Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Very Best of SNL

There are few shows in the history of television that have been as influential on popular culture as Saturday Night Live!  NBC's Saturday Night (the original title) first hit the airwaves in the fall of 1975.  I was a junior in high school, and the show spoke directly to my generation.  The very first episode was hosted by the late George Carlin, one of the funniest (and often most profane) comedians ever to grace a stage, and he was the prefect choice- because he made people nervous.  For those first few years the show often did the same!  Over the months that followed we met a wonderful cast of characters known as The Not Ready For Prime Time Players. We fell in love with them all, and made Chevy Chase the first break-out star of the show.  And now, 37 years later, SNL is still going strong.  Or at least still going...

A little over a week ago SNL had it's season finale, and with that came the annual departure of some of our favorite actors.  This particular year there has been much fanfare over the departure of Kristen Wiig.  For the past several years she has been the featured player in the cast, seemingly in every skit.  She has had a number of recurring characters and has seemed to be the anchor of the show.  Lately I have read numerous blogs and articles proclaiming her the MVP of SNL and wondering how the show will survive without her.  I have even seen it suggested that she is one of the top 5 SNL cast members of all time. While Ms. Wiig is a very funny lady at times, and has indeed been very important to the show these past years, I feel the need to comment on the suggestion that she is one of the top 5 cast members ever to grace Studio 8-H.  So I will quote the great Wayne Campbell- "Kristen Wiig is superior to most of the actors ever to appear on SNL... NOT!"

It is not an overstatement to say I could get to number 30 on such a list before her name would even come up for consideration.  It is fair to say that women and minorities have not always been given top billing on the show, and she has helped change that perception. But still- I would not even put her at the top of the most recent cast.  Bill Hader has been simply brilliant for several years now.  This is a show that has brought us some of the great characters in the history of TV, and none of them were hers. The list of names that Don Pardo has called out over the years is a "Who's Who" of comedy.  Trying to make a Top 10 list of my favorite SNL players is a daunting task.  I asked on Twitter for people to submit their favorites, and many did. Some of them made my list.  But just think about some of the names they suggested that I am leaving off:  Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Jane Curtain, Joe Piscopo, Dennis Miller, Adam Sandler, Jimmy Fallon, Mike Myers, Amy Poehler, Victoria Jackson, Martin Short, Will Forte, Rachel Dratch, Billy Crystal, Tim Meadows, Kevin Nealon, Molly Shannon, Horatio Sans, Chris Rock, Julia Sweeney, Darrell Hammond, Tracy Morgan, Rob Schneider, Cheri Oteri, Jason Sudeikis, Ana Gasteyer, Any Samberg, David Spade and Maya Rudolph.  Wow!  Do you remember that Robert Downey, Jr, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Paul Shaffer, Ben Stiller, Joan Cusack, Damon Wayans and Senator Al Franken were all once on the show?  Steve Martin got a bunch of votes from Twitter, but I had to leave him off the list because he was actually never in the cast!  That's right- he has always been a guest host, as have Alec Baldwin, Tom Hanks and Justin Timberlake!  To be fair, I must confess the Kristen Wiig did get one vote.  I do this not to bash on her, but to remind us all not to be prisoners of the moment and think that the latest is in any way the best or the funniest- because it is simply not true.  So here's my list.   It is just my personal opinion. and it is based on the show, not on their post-SNL careers. As always, my Top 10 list features 11 names.  Here we go, in no particular order...

  1. Chris Farley
  2. Eddie Murphy
  3. Gilda Radner
  4. Will Ferrell
  5. Dana Carvey
  6. John Belushi
  7. Phil Hartman
  8. Tina Fey/Jan Hooks
  9. Jon Lovitz
  10. Dan Aykroyd
So there is my list. Let me know who you think I am wrong about and who you think needs to be added.  Let the debate begin!!!  And keep thinking, because next week we will list our favorite recurring characters!  Anyone remember Emily Litella or Toonces the Driving Cat?  :)


  1. Anonymous5/31/2012

    It is a good list, but I would put Chase and Sandler in my top 10. And maybe Short. ~Chris Cooper

  2. I cannot argue against any of those 3, although Chase was only on the show for one season. Still, he was the first SNL superstar.

  3. Anonymous5/31/2012

    Jon Lovitz before Bill Murray? C'mon, CJ!

    1. It was hard to leave Murray off. Any list of most successful post-SNL careers would have him near the top. But Lovitz is a personal favorite with some of the great recurring characters and catchphrases ever! Remember Master Thespian and Tommy Flannagan, the pathological liar? Yeah, that's the ticket!

  4. Carl, I mentioned on Twitter that I don't know how I left out Chris Farley in my voting. I also love the way you distinguished post-SNL careers from strictly time on the show. I'm curious about the Tina Fey/Jan come they are tied? You couldn't pick one? Also, as I read your list, I remembered Darrell Hammond. Maybe not one of the ten greatest of all time, but he's had such a long career on the show (Is he still there?) and was a master of impersonations...Al Gore, Bush (after Ferrell of course), Brokaw, and of course Clinton! I was surprised Mike Myers didn't make the list, but outside of Wayne's World, Sprockets, Linda Richmond of Coffee Talk, and the little hyperactive/hypoglycemic boy who was harnessed to the jungle gym, I couldn't remember too many great SNL moments with him. What a miserable run he had! Loved the post!

    1. Thanks, Jason! I left Tina and Jan tied because I (and so many others) loved Tina on the show, and I think Jan is one of the most under-rated ever. The Sweeney Girls skits are among my favorites, and her Tammy Faye Bakker was killer! Myers and Hammond both belong here, I agree. Further proof that Wiig does not! Thanks for your input!

  5. Oh Phil Hartman, I miss you so! The "Anal-retentive Chef" was one of my favorite skits.

    1. He was simply brilliant, Jen- and I loved the Anal Retentive Fisherman as well! Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer was also a classic!

  6. I think its a great list with the addition of Sandler though.


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