'Saturday Night Live': 145 Cast Members Ranked - Rolling Stone
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‘Saturday Night Live’: All 145 Cast Members Ranked

Our insanely ambitious, ruthlessly exhaustive ranking of every ‘SNL’ player ever

Saturday Night Live

Illustration by Anita Kunz; Photographs by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

Let’s break it down. The entire cast of Saturday Night Live, 40 years of it, ranked from top to bottom. Insanely ambitious? You bet. Absurdly exhaustive? No doubt. Ruthlessly complete? Damn straight. From the Samurai Hitman to the poor bastard who played Walter Mondale. Everybody.

So — live from New York — a passionate, definitive, opinionated, subjective, irresponsible and indefensible breakdown of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players. It’s a celebration of Lorne Michaels’ creation 40 years on — and as every SNL fan knows, part of loving the show means surfing through the lows along with the highs. Keep in mind: We’re not ranking their careers, merely their stints on SNL. Also, we’re ranking them strictly for what they did onscreen, not behind the scenes. As for who counts as an SNL player, there’s a lot of gray area. The whole point of this list is ranking everybody, not just the big names, so it tries to err on the side of being inclusive. “Writers who occasionally showed up in sketches” is a mighty crowded category, but they’re ultimately judged by onscreen impact. It’s a game of inches out there. And no guest hosts, no matter how often they return. No Alec Baldwin or Andy Kaufman or Justin Timberlake, even though they’ve had way more airtime than many cast members.

Some of these stories get grim, especially below the Joe Piscopo Line. (You don’t want to be on the Cleghorne side of the Piscopo Line.) But these are all comedians who made it to the big leagues. This list is full of worthy performers SNL bumbled, or ugly ducklings who turned into swans elsewhere. So if you were funny in Anchorman 2 or you ended up a legend on Seinfeld, that’s sweet, but it doesn’t factor in here. The hilariously disastrous misuse of talent is part of what makes it SNL — we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Also crucial: If you were an SNL player and your feelings get bruised easily, you might want to stop reading now. Like Stuart Smalley says, it’s easier to put on slippers than to carpet the world.

Siobhan Fallon

115. Siobhan Fallon

Era: 1991-1992

In her sole season, she snagged a three-second close-up in the credits — times 20 episodes, that’s a solid minute, which must’ve been 90 percent of her screen time. Went on to play Björk’s prison guard in a Lars von Trier film, proving anything is possible.

Nancy Walls, David Koechner, Laura Kightlinger, Morwenna Banks, Fred Wolf and Melanie Hutsell

109-114. The Nineties One-Shots: Nancy Walls, David Koechner, Laura Kightlinger, Morwenna Banks, Fred Wolf and Melanie Hutsell

Eras: Nancy Walls (1995-1996); David Koechner (1995-1996); Laura Kightlinger (1994-1995); Morwenna Banks (1994-1995); Fred Wolf (1995-1997); Melanie Hutsell (1991-1994)

Mostly bit players trapped in the god-awful years after the big Myers/Hartman/Sandler exodus. The SNL equivalent of Marcy Playground or the Primitive Radio Gods.

Mark McKinney

108. Mark McKinney

Era: 1994-1997

Another comedy star with his own . . . look, people. You’re already famous. So stay the hell away from “SNL.” It’s a homeless shelter, not a spa. It’s for lonesome newbies who have no other hope. The Billy Crystal Scenario happened exactly once. You’re so welcome!

Chris Elliott

107. Chris Elliott

Era: 1994-1995

Another comedy star with his own thriving career joins the cast of . . . wait, what the fuck was wrong with these people? They never heard of Randy Quaid?

Sarah Silverman

105. Sarah Silverman

Era: 1993-1994

Yeah, no surprise SNL had no clue what to do with her — she barely appeared in her entire season. For years afterward, she went abysmally wasted in Hollywood until finally she got famous by writing her own show, Jesus Is Magic, flaunting her distinctive “I was raped by a doctor, which is a bittersweet experience for a Jewish girl” humor. Best SNL rebound of all time!

