconventional approach to the format of the show by poking more fun at himself as the drenched-in-cringe character.
Mooney’s antics were often over the top and although this firmly entrenched a cult following for him, it was more challenging for his more “traditional” (as traditional as it can get on "Saturday Night Live") castmates. Mooney left the show without fanfare after a memorable nine seasons. He has also appeared on a variety of TV shows, such as "Arrested Development" and "Hello Ladies."
Queen of impressive improv, Ana Gasteyer found her way onto "Saturday Night Live" at the start of the 1996 season. Gasteyer had made a small but notable name for herself having appeared in bit parts for a slew of popular 90s television shows including "Frasier," "NYPD Blue," and "Seinfeld."
Gasteyer made an incredibly bold move that helped her stick out from the "Saturday Night Live" titans: a sketch where she played Martha Stewart. Nude. The sketch was such a success Gasteyer recounts that she “couldn’t be fired!” After six seasons, Gasteyer felt the call of motherhood and left the show.
Dan Novello, or rather Father Guido Sarducci to you, cemented himself in "Saturday Night Live" history as one of the most memorable minor characters. Novello had crafted the character of Father Guido Sarducci, a bitingly sarcastic Catholic priest who challenged the orthodoxy of prime-time network comedy in the 1970s.
The writer-comedian delivered existentialism and spirituality into his sketches with cynical grace. Novello appeared in the show for two seasons but was a writer for numerous episodes throughout the years. Novello has been pretty inactive in the world of entertainment over the last few years, with his most recent acting credit coming in 2013's "Palo Alto."
Melanie Hutsell made a fairly quiet entry and exit on "Saturday Night Live." The actress attained the title of a main cast member for the show in her last season after having played as a repertory and featured performer for the first two seasons. Hutsell’s time on "Saturday Night Live" will best be remembered by her performance as a parody of Jan Brady on the “Weekend Update.”
Hutsell saw herself out after three seasons on the show to focus on other acting opportunities. Hutsell will be more familiar to modern-day audiences as Jocelyn in the Emmy award-winning show “Transparent,” in which she starred alongside Jeffrey Tambor.
Harry Shearer may be one of the most formidable comedy forces you have ever seen. Unless you have eagle eyes on “The Simpsons” credit roll... Shearer landed in the entertainment world in 1979 when he was signed up for a season of "Saturday Night Live." Shearer, a very vocal and very assertive artist, clashed with producer Michael Lorne about creative direction often and resigned from the show altogether.
Shearer’s resignation took the whole cast with him. Producers recounted that although Shearer was a genius he was “a nightmare-to-deal-with person.” As previously mentioned, Shearer lent his voice to many characters on "The Simpsons," including Mr. Burns, Smithers, Principal Skinner, and Ned Flanders, among others.
Missouri native Kevin Nealon reinvented comedy in many ways after joining the cast of "Saturday Night Live" in 1986. Nealon’s arrival to the show after a few abysmal seasons helped recapture audience attention. Nealon’s deadpan and extra clever brand of humor won over the very hard-pressed viewers at the time.
What made Nealon stand out was the ability to combine absurdity with wit and delivered all the right punches. After serving almost a decade on the show, producers were looking to reinvigorate the brand for a new generation and Nealon saw the door along with heavyweights like Adam Sandler and Chris Farley.
The fiery-haired comic actor Siobhan Fallon made sure her Master's degree in acting did not go to waste during her tiny tenure on the show. Fallon appeared on the show at a time when stand-up comedians were dominating the cast which suited the actress just fine as she confessed reading the cue cards was more nerve-wracking for her than just going with the flow.
Fallon concedes that the competition was high during her season and says there are no “sour grapes” from having been let go after one season. Fallon has shown up in movies over the years, notably appearing as a bus driver in the Best Picture winner "Forrest Gump."
