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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, all 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.

Tracy Morgan

Edie Baskin

53. Tracy Morgan

Era: 1996-2003

So much funnier on 30 Rock. In fact, he was so great on 30 Rock, his SNL stint now looks like one long setup.

Will Forte

Stephen Lovekin/Getty

52. Will Forte

Era: 2002-2010

It was always way too easy to take this laid-back gent for granted, especially after several dozen "MacGruber"s, but his spluttering hysteria in the "Potato Chip" sketch — a NASA recruiter who cherishes all 35 of the chips on his desk — came from a dark and special place.

Pamela Stephenson

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Season 10 -- Pictured: Pamela Stephenson -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

51. Pamela Stephenson

Era: 1984-1985

A bright spot in a weak season, she came from Auckland via London, serving as a New Wave ambassador with imitations of Billy Idol and Cyndi Lauper. Much of Stephenson's humor involved her breasts; she quit showbiz to become a sex psychologist.

Nasim Pedrad

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 16: Saturday Night Live cast member Nasim Pedrad attends the 2013 NBC Fall Launch Party at The Standard Hotel on September 16, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)

Gary Gershoff/WireImage

50. Nasim Pedrad

Era: 2009-2014

Always hovering below the radar, but a versatile threat with a knack for portraying creepy kids: "I am all about candy. And if all I have to do to get said candy is hang out in a van, I am now all about vans!"

David Hammond

Darrell Hammond.tif

Edie Baskin

49. Darrell Hammond

Era: 1995-2009

The longest-running cast member (14 seasons!), entirely because of his workmanlike facility with celeb impersonations. He did a pretty good Bill Clinton – but who didn't? Hammond's best (and most original) bit was his Sean Connery, whose pomposity might have helped inspire Ron Burgundy. ("Damn you and your daily doubles, you brigand!") He's back this season to replace Pardo.

Tim Meadows

Edie Baskin

48. Tim Meadows

Era: 1991-2000

Whenever a former cast member came back to host, they'd make a joke about how Meadows was still around. Because he always was — he hung around for 10 seasons. Give the man credit: He waited out some lean years, took every crummy part in every crummy sketch he could get, and finally found his niche as the Ladies' Man: "I got my Courvoisier right here."

Jane Curtin

Edie Baskin

47. Jane Curtin

Era: 1975-1980

Curtin basically invented the role of the "disgruntled SNL player who makes no attempt to hide that she'd rather be anywhere else on the planet right now." There's always a few of those — hell, some seasons it's the entire cast. But for five years on SNL she had a thankless role — the token square surrounded by crazies — and her specialty was making it look really thankless.

Kenan Thomas

NEW YORK - JUNE 29: Actor/Comedian Kenan Thompson makes an appearance at Entertainment Outlet to sign copies of the DVD "Babershop 2" which was released in stores today June 29, 2004 in New York City. (Photo by Peter Kramer/Getty Images)

Peter Kramer/Getty

46. Kenan Thompson

Era: 2003-present

Twelve seasons and counting. True, he often might have seemed more at home on Nickelodeon, where he originated, but he killed as the "Alex Tre-Black" host of "Black Jeopardy!," with his verdict on Justin Bieber ("He ain't grow") and Robin Thicke ("Had that been me? I'd still be hittin' that").

Julia Louis-Dreyfus

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Season 8-- Pictured: Julia Louis-Dreyfus -- (Photo by: Fred Hermansky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Fred Hermansky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

45. Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Era: 1982-1985

Like Chris Rock, she stood out from the pack even in this early phase — a virtuoso wiggler and eye-roller. In the early Eighties, she was SNL's answer to Martha Quinn. In fact, some of us started watching Seinfeld because it was the Julia Louis-Dreyfus comeback show.