Danitra Vance

104. Danitra Vance

Era: 1985-1986

SNL’s long history of failing to do right by black women begins here. (Well, it probably begins with Garrett Morris as Tina Turner.) Vance got such shoddy treatment from the writers it became a joke in itself when she sang the Barry Manilow parody “I Play the Maids.” She died in 1994.

Georgoe Coe

103. George Coe

Era: 1975-1976

The token old guy in the original cast, left behind when Michaels figured out it was funnier to dress young guys as old guys.

Gary Kroeger

101. Gary Kroeger

Era: 1982-1985

Well, somebody had to play Walter Mondale. Kroeger’s other highlight: Donny Osmond to Louis-Dreyfus’ Marie, as they sang a duet that turned into a full-on make-out session.

Brian Doyle-Murray

100. Brian Doyle-Murray

Era: 1979-1982

More of a writer than a performer, Bill’s big brother was still years away from his most memorable screen turn, in Wayne’s World. (“He blows goats. I have proof.”)

Cheri Oteri and Chris Kattan

98-99. The Zimmermans: Cheri Oteri and Chris Kattan

Eras: Cheri Oteri (1995-2000); Chris Kattan (1996-2003)

These two go together somehow, since they made a perfect couple as the Zimmermans. The ultimate theater kids, always trying so goddamn hard. They get full marks for originality — they were fearless in their pursuit of quirky characters. But they sure did repeat themselves (that Mango! those cheerleaders!), and they were incapable of dialing it down a notch, so once you got sick of them, you never went back to being un-sick.

Noel Wells Beck Bennett Tim Robinson Michael Che Mike O'Brien Kyle Mooney Leslie Jones Colin Jost John Milhiser Sasheer Zamata Pete Davidson Aidy Bryant

81-96: The New Kids

Eras: Noël Wells (2013-2014); Beck Bennett (2013-present); Tim Robinson (2012-2013); Michael Che (2014-present); Mike O’Brien (2013-2014); Kyle Mooney (2013-present); Leslie Jones (2014-present); Colin Jost (2014-present); John Milhiser (2013-2014); Sasheer Zamata (2014-present); Pete Davidson (2014-present); Aidy Bryant (2012-present); Jon Rudnitsky (2015-2016); Mikey Day (2016-present); Alex Moffat (2016-present) and Melissa Villaseñor (2016-present)

The 2012-2017 rookies are a huge pileup of nervous kids, thrown into the cast and basically auditioning on the air. It’s SNL as a reality-show competition, where the prize is a gig at SNL. It’d be mean and unfair to rate them at this point, particularly since most would have to set themselves on fire to get onscreen. (A few are gone already.) Best of luck, gang. Remember, bombing on SNL is often the dawn of a beautiful career.

Abby Elliott

80. Abby Elliott

Era: 2008-2012

The first player to be the daughter of an ex-player, Chris Elliott, and the granddaughter of a guest, Bob Elliott of the legendary radio duo Bob and Ray. Damn good Sarah McLachlan impression.

A. Whitney Brown

79. A. Whitney Brown

Era: 1986-1991

He did proto-Daily Show commentary during the Dennis Miller-era "Update," and later ended up on the beta Daily Show during the Craig Kilborn years.

Michael McKean, Harry Shearer

77-78. Untapped Talent: Michael McKean & Harry Shearer

Eras: Michael McKean (1994-1995); Harry Shearer (1979-1980, 1984-1985)

Just filling in the Spinal Tap bingo card — neither David St. Hubbins nor Derek Smalls ever found his Stonehenge at 30 Rock.

Julia Sweeney

76. Julia Sweeney

Era: 1990-1994

Sweeney spent most of her time playing Pat — a sniffling, allegedly androgynous cretin — which was bad news for her and worse news for the rest of us. It's hard to think of a more universally dreaded recurring SNL character. (Pat was so feared by 1992 that it took only one cameo in a video for then-hot band Ugly Kid Joe to kill their career.)

