McKinnon made a splashy debut playing Penelope Cruz in a hilarious Pantene commercial alongside Sofia Vergara. Although McKinnon has made a name for herself impersonating stars such as Ellen DeGeneres and Billy Jean King, she is also responsible for strong original personalities like the drunk Sheila Sovage. Her camaraderie with fellow new cast member Cecily Strong harkens back to the days of Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig.
While he's created memorable character including DeAndre Cole, host of the BET program "What's Up With That," Thompson's been able to shine with celebrity impersonations, including everyone from Charles Barkley and Steve Harvey to Bill Cosby and Whoopi Goldberg. He's also the senior member of SNL's current cast, and holds the record for longest-running African-American cast member.
Though she's been overshadowed by other breakout female performers on SNL, Hutsell solidified her place in the show's scrapbook thanks to her impersonation of dweeby Jan Brady for "Weekend Update" and other segments. She also skewered actress Tori Spelling in a series of hilarious send-ups.
Sudeikis started as a writer on SNL before becoming one of its better-known stars. He went out on a high note at the end of the 2012-2013 season thanks to his weekly portrayals of presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Vice President Joe Biden during election season. But he also had a hand (and horns, and a tail) in keeping absurdist humor front and center on the show, as the recurring "Weekend Update" correspondent Satan. Sudeikis has since parlayed his comedic skills and leading man looks into box office success in Horrible Bosses and We're the Millers.
Though she didn't enjoy the post-SNL success of many of her peers, Dunn's brand of humor was tailor-made for characters like The Sweeney Sisters (with Jan Hooks), talk show host Pat Stevens, and French hooker Babette. She made headlines behind the scenes as well, famously boycotting an episode shortly before her exit in 1990 because she believed host Andrew Dice Clay to be a misogynist.
Though he was never a leading man, Nealon's nine-year stint on the show certainly left a mark. The characters he created — including Subliminal Message Man and Franz of "Hans and Franz" — were great, but his real strength was anchoring "Weekend Update." Delivering the strangest headlines with the seriousness of an actual newsperson, Nealon proved he was a worthy successor to previous anchors including Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd.
Although Samberg rarely stood out in live sketches (impressions of Nicolas Cage, Mark Wahlberg and Mark Zuckerberg were among the highlights), he changed the course of the show with the introduction of his Digital Shorts. The show produced pre-taped bits for years before, but Samberg's "Lazy Sunday" collaboration with Chris Parnell became a viral video phenomenon online and led to more than 100 other shorts, including the Emmy-winning "D--- in a Box" with Justin Timberlake, "I Just Had Sex," and "I'm on a Boat." Samberg now has a Golden Globe to go along with his Emmy, thanks to his starring role on the Fox comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Curtin may have been an ignorant slut, but she was also a perfect straightwoman. One of the original "Not Ready for Prime Time" players, Curtin was flawless as the no-nonsense Queen of Deadpan who expertly played foil to blowhards John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd behind the "Weekend Update" desk. And yes, she was sexy enough to replace Chevy Chase. Post-SNL, Curtin segued nicely into starring roles on sitcoms such as Kate & Allie and 3rd Rock From the Sun.
Sandler's era on the show is probably more remembered for Chris Farley's outsized personality, but he carved his own legacy as the regular guy who played his guitar and did a few voices. While Sandler will forever be linked with ditties such as "Lunchlady Land" (a sketch with Farley) and "The Chanukah Song," he also produced memorable characters, including the naive, childlike scoutmaster Canteen Boy, and "Weekend Update" regular Operaman, who sang about news and current events as an Italian tenor. Thanks to hits like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore and The Wedding Singer, Sandler has enjoyed one of the most successful box office careers of any SNL cast member.
Slightly off-beat, Oteri capitalized on her quirky side with her wildly popular Spartan cheerleader character Arianna. Her partnership with Will Ferrell also excelled in their "Morning Latte" talk show sketch that portrayed Oteri as the overly energetic '90s-style morning show host. Of course, Oteri could do jusr fine on her own, as she proved with such memorable characters as prescription pill addict Collette Reardon, and testy employee Nadeen ("Simma down now!").