Rob Schneider

Kimberly Butler/The Life Images Collection/Getty

44. Rob Schneider

Era: 1990-1994

"Cheeburger cheeburger," my ass — the all-time great Greek-diner gag is the one where Schneider says, "You like-a da juice, eh? Da juice is good?" He knew how to take one stupid not-even-a-real-joke and beat it until it bleeds. He proved that as the Richmeister, who was hilarious the first hundred or so times.

Vanessa Bayer

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Pictured: Vanessa Bayer -- (Photo by: Dana Edelson/NBC)

Dana Edelson/NBC

43. Vanessa Bayer

Era: 2010-present

In a congested cast where faces get lost in the crowd — who can forget the game show "New Cast Member or Arcade Fire?" — Bayer always manages to stand out. Her ex-porn star commercials never get old: "With a watch, you'll never have to stop a stranger on the street to ask him, 'Are you my dad?' "

Don Novello

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 15 -- Pictured: (l-r) Dan Aykroyd as Bob Gallagher, Bill Murray as Dick Lanky during the 'Chicago' skit on March 17, 1979 -- (Photo by: Fred Hermansky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Fred Hermansky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

42. Don Novello

Era: 1978-1980; 1985-1986

Although primarily a writer, he knocked it out of the park as Father Guido Sarducci — the rock critic for the Vatican newspaper, chain-smoking through homilies about the Last Brunch. The ultimate hip priest, Father Guido might have been the inspiration for Pope Francis.

Taran Killam

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 15: Taran Killam attends the launch party for "Saturday Night Live - The Game" at Bryant Park Hotel - Cellar Bar on November 15, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)

John Lamparski/WireImage

41. Taran Killam

Era: 2010-present

His stock is still rising — the past few seasons would have been dreary without him. His 1860s newspaper critic Jebidiah Atkinson gives scathing reviews to everything from Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" ("Four snores and seven yawns ago") to A Charlie Brown Christmas: "No one wants to watch neurotic children trudging in the snow to smooth jazz." Amen. Not one of SNL's countless Jesus jokes can hang with Jebidiah's review of the Bible's nativity story. "Let's see — a guy travels across the country with his family to find out the hotel is closed? I liked it more when it was called National Lampoon's Vacation."

Molly Shannon

Edie Baskin

40. Molly Shannon

Era: 1995-2001

Docked a dozen or so notches for Mary Katherine Gallagher — the most dreaded recurring character since Julia Sweeney donned the Pat wig. But Shannon stood out in nearly everything else she did. She was a welcome sign of life, keeping the faith through some of SNL's most feeble seasons. Especially as the other half of "Delicious Dish" — there's something so sad in the way she confesses to spicing up her soda water with a little ice. "Actually, I don't know if you've noticed: There are many different kinds of ice." And something so disturbing in her Angelina Jolie impression: "I am so in love with you right now!"

Cecily Strong

SATURDAY NIGHT -- Season 38 -- Pictured: Cecily Strong -- (Photo by: Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

39. Cecily Strong

Era: 2012-present

Bring her back to "Update," OK? Dropping her to keep Colin Jost was a lose-lose move. Her greatest hit: "One time I got banged in the Statue of Liberty's head. I felt like I was hearing all of America's thoughts. And America was thinking, 'More Manual Blondicks, si-vous-please!'"

Don Pardo

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 1 -- Pictured: Announcer Don Pardo on September 25, 1982 -- Photo by: Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

38. Don Pardo

Era: 1975-1981; 1982-2014

Oh, Don Pardo — you beautiful, velvet-voiced, credits-announcing, "Weird Al" cameo-making, old-school showbiz-evoking bastard. We never saw your face, yet we loved every word you said. R.I.P.

Kate McKinnon

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Pictured: Kate Mkinnon -- (Photo by: Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

37. Kate McKinnon

Era: 2012-present

The brightest light in recent years. Her cop show with Aidy Bryant, Dyke and Fats, needs a spinoff movie. It takes a sick enthusiasm to bring off her vicious portrayal of starving Russian peasant Olya Povlatsky: "Our only exports are homophobia and snow."