Home TV TV Lists

‘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.

Denny Dillon

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Season 6 Gallery -- Pictured: Denny Dillon -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

57. Denny Dillon

Era: 1980-1981

The hidden gem of the doomed "Saturday Night Live '80" replacement cast. Dillon had a great recurring bit as middle-aged yenta Pinky Waxman, hosting a talk show with her hubby, Leo (Gilbert Gottfried!). Was Pinky the first Jewish lady to say "Who knew?" on TV? Probably. Otherwise, Dillon got stuck in some of SNL's worst sketches, most infamously the "Leather Weather Report," where she's a dominatrix meteorologist flogging Charles Rocket, who's strapped to a weather map of America.

Paul Shaffer

Image #: 8940930 "A Year at the Top". Paul Shaffer as Paul, July 17, 1977. CBS /Landov

CBS/Landov

56. Paul Shaffer

Era: 1975-1980

Before he tickled America's ivories every night with Letterman, he was SNL's swami of showbiz smarm. He was also the first cast member to drop an accidental f-bomb — in a sketch based on a Troggs bootleg — although few caught it.

Jay Pharoah

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Season: 37 -- Pictured: Jay Pharoah -- (Photo by: Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)

Dana Edelson/NBC

55. Jay Pharoah

Era: 2010-present

The Jimmy Fallon of 2 Chainz impressions.

Lorne Michaels

The original Saturday Night Live cast, shown with guest host Ron Nessen (White House Press Secretary), and creator/producer Lorne Michaels, on April 17, 1976; standing l - r: Laraine Newman and Dan Aykroyd; seated l-r: guest host Ron Nessen, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Garrett Morris & producer Lorne Michaels. (Photo courtesy: CEA/Cache Agency)

CEA/CACHE AGENCY

54. Lorne Michaels

Era: 1975-1980; 1985-present

Mysteriously, there's no "Best of Lorne Michaels" DVD compilation. But the boss is always a welcome presence whenever he shows up, and there aren't many performers (or bosses) you can say that about over the course of a 40-year run. He wrote himself one of the debut season's defining moments, offering the Beatles a check ("three thousand dollars!") to reunite. He had no idea Lennon and McCartney were watching together at the Dakota.

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."

Jimmy Fallon

Jimmy Fallon during Olympus Fashion Week Fall 2004 - John Varvatos - Front Row at The Promenade at Bryant Park in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)

Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage

36. Jimmy Fallon

Era: 1998-2004

The Tonight Show is where Fallon was always meant to be — sketch comedy was never his métier, especially since he never shed his rookie habit of snickering on camera. But he killed with his lovingly detailed rock-star impersonations, from "The Barry Gibb Talk Show" to his Guinness-swilling Van Morrison.

Chris Parnell

HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 5: Actor Chris Parnell attends the premiere of Anchor Bay's "The Grand" at the Cinerama Dome March 5, 2008 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)

Mark Mainz/Getty

35. Chris Parnell

Era: 1998-2006

Never a show pony, but a workhorse. Next time you watch the "more cowbell" sketch, keep your eye on Parnell. Without his deadpan ballast, it's just Christopher Walken reading cue cards at four giggly boys. Dude did a lot of that, which is why he went on to greatness on 30 Rock and Archer.

Dennis Miller

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Pictured: Dennis Miller -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

34. Dennis Miller

Era: 1985-1991

The Eighties, man — Elton John married a woman and Dennis Miller was funny. It'll be tough explaining either fact to future generations. But let history record that when the Berlin Wall came down, Miller had the right cheap smirk at the right time, comparing the event to "Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis getting back together. I haven't really enjoyed any of their previous collaborations, and I'm not sure I need to see their new stuff."

Ana Gasteyer

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

33. Ana Gasteyer

Era: 1996-2002

The host of NPR's "Delicious Dish" ("Schweddy Balls") carved out her own distinct niche — "Rob Schneider except taller and funnier and female" doesn't quite cover it — and she could get laughs with a nasty look. Her "Martha Stewart celebrates St. Patrick's Day" sketch is to die for, especially the way Stewart utters the words "You must be Irish, because my penis is Dublin."

Tim Kazurinsky

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Season 6 -- Pictured: Tim Kazurinsky -- Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

32. Tim Kazurinsky

Era: 1981-1984

One of the most under-appreciated players ever, from the much-scorned early-Eighties cast. The Kaz had a virtuoso collection of nervous twitches, especially as sweaty little Dr. Jack Badofsky, the absolute master of terrible puns. It was a treat to hear the audience boo and groan whenever Dr. Jack lectured on diseases like influenza — if you catch it from the Mississippi River, you've got "Huckleberry Finn-fluenza," if "you sneeze your head off, that's Anne Boleyn-fluenza," while "coal miners' daughters are susceptible to Loretta Lynn-fluenza." Or gonorrhea: "If the New York Post finds out you've got it, everyone in the city's gono-rrhead all about it!"

