In 1975, 27 people died in Vietnam’s Operation Babylift, NASA launched Viking 1 and on Oct. 11, Saturday Night Live debuted. The show has reached 37 seasons and counting.
With the material America provided in 1975, Saturday Night Live created space for the public to breathe—the sketch comedy provided not just an iconic party in television history but a way for Americans to come together and exhale one collective, unabashed laugh.
We had 716 episodes and 37 years to pore over, and in honor of America’s favorite variety show, we give you our top 30 SNL characters.
30. Leon Phelps, The Ladies Man – Tim Meadows
Guys don’t get much smoother than the slick-talking, Afroed Leon Phelps, who was better known as The Ladies Man. Played by a hilarious, lisping Tim Meadows, Phelps gave romantic advice as varied as food choices (fish sandwiches for the ladies, of course) to rear-emphasized lovemaking techniques. – Tyler Kane
29. Judy Grimes – Kristen Wiig
Judy Grimes is a travel expert—just kidding, Weekend Updater—just kidding, who suffers from—just kidding, stage fright and just kidding, fast-paced sentences—just kidding, but not really, just kidding—because she’s nervous. Just kidding, SNL loves her.
28. Master Thespian – Jon Lovitz
The Master Thespian returned 13 times between 1985 and 1989. Jon Lovitz played the egomaniacal actor who delivered a consistent Shakespearean accent in his ruthlessly ambitious acting career. His presence consisted of overacting, oblivion to the actor’s craft and a clear misunderstanding for disguises. His “reputation” became a running of joke for what he is not, as opposed to what he is.
27. Jacob Silj- Will Ferrell
Voice Immodulation Syndrome, according to Jacob Silj, affects between 6 or 700 people a year, and that includes the guy who played Raj from What’s Happening!! Will Ferrell does what he does best with this character: yells. There’s something about Ferrell and yelling that just seems right. Silj was a character that appeared on Weekend Update several times, but despite his efforts to report the news, his “recognized psycho medical condition” always becomes the topic of discussion. Watch Silj talk about how difficult it is to live with VI in this clip. – Clint Alwahab
26. Father Guido Sarducci – Don Novello
Don Novello made the chain-smoking, tinted-eyeglasses-wearing priest who works as a rock critic and gossip columnist a household name. In 1973 Novello created the character himself after purchasing the entire outfit (for under $8), conjuring Catholic dialects and writing the role for himself, by himself. He has appeared 31 times on SNL making him not only the most seen priest on SNL, but also the most recurring character in the show’s history.
25. Tommy Flanagan – Jon Lovitz
Tommy Flanagan, the pathological liar, always made his way to the Weekend Update desk. Not to be confused with the prolific jazz pianist, this Flanagan would make himself appear important… did you know he invented rock and roll? And was married to Morgan Fairchild? Oh! Or that he, Tommy F., was friends with Mick Jagger? In a memorable SNL moment, Jagger tells Flanagan’s friend that the two actually are longtime friends who spent the weekend together on a fishing trip. As the three exit the stage, Jagger turns to Flanagan and tells him, “I owe you for this one.”
24. Land Shark – Chevy Chase
23. Hans and Franz – Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon
Chevy Chase made us realize there’s no reason to fear the ocean. It’s door-to-door salesmen we need to consider. If you’re young, female and single, don’t you dare open that knocking door. And if you do, you better make sure you’ve settled all your affairs. Your last image might be a man with an undeniable shark head.
These Austrian bodybuilders (played by Kevin Nealon and Dana Carvey) were an obvious spoof on Arnold Schwarzenegger, with their constant chastising of the world’s “girlie men” and promises to “pump you up.” But what truly made the sketch hilarious was how decidedly lo-tech it appeared to be, with Nealon and Carvey wearing very obviously fake padding under simple matching grey sweatsuits; anyone at home with a pillow and a hoodie could achieve a similar effect. Schwarzenegger himself was a fan of the characters, making a cameo in the sketch once and later incorporating the phrase “girlie men” into several of his political speeches. – Bonnie Stiernberg
22. The Killer Bees – Aykroyd, Belushi, Garrett Morris, Bill Murray
The Killer Bees were the first characters to reappear on SNL. 1975 brought their debut, and since then hospital bees, dramatic scene bees, killer bees, grandparent bees, bee-capades and bad news bees emerged with their black and yellow stripes, overly enthusiastic antennae and charming sense of humor.
21. The Festrunk Brothers – Steve Martin & Dan Aykroyd
A 1977 Steve and Dan. There’s nothing more to say.