The extra lanky Pete Davidson has stretched his way into "Saturday Night Live" history as one of the longest-standing starring members. Davidson joined the show at the start of its 40th season and was the very first "Saturday Night Live" performer to have been born in the 1990s.
Davidson is not afraid to be the butt of his jokes and has built a career around some shockingly (OK and admittedly) hilarious self-deprecation. Davidson’s unabashed honesty in his comedy has made him extremely relatable to audiences as he tackles topics of grief, growing up, and relationships. Davidson has now entered the world of Hollywood, starring in movies such as "The King of Staten Island."
Jason Sudeikis snuck onto the "Saturday Night Live" landscape as a writer after being noticed for his stand-up performances in Las Vegas. A performer at heart, Sudeikis managed to get himself in front of the camera in small parts for sketches. His antics managed to land him permanent screen time and became a repertory actor on the show.
After ten glowing years on "Saturday Night Live," Sudeikis put down his pen and bowed out to follow personal projects behind, and in front, of the camera. This included the critically-acclaimed series "Ted Lasso," which has received multiple Primetime Emmy Award nominations over the last few years.
Producers spotted Andy Samberg’s talents from a mile away. The actor, with the extra rubbery smile, wasted no time as a bit actor and immediately earned featured status in his first season. The show’s producers were not mistaken in their faith in the actor and he went on to be the breakout performer of the season.
Samberg also arrived on the scene when a little site called YouTube was becoming popular. Samberg’s skits managed to capitalize on the burgeoning YouTube generation and his sketches such as “Throw It On The Ground” garnered tens of millions of views. Of course, Samberg also starred in his own sitcom, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine."
Imitation expert Phil Hartman might be less familiar to modern audiences but back when "Saturday Night Live" was digging its foundations as one of America’s best-loved shows, Hartman may have held the handle of that spade. Recognized as one of the shining stars in the show’s history, Hartman could act out relatable, everyday situations into comedy lore.
His ability to perform impressions was so extraordinary that every time a sketch was required parodying somebody famous, Hartman was on hand. He parodied Bill Clinton so much on the show that he eventually felt the need to apologize to the former American president!
Comic Darrell Hammond turned tragedy into some serious profit with his comedic acting skills. The actor came from a troubled home where he recounts that his impersonations and slapstick was the only thing that kept his mother happy during his early years. Hammond capitalized on this childhood skill and pursued an initially disappointing career in stand-up comedy.
After being rejected from "Saturday Night Live" not once but twice, Hammond eventually caught the producers' attention after his impression of former American president Bill Clinton. And the rest was history. Hammond starred on the show for a staggering fourteen seasons – the second longest in SNL history.
Chris Parnell earned the moniker “The Iceman” from his fellow cast mates for being absolutely impervious to breaking out of character on the show. The Memphis-born actor first joined "Saturday Night Live" in 1998 and instantly received featured performer status.
Parnell enjoyed a successful few seasons on "Saturday Night Live" before being dismissed due to cast restructuring and budget constraints. Parnell made "Saturday Night Live" history as the only actor on the “More Cowbell” sketch not to laugh during its performance! Parnell is also a prolific voice actor, working on classic animated series such as "Rick and Morty" and "Archer."
Tracy Morgan is best remembered for his inimitable yell of “Liz Lemon!” as a full-time cast member on “30 Rock.” But before audiences knew him as the infamously not-self-aware character on “30 Rock,” Morgan spent seven years on "Saturday Night Live." His performance on the show was met with mixed reviews.
He was seen as relying too much on his over-the-top persona in all the impersonations and sketches he performed in. Other times, Morgan’s unabashed theatrics made sketches part of "Saturday Night Live" history. Anyone just needs to think of “Brian Fellow's Safari Planet” to know exactly what we mean.
The indomitable Molly Shannon. Shannon’s name has become synonymous with "Saturday Night Live." The comedic actress contributed a legacy to the show that helped set a benchmark for female performers and writers to have far more acknowledgment. Shannon joined the show in 1995 after Janeane Garofalo called it quits and became an instant fan favorite.