Martin Short, Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty (3)

29-31. The Ringers: Martin Short, Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest

Era: 1984-1985

SNL took the Steinbrenner approach of bringing in these three free agents as hired guns — they walked in and took over the team for a year. Crystal finally became a superstar with his Fernando bit and his "I hate when that happens" routine with Guest. Short reprised some of his broader SCTV bits. It wasn't a career peak for any of them, but it kept a weak franchise ticking for one last season, before Michaels ended his five-year absence.

Seth Myers

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

Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

28. Seth Meyers

Era: 2001-2014

The longest-serving "Update" host — and the most tactful at walking a fine line between wiseass and well-mannered. His trademark niceness was never a drawback — it served him well in terms of schmoozing with guest commentators, which Meyers did better than any "Update" guy ever. He unleashed his bitchy side in the "Really?!?" segments with Poehler, whether he was ranting about birth-control laws or the Keebler elves' drug habit.

David Spade

Edie Baskin

27. David Spade

Era: 1990-1996

Spade invented the "Hey, Jackson Browne — 1973 called, they want their hair back" joke template. He doesn't get enough credit for that. He puttered in the background for years, waving good night every week with that "maybe next time" sad-puppy look, before he found greatness with his "Hollywood Minute" segment. So bitchy and (the key) so pointless. Best and meanest line: "Aaaaw, Ric Ocasek — why the long face?"

Jan Hooks

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Pictured: Jan Hooks -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Edie Baskin

26. Jan Hooks

Era: 1986-1991

One of the virtuosos — Hooks could play 18th-century aristocrats (on "Tales of Ribaldry") or a truck-stop waitress canoodling with Willie Nelson. It was rare in the 1980s to see a Southern woman on TV played by an authentic Southern woman, which is only one of the reasons the world grieved when Hooks died last fall. One fondly remembered moment: her sincere wince of pain during the "good nights" when Christopher Walken announced Atlanta had just lost the 1992 World Series. Sing on, Candy Sweeney.

Jason Sudeikis

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Pictured: Jason Sudeikis -- (Photo by: Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)

Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

25. Jason Sudeikis

Era: 2005-2013

The only devil who could rival Lovitz, mostly because Sudeikis turned the devil into such a regular guy. Sudeikis was the cornfed sports dude who seemed affable on the surface, playing lots of husbands and dads. But it didn't take much to unlock his freaky side — the metalhead in Jon Bovi, Mr. A-Hole, the dancer in the red tracksuit or his unhinged Joe Biden.

Laraine Newman

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Season 2 -- Pictured: Laraine Newman -- Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

24. Laraine Newman

Era: 1975-1980

The most underrated member of the original cast. As the California girl of the bunch, not to mention the second-youngest (after Aykroyd), she now seems ahead of her time — from her pioneering Valley Girl (probably the first time "bitchin' bod" was uttered on national TV) to her oft-disturbing vampire-chick goth characters. Her most brilliant moment: playing Manson girl Squeaky Fromme in an ad for potholders made of human hair — Newman stares a hole in the camera as she commands, "You better buy them, you little piggies. I'm not kidding." It was terrifying, and not in a cute way.

Fred Armisen

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

Dana Edelsson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

23. Fred Armisen

Era: 2002-2013

Should you dock Armisen points for being even more brilliant on Portlandia? Nah. Only Armisen could thrive so long on SNL in so many different kinds of roles while retaining his own punk-drummer weirdness. Who else could play both Lou Reed and Liberace?

Andy Samberg

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JUNE 22: Andy Samberg at the "Celeste and Jesse Forever" Press Conference at the Four Seasons Hotel on June 22, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Vera Anderson/WireImage)

Vera Anderson/WireImage

22. Andy Samberg

Era: 2005-2012

"Lazy Sunday" basically invented YouTube — most people in 2005 found out the site existed by frantically clicking around trying to rewatch Samberg and Chris Parnell mack on cupcakes. (Ironic, given how SNL is stricter than Prince when it comes to policing YouTube.) Despite Samberg's boyish energy, he had real staying power — let's just say the list of stars who were funny on SNL and then went on to star in funny sitcoms is a very short list, and Samberg is near the top.

