30. Jason Sudeikis
Every SNL cast usually has an everyman, and it’s a role that can be difficult to fill on the show without getting pigeonholed, but Jason Sudeikis made a name for himself by generally being an everyman who wasn’t afraid to get weird—like, Cajun judge hosting “Maine Justice” weird— once in a while, and it paid off: he had a 10-year run as a writer and cast member. He could do goofy (as the dancing Vance in “What Up With That?”, as a caricature of Joe Biden, as one-half of “Jon Bovi”) just as well as he could effortlessly satirize assholes everywhere with appearances as The Devil and…well, an A-Hole.—BS
29. Fred Armisen
co-creator Fred Armisen took a weird route to SNL. He was a drummer in the punk band Trenchmouth throughout the first half of the ‘90s, and the first time he made waves as a comedian was when he hosted a satirical video about South by Southwest in 1998. That led to appearances on Late Night With Conan O’Brien and work on Adult Swim, which eventually opened up an opportunity at SNL. His musical background was a big part of his identity on the show, where he impersonated a variety of musicians and played such characters as Mackey the drummer, one half of the Garth and Kat songwriting team and the “What Up With That” saxophonist. He even popped up on the show again in the most recent episode, playing drums in a monologue based on the movie Whiplash. Armisen created a number of recurring characters during his eleven seasons on the show (the fourth longest tenure ever), but his best bit of musical comedy was a one-off sketch with Bryan Cranston that can be seen here.
28. Maya Rudolph
There have been plenty of SNL cast members who could sing over the course of the show’s history, but few who have utilized their talents for musical sketches as adeptly as Maya Rudolph. Take, for example, her rendition of the National Anthem—one of those rare sketches that puts all its eggs in the basket of a single performer doing basically one thing for three minutes—which pokes fun at the melisma-heavy way people oversing, or her musical impressions of Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera and Beyonce, or even her appearances as one-third of Gemini’s Twin.—BS
27. Adam Sandler
didn’t age well. I don’t mean the man, but his work on SNL. Sandler was the show’s breakout star of the early ‘90s with characters like Opera Man and the Herlihy Boy and the holiday songs he performed on Weekend Update. His goofiness appealed greatly to middle school kids, which helped him jumpstart a massively successful film career after he was fired from the show in 1995. Some of his material holds subversive appeal for adults, but mostly his work on SNL was too juvenile and too vulgar to truly admire today. Somehow his mix of absurdity and mayhem worked better on film—his first few movies were some of the best lowbrow comedies of the era. Still, he helped define his five years on the show as much as any cast member has defined any SNL era.
26. Martin Short
Of all the ringers from the 1984 season, Short had both the most memorable characters and most closely fit the mold of an SNL player. That’s no slight to Crystal, who did great work the same season, but who was already well-established in America before joining the show, and thus always seemed a bit bigger than SNL itself. It was both Short’s lower profile in the States and his experience doing sketch comedy on SCTV that helped him slide seamlessly over to SNL, establishing himself as the show’s premier talent that year without completely dwarfing the show itself. And although he definitely made full use of such preexisting characters as Ed Grimley and Jackie Rogers Jr, he still created new characters, most notably the slimy lawyer Nathan Thurm. It’s telling that Short, of all the stars of the Dick Ebersol era, is the most welcomed back and celebrated by Lorne Michaels.
25. Dennis Miller
Forget what he’s become: in his day Dennis Miller was a groundbreaking figure on SNL, and the show’s first great news anchor since the original cast members left in 1980. His cynical, irreverent, reference-packed schtick was a perfect response to the strip mall and fast food culture of 1980s America. Other than Eddie Murphy, Miller was probably the coolest SNL cast member of the 1980s, and still maybe the best Weekend Update anchor the show’s ever had. If he had done more outside the desk, he’d probably be higher on this list.
24. Darrell Hammond
Darrell Hammond is the best mimic in the show’s history. That’s the main reason he was on SNL and why they kept him around for 14 seasons, the longest stint in the show’s history. His Bill Clinton is one of the two or three finest political impressions ever seen on SNL, and he had another 106 celebrity impressions up his sleeves over the rest of his long run. His evisceration of Sean Connery made up one half of Celebrity Jeopardy, one of the best recurring sketches the show’s ever had. He was an invaluable tool for the show during his decade and a half, and now that he’s taken Don Pardo’s role as announcer he’ll probably be working on SNL for the rest of his life.
23. Kenan Thompson
When Kenan Thompson first got hired at SNL—which, by the way, was all the way back in 2003—a lot of people people thought, “Really? The kid from All That and Kenan & Kel on Nickelodeon?” But Thompson’s long since proven that his years as a child comedian were nothing but an asset to him, and he’s gone on to be one of the show’s longest running cast members. And, most importantly, he’s maintained a devotion to weird bits like ”What Up With That?” or his French Def Jam comic, Jean K. Jean, through it all.—BS
22. Jane Curtin
Serious professional Jane Curtin was a grounding influence during the show’s early freewheeling days. She was an exemplary straight-woman during Weekend Update, which she cohosted with both Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray, and was the deadpan bedrock that John Belushi played off of during his manic commentaries. She was a crucial player in the show’s early years, especially in commercial parodies and any skit requiring somebody to play a respectable member of society. She didn’t have many flashy roles, but she was a distaff precursor to people like Phil Hartman and Jason Sudeikis, and along with Aykroyd was the glue that held the show together during its first five seasons.
21. Chevy Chase
Seriously, we’re not downgrading Chase because of the miserable reputation he’s cultivated over the last 30 years. As pivotal as he was to the show’s success, he was only on it for a little over a season. His smug, superior delivery as the original Weekend Update host set the irreverent tone of the show’s early seasons. Even though he was barely there for a year, and hasn’t hosted in almost 20 years, he’ll always be linked with SNL as its first superstar.