Her most well-known "Saturday Night Live" character, Mary Katherine Gallagher, the ungainly, socially awkward Catholic school girl, broke new ground and spun off a big-screen feature film. Shannon departed the show to many fans' disappointment in 2001. Shannon has also starred in movies such as "Wet Hot American Summer."
The comedy world was less without John Belushi’s breakout in the very first season of "Saturday Night Live" in 1975. Tragically, it became emptier once again when Belushi passed away after a years-long battle with substance abuse seven years later in 1982. Belushi was known for his high energy and high antics on the "Saturday Night Live" stage.
The fearless comedian gave every sketch his all and spawned characters that would endure for decades, such as “The Blues Brothers.” Belushi’s loss was felt so much in the entertainment industry that it was said in Hollywood circles that the 1970s died along with Belushi.
Leslie Jones had a rocky introduction to the world of comedy. She had been performing regular stand-ups since the late 1980s and eventually started finding gigs on bigger stages and mentors such as Dave Chappelle. Jones’ stand-ups kept falling short of audience approval until Chris Rock saw her perform and was able to give her a personal recommendation for "Saturday Night Live."
The producers immediately hired her as a writer but her boisterous, bold acting abilities could not be ignored and she became a featured member on the show in 2014. Jones bid farewell to the SNL family four years later on her own terms.
Let’s be honest - who comes to mind every time we see a quilt now? Will Forte joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live" in 2002 and his very unconventional humor made an immediate impression – both good and bad. Forte’s genius lay in his ability to make minor, everyday problems utterly absurd.
Being an acquired type of comedy, his sketches oftentimes fell flat but he would always find the ability to make up for them. Forte bowed out of the show in 2010 to pursue personal projects in writing and directing. Forte has also starred in his own shows, such as "MacGruber" and "The Last Man on Earth."
Chris Rock helped define an entire generation of humor. And we have "Saturday Night Live" to thank for introducing him to the world. Rock landed a featured spot on the show in 1990 and brought with him a formidable wit. Rock was bold from the beginning and there were no sacred cows in his sketches.
The South Carolinian-born actor won over critics, fans, and his cast mates with his infectious energy. Success came flooding quickly for Rock who decided to part ways with the show after three seasons. Of course, Rock stole the headlines in 2022 when he got slapped by Will Smith while hosting the Academy Awards.
Late-night, talk show host Jimmy Fallon found his breakthrough role as a performer on "Saturday Night Live" after joining the show in 1998. A highly musical actor with the gift of ad-lib immediately made an impression with his unique mix of singing and slapstick.
Fallon’s success was imminent as he was one of the few to make producer Lorne Michaels laugh out loud during his audition. Fallon made himself a household name during his six years on the "Saturday Night Live" stage. After leaving, he remained in the audience’s living rooms except this time much later at night with his “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.”
New adjectives need to be thought up to describe Adam Sandler’s utterly unique brand of comedy. Sandler was performing stand-up at the time when he made an attempt to break into the elite cast of "Saturday Night Live." Producers recognized his talents and hired him as a writer for a season in 1990.
His irrepressible slapstick eventually got him a feature role in the 1991 season where he created some of the most iconic Saturday Night Member characters of the decade. Sandler was fired from the show not by producer Lorne Michaels but rather by NBC - the network itself!
The "Saturday Night Live" fandom did not know what a blessing they were to receive when Amy Poehler made it through auditions and became a featured actress on the show in 2001. Fellow cast member Tina Fey had petitioned for a number of years for the producers to hire her and, well, they should have listened to Fey sooner.
Poehler’s highly versatile acting and writing were put to full use throughout her seven years on the show. She, like Molly Shannon a few years previously, is credited with advancing the impact of female writers and performers on the show. Of course, Amy Poehler went on to lead her own sitcom, "Parks and Recreation."