Chris Rock

UNITED STATES - MARCH 18: Chris Rock (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

The Life Picture Collection/Getty

21. Chris Rock

Era: 1990-1993

Rock always had a hard time getting on the air — there was a classic In Living Color sketch about Rock getting thrown out by NBC security who refuse to believe he's a cast member. But make no mistake: Even back then, Rock was hungrier and faster than anyone else. Whenever he got a sketch (barely once a month, usually in the final 15 minutes), he blew the rest of the episode away, with his militant Nat X ("What's the matter, Whitney — you can't get a black bodyguard?") or his B-boy Onski from "I'm Chillin'." Nobody in the history of the show inspired more Monday-morning "Who the hell was that guy?" conversations. If he never worked a day after SNL, we'd all still know his name.

Al Franken

Edie Baskin

20. Al Franken

Era: 1975-1980; 1985-1995

What a country — the punk who wrote the "Roman Vomitorium" sketch is now a senator from Minnesota. (Alas, not alongside the late, great Sen. John Blutarsky.) Franken had two totally distinct runs on SNL. In the Seventies, he and partner Tom Davis were the gangly goofballs who resembled the kids in the audience, the ones Belushi dismissed as "the angel-dust crowd." Then he surprised everyone by coming back in the Nineties as self-help guru Stuart Smalley, one of SNL's most beloved and original recurring characters, at a time when 12-step-speak was still very much in the closet.

Greatest hit: Stuart Smalley meets Michael Jordan (he calls him Michael J., to protect his anonymity) and tells him, "Denial ain't just a river in Egypt."

Jon Lovitz

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Pictured: Jon Lovitz -- (Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

19. Jon Lovitz

Era: 1985-1990

During the final credits of the horrific 1985-1986 season, Michaels watches as Yankees manager Billy Martin sets fire to the dressing room. The only cast member Michaels pulls from the room is Lovitz. Good move. Lovitz didn't have the widest range, but he didn't need one – he knew exactly what he was good at: playing slimeballs, from his Master Thespian to his "yeah, that's the ticket" liar to the bewigged perv from "Tales of Ribaldry." Lovitz had the creepiest eyebrows in SNL history. Acting!

Greatest hit: Mephistopheles goes on The People's Court so he can command the viewers at home to worship him.

Maya Rudolph

Maya Rudolph at the The Beacon Theater in New York City, New York (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/WireImage)

Jamie McCarthy/WireImage

18. Maya Rudolph

Era: 2000-2007

Rudolph was always dauntingly versatile, yet loose and cool. She was the only comedian worthy of doing Beyoncé, back in the Destiny's Child days — Britannica from Gemini's Twin was a cartoon diva, but also a real-thing diva. Rudolph did finely shaded characters but could also aim for the cheap seats with her over-the-top Donatella Versace tantrums. Cue the rampage music.

Greatest hit: Her Donatella children's specials remain the stuff of nightmares. What could be more terrifying than Donatella singing kiddie songs? ("Imagine all the happy children when they hear me and John Galliano sing that tired-ass teapot song!")

Adam Sandler

Ben Stiller And Adam Sandler (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Ron Galella Ltd./WireImage

17. Adam Sandler

Era: 1990-1995

The ultimate "love him or hate him" guy. Sorry — Operaman alone would make him rank high on this list. Sandler was the first to get a Boston-Irish accent right on national TV ("Get into the faaah left lane, then take the Mass Pike west and you'll see a wicked-huge Radio Shack"), which made him a local hero, even if it set off a very unfortunate comedy trend. Weirdly forgotten historical footnote: Everybody assumed Sandler was gay, because his first memorable bit was about coming out to his family on Thanksgiving. That made him seem edgier than he turned out to be.

Greatest hit: "The Chanukah Song," a major cultural event. Seriously, nobody had any idea Shatner was Jewish.

Rachel Dratch

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 19: Actress Rachel Dratch of the film "Home of Phobia" poses for portrait shoot during the 2004 Sundance Film Festival January 19, 2004 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)

Carlo Allegri/Getty

16. Rachel Dratch

Era: 1999-2006

If you tuned in to SNL on May 1st, 2004, you saw Dratch as Harry Potter, quaking under the spell of Lindsay Lohan's cleavage — then, a few minutes later, as Debbie Downer at Disney World. One of the best nights any SNL player has ever had. Dratch had no ego — just the will to try anything. Her Sheldon on "Wake Up Wakefield!" was an agonizing portrayal of adolescent overtrying, and only Dratch could make it so soulfully funny.

Greatest hit: Debbie Downer was unstoppable, kind of like feline AIDS. Which is the number-one killer of domestic cats!

