Before there were so many options for comedic entertainment on demand, we had “Saturday Night Live.” Every Saturday evening entire families would be glued to the television to watch the latest comedy sketches performed by the best comedians in the game. The show still goes on today after almost 50 years, with some of the best “Saturday Night Live” cast members still bringing funny moments to television.
Even though SNL is still airing, we love to reminisce about our favorite cast members. From the unforgettable characters like the Church Lady and the Spartan Cheerleaders to the uproarious Weekend Update, the SNL stage has always been a breeding ground for comedic brilliance. The show isn’t just a source of laughter; it’s a mirror reflecting the absurdities of our world. Watching the best comedians on SNL take on the latest headlines and pop culture phenomena and turn them into comedy skits is like therapy for the soul. We get to laugh at ourselves and move forward.
Who has left a mark on SNL sketches that is hard to forget? StudyFinds turned to expert sources to compile a list of the best SNL cast members of all time. Who was your favorite? Leave a comment to let us know!
The List: Best Saturday Night Live Cast Members, Per Experts
1. Eddie Murphy
Number one on our list of the best SNL cast members is the legendary Eddie Murphy. He’s number one on nearly every expert’s list and it’s safe to say that he became the biggest superstar that came from the SNL cast. “During the ’80s, SNL went through a rocky period behind the scenes: due to constant changes in producers, the show failed to retain its cast. But out of the dust came Eddie Murphy, the strongest SNL performer during the Ebersol era. His unique brand of humor led him to shine brightly,” writes What Nerd. “Murphy made many memorable characters like Gumby, Velvet Jones, Tyrone Green, Mr. Robinson, and Buckwheat, plus impressions of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and James Brown in a hot tub.”
Eddie Murphy’s comedic brilliance during his time on SNL is often up for debate. A reviewer from TDF Everything says, “A lot of the stuff I remember Eddie Murphy for on SNL was him working by himself. The Mr. Rogers, Buckwheat, Gumby, and James Brown parodies were all pretty much a one man show.”
Murphy joined the cast of SNL when he was just a teenager and he captivated viewers from day one. “From the first moment Murphy, then all of 19, stepped in front of the cameras, audiences were enraptured,” adds Entertainment Weekly. “Impossibly young, sparklingly talented, with a potent mix of rawness and innate performer’s charisma, Murphy emerged from the rubble that was the initial post-Lorne Michaels SNL and built himself a one-man comedy empire, right in Studio 8H. Originally paired with Joe Piscopo, one of the only other performers to survive the infamously disastrous 1980 Jean Doumanian-produced season, the more experienced Piscopo and newcomer Murphy indeed made a fine team, their chemistry propping each other up as they crafted some funny characters amidst the chaff. But Piscopo had a ceiling, while Eddie Murphy had seemingly none, with the younger star inevitably eclipsing not just his friend and scene partner, but at times the show itself.”
2. Will Ferrell
The comedic prowess of Will Ferrell is often understated yet, his characters remind us of the simple charm of the every day man so much that he is celebrated on nearly every SNL comedy tribute. “SNL creator Lorne Michaels told ‘People’ magazine in 1998 that ‘Will is the glue that holds the show together.’ Ferrell was hired in 1995 and stayed on the show until 2002,” writes Business Insider. “While he had many memorable moments on the show, some of the best are his impersonations of George W. Bush and Neil Diamond. After SNL, Ferrell has gone on to star in comedies like ‘Old School,’ ‘Elf,’ ‘Anchorman,’ and ‘Step Brothers.'”
Paste Magazine reminds us why Ferrell is among the best to ever do it. “Will Ferrell doesn’t even have to speak to be hilarious…He can crack up anyone—including his fair share of fellow SNL cast members—with just a look, whether it’s the sheer crazy simmering just underneath the amorous pretension of The Love-ahs’ Roger or the way he nails the swaggering, misplaced confidence of Robert Goulet. And when he does open his mouth, he proves why he’s SNL’s greatest utility player. We don’t necessarily think of him as an ‘impressionist,’ but his repertoire of impersonations—including Goulet, Harry Caray, Neil Diamond, George W. Bush, James Lipton and Alex Trebek are among some of the best and most memorable in the show’s history.”
Much like that super cool uncle who makes everyone smile without making an effort, Ferrell is remembered in the same way. “Will Ferrell lit up the SNL stage like a bonfire in 1995, and for seven seasons, he scorched us with iconic roles such as the cheerleader and George W. Bush. A testament to his impact, it’s hard to imagine SNL without Ferrell,” writes Ranker.
3. Chris Farley
Nearly 15 years after SNL went on air, Chris Farley joined the cast in 1990 and he became an instant hit. He would do anything for a laugh, including make fun of himself and that caused everyone to enjoy him more. “The 1990s were a time of revitalization for SNL, after several lackluster seasons in the 1980s put the show on the rocks. But when Farley, a timid boy from Wisconsin emerged, the show gained an energy it hadn’t seen since the early days,” writes Co Ed. “With his brand of intense slapstick comedy, Farley became a fan-favorite for his bombastic disposition, which he imbued into characters such as Matt Foley, the hapless motivational speaker whose own motivation was in question.”