Gilda Radner not only blazed the trail for "Saturday Night Live," but she also helped carve the trail altogether. As one of the very first performers of the "Saturday Night Live" ensemble, the ultra-gifted comedic actress helped set the standard for the generations of actors to follow in her footsteps.
Radner’s trademark sketches were those satirizing popular talk shows. Radner sadly did not find the same level of success outside of the live-action format and struggled to make a mark on the big screen. During the latter years of her life, she endured a long battle with ovarian cancer, tragically passing away from it in 1989.
You know you have achieved the comedic trophy when Eric Idle boldly states that you are worthy of having been a Monty Python member. Such was the case when Idle met "Saturday Night Live" legend Dan Aykroyd.
Aykroyd was originally hired as a writer on the burgeoning show but quickly had his CV updated to include him as a performer. The actor contributed greatly to the foundation and future of "Saturday Night Live" in his four short seasons as a writer and actor. Aykroyd was also one of the first Saturday Night Members to create big-screen spinoffs of his sketches.
New York native Julia Louis-Dreyfus likened herself to Cinderella landing a spot as a featured member in 1982 on "Saturday Night Live." At the time, the actress held the enviable title of being the youngest female performer to be hired on the show and it came with some serious challenges.
Louis-Dreyfus had to cut her teeth keeping up alongside industry giants such as Eddie Murphy and Martin Short. Louis-Dreyfus more than proved herself and saw three highly acclaimed seasons through. Her comedic prowess caught the attention of a certain Larry Davis and the rest is “Seinfeld” history! She also led her own sitcom, "Veep."
While Martin Short’s time on "Saturday Night Live" was short (see what we did there?), the actor helped carry the show into a new era. Even though Short only starred in the 1984 to 1985 season, the actor helped the show’s plummeting ratings after the departure of some comedic heavyweights from the show.
He played a variety of highly awkward and neurotic characters which were instant hits for longstanding and new fans of the show. Short has since made numerous cameos on the show throughout the years. Short recently reunited with Steve Martin on the comedy-drama series "Only Murders in the Building."
Imagine being there when David Letterman said his first words as a host on “Late Night With David Letterman” and being there when Letterman said his very last words upon retiring his talk show host status. Bill Murray was the guest of honor as both the first and last guest on Letterman’s show.
With the departure of notorious Chevy Chase, Murray becomes a full-time cast member on the second season of "Saturday Night Live." The jester established his trademark deadpan delivery during three successful seasons and went on to become one of the most in-demand actors on the entire planet.
Kenan Thompson holds the champion’s belt for "Saturday Night Live" alumni. The iconic actor has starred in twenty seasons of the show! The only other actor who even comes close to Thompson’s achievement is Darrell Hammond, who managed to rack up an impressive fourteen seasons.
Thompson’s congenial nature and unparalleled work ethic are credited with helping keep cast members together as a team. Thompson has also weathered all sorts of "Saturday Night Live" upheavals, politics, and disasters. The comic actor is most recognized for his physical comedy and impressions which he has delivered flawlessly for over two decades. Of course, Thompson is also one half of the comedy duo Kenan and Kel.
The name of Chris Farley is synonymous with "Saturday Night Live." Farley helped usher in an entirely new generation of steadfast and iconic "Saturday Night Live" stars, affectionately nicknamed the “Bad Boys of SNL.” As bad as it can get with Rob Schneider in your ranks, we guess.
Farley hit the mark with each and every sketch and used his larger-than-life, over-the-top exaggerations and antics to deliver immortal "Saturday Night Live" characters. Farley broke out into acting roles, being the lead in movies such as "Tommy Boy." But he heartbreakingly passed away at the age of thirty-three after a long battle with substance abuse.
Dana Carvey is the undisputed king of impersonations. You would have to do a double-take when watching or listening to his sketches to make sure it was not the actual person being parodied! Carvey picked up the reins from Martin Short’s time on the show and was instrumental in keeping it from plummeting into a primetime black hole.
