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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.

Julia Sweeney

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 8: Actress Julia Sweeney autographs copies of her new book "It's Pat!: My Life Exposed" on September 8, 1992 at Book Soup in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage

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

Jenny Slate in attendance for NBC UNIVERSAL''s Upfront Presentation, Hilton New York, New York, NY May 17, 2010. Photo By: Kristin Callahan/Everett Collection

Kristin Callahan/Everett Collection

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

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Season 6 -- Pictured: Gail Mathius -- Photo by: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

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.

Brooks Whelan

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Season:39 -- Pictured: Brooks Wheelan -- (Photo by: Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

73. Brooks Wheelan

Era: 2013-2014

Raised 10 bonus notches for his Twitter joke when he got the ax: "Fired from New York, it's Saturday night!"

Jim Belushi

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 14 -- Pictured: Jim Belushi during the 'Saturday Night News' skit on February 16, 1985 -- (Photo by: Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

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

Casey Wilson at arrivals for The NBC Universal Experience Television Network Upfronts, Rockefeller Center, New York, NY, May 12, 2008. Photo by: Rob Rich/Everett Collection

Rob Rich/Everett Collection

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.

Rich Hall

Rich Hall2.tif

Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

70. Rich Hall

Era: 1984-1985

Imported to do "Update" from his own HBO show, Not Necessarily the News, which suited him better.

Ellen Cleghorne

NEW YORK CITY - MARCH 6: Ellen Cleghorne attends 45th Annual Directors Guild of America Awards on March 6, 1993 at RJ Colors Restaurant in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage

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.

Michaela Watkins

11 May 2009, New York City, New York State, USA --- Michaela Watkins pictured as Museum Of The Moving Image Honors Lorne Michaels & Stanley S. Hubbard at The St. Regis Hotel in New York City on May 11, 2009. © RD / Dziekan / Retna Digital --- Image by © Dziekan/Retna Ltd./Corbis

© Dziekan/Retna Ltd./Corbis

68. Michaela Watkins

Era: 2008-2009

She didn't stay long, but she made an impression as celebrity blogger Angie Tempura from BitchPleeze.com.

Brad Hall

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 15 -- Pictured: Brad Hall during the 'Saturday Night News' skit on March 12, 1983 -- Photo by: Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

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

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Season 9 -- Pictured: Joe Piscopo -- (Photo by: Al Levine/Network/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Al Levine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

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

Terry Sweeney and Mary Gross

Edie Baskin; Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

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

Edie Baskin

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

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 9 -- Pictured: (l-r) Chris Farley as Timmy, Beth Cahill as Tracy during "Grandma Pugga" skit on December 14, 1991 -- Photo by: Raymond Bonar/NBCU Photo Bank

Raymond Bonar/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

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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