Chris Farley

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: THE BEST OF CHRIS FARLEY -- Pictured: Chris Farley as Himself (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Edie Baskin

15. Chris Farley

Era: 1990-1995

Reach for a bottle of Schmitts Gay and pour some on the floor for this guy. Farley made his act look like impulsive slapstick, but all you have to do is look at all the failed Farley imitators to see how intricate it was. For all his Chippendales antics, he had an easily overlooked finesse, especially when he was playing uptight mansplainers — like the strangely poignant "Medieval Scalders" sketch, where he mentors his son Macaulay Culkin: "You'd be surprised how many different things you can heat up and pour
on people."

Greatest hit: "Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker" — "You're gonna be doing a lot of doobie rolling when you're living in a van down by the river!"

Kristen Wiig

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 15: Kristin Wiig 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

14. Kristen Wiig

Era: 2005-2012

One of a kind. You could argue she ran too many characters into the ground — Gilly again? — but she had a knack for high-strung basket cases, from her flirting expert Rebecca Larue ("I'm just really hearing you") to "Cougar Den" host Toni Ward. When Lana Del Rey showed up, she seemed like a real-life Kristen Wiig character. Wiig got the most sentimental send-off of any cast member ever, complete with Mick Jagger singing "She's a Rainbow," and she earned it.

Greatest hit: Mindy Grayson, a washed-out theater queen who still dreams of her Broadway glory in smash failures like And Sarah Made a Sound ("the story of a mute girl who desperately wanted to say the word 'jazz' ") and Sassy Slacks of 1963.

Bill Hader

Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

13. Bill Hader

Era: 2005-2013

The unquestioned MVP by his last few seasons — a master shape-shifter who put real humanity into his characters. His weaselly newscaster Herb Welch or club kid Stefon would have fallen flat without Hader's affectionate touch. He was the most crucial utility player since Hartman — a glue guy who never needed to be the center of attention, just serving any kind of role.

Greatest hit: Stefon raves about New York's hottest clubs ("Built from the bucket list of a dying pervert, this Battery Park bitch parade is now managed by overweight game-show host Fat Sajak") and promotes a fundraiser for Doctors Without Boners.

Will Ferrell

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Pictured: Will Ferrell as Himself (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Edie Baskin

12. Will Ferrell

Era: 1995-2002

Ferrell's SNL strategy was basically the opposite of Chevy Chase's: Stick around for years, make your mark as a team player, make everyone around you funnier, and (this is the really weird part) get a hundred times funnier after you leave. Indeed, the hardest thing about appreciating Ferrell's SNL tenure is that none of us knew the glories of Anchorman and Talladega Nights were yet to come. Great Odin's raven!

Greatest hit: Banging the cowbell to "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," his beard and belly jiggling to the music.

Dana Carvey

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

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

11. Dana Carvey

Era: 1986-1993

Carvey was the greatest impersonations guy in SNL history — his impressions were usually darker and more compelling characters than the originals. His Ross Perot was way more than a parody of a politician — Carvey turned the character into an American archetype worthy of Randy Newman, sneering "Here's the deal, see" in the voice of every boss or principal you ever despised. When people try to imitate Johnny Carson or George H.W. Bush (or Lorne Michaels), they're usually just doing Carvey's impression.

Greatest hit: Perot behind the wheel, taking Phil Hartman's Admiral Stockdale for a final joyride. "That was world-class."

Chevy Chase

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode -- Pictured: Chevy Chase -- Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

10. Chevy Chase

Era: 1975-1977

Strange as it sounds, Chase might be the most under-rated SNL player. True, he stuck around for only one full season, but so did Farrah on Charlie's Angels — it took him only one season to define the franchise. Of all the original cast members, Chase was the one guy who got how TV worked — the others were theater types. So if you check out the first episode, which is 80 percent unwatchable, Chase is the only one who knows how to stare right into the camera without flinching. He looks like a coldhearted bastard surrounded by a bunch of needy kids. But without that deadpan arrogance, the whole SNL style of humor would fall flat. (By the 12th episode, his castmates are doing jokes about how much they all hate him.) He was famous for his stumbling Gerald Ford impersonation, but he was even sharper and more merciless as Ronald Reagan, the only killer Reagan SNL ever had. Alternate-history question: If Chase had stayed on SNL, would he have sunk Reagan the way he sank Ford?

Greatest hit: Chase reports an item about the Peanuts bird Woodstock. He's getting replaced by "a bird named Altamont, who will beat the other birds to death with a pool cue." The audience gasps. They're horrified. Chase loves it. And this is 1975. The whole Saturday Night Live story in 10 seconds.

Show Comments