Carvey spared no political or famous figure in his nine-season run with the show. Carvey was one of the few "Saturday Night Live" alumni to receive an Emmy award. And nowadays, Carvey can be found hosting his podcast “Fly On The Wall.”
A last-minute suggestion from Kristen Wiig’s agent may have made all the difference to the world of comedy. Wiig, finding success with improv acting, had applied for a spot on "Saturday Night Live’s" competition “MadTV.”
Her agent, realizing her potential, urged Wiig to apply for a spot on Saturday Night Live and she was so successful, even as a newcomer, that she was kept on even after some serious rebudgeting. "Saturday Night Live" opened all the doors for Wiig and she is now a truly formidable force as a writer, actor, and director on both the small and big screen.
"Saturday Night Live" producer can spot gold a mile away...most times, that is. Luckily, he hit the payload when hiring Tina Fey as a writer on the show in 1997. Fey, who admitted to having a spot on "Saturday Night Live" as a life goal, sent in a few scripts for consideration.
Her writing skills were undeniable and she was hired in the blink of an eye. It took three years before Fey would come out from behind the camera and in front of it. Fey continued to write and perform for the show until 2006 when she abandoned ship to create “30 Rock.”
All we need to say are the words “Straight to jail.” The master of comedy Fred Armisen was one of the single most versatile "Saturday Night Live" performers in the history of the show and one of the hardest working. Armisen helped carry eleven ground-breaking seasons of the show throughout the 2000s.
Armisen was one of the few performers who could lend his musical talents to his sketches. Armisen parted ways with the show on his own terms in 2013 to focus on his career beyond the live-action format. Armisen has a knack of showing up in bit-part roles in just about every funny show of the last 20+ years.
Fearless and flawless would best describe Bill Hader on "Saturday Night Live." The Oklahoma native worked behind the scenes for a number of years trying to break into the acting world. That break eventually arrived in 2005 when he was presented with a contract to be a featured member of "Saturday Night Live."
The admittedly anxious Hader said he had nothing prepared for his audition with the show and improvised a rambling Italian man. Not only did this get him a place on the show but it later became one of his most iconic characters, Vinny Vedecci. In 2023, Hader brought his critically-acclaimed show "Barry" to an end.
Just when the cowbell was going out of fashion, Will Ferrell brought it back from the brink of musical extinction. A master of character creation, improvisation, and impersonations, Ferrell holds a triple threat status in the realm of "Saturday Night Live" legacy.
His seven years on the show prevented the show from turning into Saturday Night Dead (give us some credit for that one!) and he became the highest-earning performer. Ferrell continued to deliver gold after leaving the show and his films (such as "Step Brothers" and "Anchorman") are among the top grossing in the comedy category of all time.
It may surprise fans to know that "Saturday Night Live" colossus Rachel Dratch only spent seven years on the show. Such was her influence on the seminal comedy skit show that her presence on the show has made her inseparable from it. Dratch achieved legendary status with her “Debbie Downer” character – a morose woman who interjects with the most depressing nonsequiturs.
The first appearance of her character did the impossible and had every single actor holding back tears from laughing during the sketch. In 2023, Dratch lent her voice to the character of Ms. Weber in the animated movie "Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse."
Eddie Murphy is oftentimes credited with being the driving force behind rescuing "Saturday Night Live" from the clutches of the 1980s downward spiral. The unsurpassable comedian consistently ranks as one of the most undeniably hilarious performers on the show and a champion of reinventing comedy through it.
"Saturday Night Live" propelled Murphy to superstar status and his biting comedy helped define the 1980s entertainment industry. When Murphy returned to "Saturday Night Live" after a thirty-five-year intermission, the show saw some of its highest ratings ever. Of course, Murphy is responsible for classic movies such as "Coming to America," "The Nutty Professor," and "Trading Places," to name a few.