Farley was ready to entertain by the time he got the green light to join the SNL cast. “In retrospect, one might say that Chris Farley took all the wrong lessons from Saturday Night Live,” says Entertainment Weekly. He “barreled into Saturday Night Live so amped up with the boisterous comic energy that made him a star at Second City that he promptly turned himself into the SNL wild man of a new generation. And Farley was wild, crashing through tables, cramming himself into ungainly costumes, and going full red-faced dynamo mode all in pursuit of every last laugh in the building. And he got them, with audiences taking to the baby-faced, burly comic with a passion seldom seen before or since.”
It’s crazy how those entertainers who bring us the most joy seem to be found to be in the most pain. “Unfortunately, even some of the greatest entertainers of our time wrestle with personal demons, and in 1997, five-season cast member Chris Farley died of a drug overdose (morphine and cocaine) in his apartment, where he was found by his younger brother,” adds Complex.
4. Gilda Radner
Gilda Radner was one of the original cast members of SNL and also the woman who set the comedic bar for future female comics. “The late Gilda Radner was one of SNL’s original cast members when the show premiered in 1975. Radner was on SNL for five years and is remembered for her performances as annoying news woman Roseanne Rosannadanna, and Barbara Walters parody Baba Wawa. She won an Emmy in 1978 for her work on SNL,” writes Business Insider.
— The Hollywood Reporter (@THR) September 21, 2018
Although it seems that many experts rank Radner on their list of all-time favorite cast members out of respect, she actually deserves it. “As the first casted for the show, Radner had her hands on leading many sketches. Out of those came colorful and playful characters like Roseanne Roseannadanna, Barbara Walters (‘Baba Wawa’), and Emily Litella,” adds What Nerd. “Radner’s smart-aleck style of comedy stood out from among the original cast, and it served as a perfect foil for sarcastic Chevy Chase, straight-woman Jane Curtin, and showy John Belushi.”
It has been a long time since Radner passed away yet, she is still the first-choice inspiration for all female cast members. “Paving the way for future funny ass women on SNL was the original queen of comedy, Gilda Radner,” raves Complex. “As an OG Not Ready for Primetime Player, Radner remains one of the most influential and beloved cast members who ever graced the Saturday Night Live stage. Her work has been long revered, including characters like the exuberant Roseanne Roseannadanna on ‘Weekend Update’ and the nerdy Lisa Loopner, and her ability to keep up with the boys at a time when funny women weren’t getting their due made her a stand-out performer. Even thirty years after her death, Radner’s captivating comedic chops are enviable.”
5. Phil Hartman
Rounding out our list of the best SNL cast members is Phil Hartman. “The late Phil Hartman already had an impressive comedy repertoire before joining Saturday Night Live in 1986. He was a part of the LA-based sketch group ‘The Groundlings,’ where he helped create the character of Pee-Wee Herman with Paul Reubens. However, it’s SNL where Hartman truly shined,” shares a reviewer from Game Rant. “Hartman earned the nickname ‘Glue’ behind the scenes for his ability to ‘hold the show together.’ With characters such as Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer and impressions like Bill Clinton, Hartman brought an absurd sophistication to the show. True SNL fans understand his importance in the show’s history.”
A very happy 75th Birthday to the legendary Phil Hartman!
— That Week In SNL (@ThatWeekInSNL) September 24, 2023
Hartman was a piece of the SNL puzzle that no one else could replace. A reviewer from Co Ed writes, “If Farley was emblematic of SNL’s manic, childlike side in the 1990s, then Phil Hartman represented its wryer, dryer side. Known for impressions of famous political figures such as Ronald Reagan, Barbara Bush and Bill Clinton, Hartman made his characters both outlandish, yet believable, which is no easy feat. After leaving SNL in 1994, Hartman pursed a film career, also appearing in shows such as the Simpsons.”
Gone too soon, Hartman still received awards for his work, even after he passed away. “Hartman was a cast member on SNL from 1986 to 1994. During that time, he performed as over 70 different characters,” explains U.S. Magazine. “Between seasons, he starred in movies like Coneheads (1993) and So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993). In 1995, he landed a role on NewsRadio, for which he was posthumously nominated for an Emmy after his 1998 death.”
Who do you miss most from the SNL cast? Leave a comment to let us know!
You might also be interested in:
- Best Comedy Movies of All Time
- Best Will Ferrell Movies
- Best Black Comedians of All Time
- Best TV Comedies
- What Nerd
- Paste Magazine
- U.S. Magazine
- Co Ed
- Game Rant
- Business Insider
- TDF Everything
- Entertainment Weekly
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