Jenny Slate

75. Jenny Slate

Era: 2009-2010

SNL is already a footnote in her story — her superb film Obvious Child dropped last year to wide acclaim. She had a rough first night — in a sketch where she said "frickin' " over and over (maybe not the smartest idea to toss at a rookie), she slipped and said "fuckin'." Seth Meyers gallantly put his arm around her for the "good nights," but it was her only season.

Gail Matthius

74. Gail Matthius

Era: 1980-1981

A flicker of hope in the "Saturday Night Live '80" debacle, with a sharp Valley Girl mall-chick character named Vickie. Matthius and Vickie both deserved better.

Jim Belushi

72. Jim Belushi

Era: 1983-1985

Consistent mediocrity is rare on SNL — it eventually crosses the line into "grudgingly good" or "mega-irritating." He might have been SNL's most reliable mediocrity, and as such he should be honored. He peaked as a blowhard bigot interviewing Louis-Dreyfus about Jewish culture in the talk show "Know Your Neighbor" ("Suppose my gas gauge is on empty, but I make it 40 miles to the Exxon station — can I get an eight-day holiday for that?") — a high point for both of them.

Casey Wilson

71. Casey Wilson

Era: 2008-2009

A brief SNL pit stop on her way to deserved stardom in Happy Endings and Marry Me. Who could forget her paralyzed stripper, Dusty Velvet? That sketch alone earns Wilson a spot north of the Jim Belushi Canyon.

Ellen Cleghorne

69. Ellen Cleghorne

Era: 1991-1995

The only black woman in the 1990s cast, except — what a shocker — she never got any substantial roles to play. Her Queen Shaniqua talk show wasn't enough to get her over. After SNL, she moved on to star in her own WB sitcom, the well-titled but ultimately doomed Cleghorne! And yet it seems appropriate that Cleghorne appeared in the opening credits on the sidewalk, trying to hail a taxi that never arrived.

Brad Hall

67. Brad Hall

Era: 1982-1984

The finest Pete Best impression in SNL history. Always likable as the superpreppy "Update" news anchor, Hall has been married to Julia Louis-Dreyfus since 1987, which (1) earns him the Golden Sponge lifetime achievement award, and (2) must hold the record as SNL's all-time least-catastrophic romance.

Joe Piscopo

66. Joe Piscopo

Era: 1980-1984

The second banana to Eddie Murphy, which is like being the second-most-famous dude in the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The Sinatra "I Love Rock 'N Roll" medley sure holds up, though.

Terry Sweeney, Mary Gross

64-65. The Two Nancys: Terry Sweeney and Mary Gross

Eras: Terry Sweeney (1985-1986); Mary Gross (1981-1985)

SNL's twin Nancy Reagans. Sweeney, the first out cast member, had an abrasive edge that sometimes hit the mark, and Gross was more polished — she also shone as Alfalfa and (especially) Mary Tyler Moore. Both were years ahead of their time.

Tom Davis

63. Tom Davis

Era: 1977-1980

The mellower half of Franken and Davis — his perpetual college-stoner boyishness was a key part of the early show's identity. He always looked like one of the kids in the audience. He also did a killer Keith Richards imitation. Before he died of cancer in 2012, he wrote one of the best SNL memoirs, the excellently titled 39 Years of Short-Term Memory Loss.

Beth Cahill

62. Beth Cahill

Era: 1991-1992

SNL really blew it letting this firecracker get away. Cahill had a few show-stealing turns as Denise Swerski, Miss Southside of Chicago and daughter of George Wendt in the Bears "Superfan" skits. ("She's got a real Mrs. Ditka quality!") Whenever Cahill appeared, people asked, "Who the hell is she? And when is she coming back?" But she barely ever did, because (1) Victoria Jackson got all the blond-bimbo roles, and (2) SNL had nothing else for women to do.

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