Hammond's 14 years on the show earned him the record for longest tenure, and he continued to make appearances through 2011. The comedian also holds the record for oldest cast member — he was 53 when he left — and for performing over 100 different impressions. Yet with all that, Hammond remained fairly under the radar throughout his time on the show. He was an undeniably steady impersonator, best known for playing Bill Clinton and Sean Connery, but even he was the first to admit he lacked the creative gene many of his fellow cast members had.
The Blues Brothers, Coneheads, Two Wild and Crazy Guys. Aykroyd, an original cast member and Emmy-winning writer for SNL, was an integral part of many of the classic early sketches that set the tone for the show and left a permanent mark on the comedy world. After working alongside SNL co-stars John Belushi and Bill Murray in hits such as Blues Brothers and Ghostbusters, respectively, Aykroyd has enjoyed a long and steady acting career.
Two words: Schweddy balls. Aside from Gasteyer's hilarious recurring NPR's Delicious Dish sketch, the comedienne showed range with everything from spoofing Martha Stweart to her operatic singing voice, which she used alongside Will Ferrell for "The Culps" and in her famous impression of Celine Dion. Although it took a few years for her career to take off after SNL, Gasteyer now stars on ABC's Suburgatory alongside fellow SNL vet Chris Parnell.
Chris Rock's brief stint on SNL acted as a springboard for the movies and stand-up comedy specials that would make him a household name. Collectively known as the "Bad Boys of SNL," Rock, Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider and David Spade brought a new edge to the show in the 1990s. Rock incorporated his now-signature brand of racial humor and commentary into sketches including "BET Presents: The Dark Side with Nat X," as well as his appearances on "Weekend Update," to weigh in on issues facing the black community.
For eight years, Hader managed to create laugh-out-loud moments in even the biggest sketch duds. His innovative impressions ranged from the predictable (Vincent Price, Alan Alda, James Carville) to the more obscure (Lindsay Buckingham, Keith Morrison, Andy Azula). But Hader is probably best known for his original character, Stefon, the notorious "Weekend Update" city correspondent with an encyclopedic knowledge of New York's hottest clubs. But Stefon wasn't just hilarious, he was educational. Without him, most of us would never know what human fire hydrants, Tranny Oakley or Furkels were.
One of SNL's first female standouts, Jan Hooks is recognized mostly for her celebrity impersonations, which included Kathie Lee Gifford, Hillary Clinton and Sinead O'Connor. But she solidified her place in the show's canon with her hilarious Sweeney Sisters sketches alongside Nora Dunn. Hooks was also able to parlay her late-night stint into other TV comedy gigs, such as a starring role on the sitcom Designing Women and her severalSNL guest appearances throughout the 1990s.
One of SNL's most versatile performers ever, Rudolph played almost every type of character imaginable on the show. Man, woman, gay, straight, young, old, black, white, Latina, Asian, Oprah, Donatella Versace, Whitney Houston, Beyonce — you name it, she's probably played it. Besides her side-splitting impersonations, Rudolph was part of some of the show's most indelible recurring sketches, including "Bronx Beat," "Wake Up, Wakefield" and the most perplexing art dealers this side of the Atlantic, "Nuni and Nuni." (You have to squeeze your butt cheeks to pronounce her name.) Rudolph has since enjoyed success in Bridesmaids, but fans are still waiting for her to find a project that puts all of her many talents to good use.
It's hard to think of Dratch and not hear the sad trombone — "wah, wah wahhhh" — associated with her famous Debbie Downer sketch. However, she was also one half of two very popular recurring sketches: The Hot Tub Lov-ahs with Will Ferrell, and The Boston Teens Denise and Sully with Jimmy Fallon. After exiting the show, Dratch really hit her stride with regular voice work on several animated TV series.
Murray had a rough start replacing Chevy Chase in Season 2, but he eventually won over fans with his sleazy, know-it-all persona. His most popular characters were Nick the Lounge Singer, who performed with schmaltzy gusto at unfortunately located gigs and bantered with the audience in between songs. He also played in "The Nerds" sketches opposite Gilda Radner, in which his character Todd would tease and often give noogies to Lisa (Radner). Murray left in 1980 soon after his first big-screen success, Meatballs, and his film career skyrocketed thanks to hits such as Caddyshack, Stripes and Ghostbusters, as well as critical darlings like Rushmore and Lost in Translation.
Arguably the single most influential and definitive star of SNL in the past decade, Fey infused new life into "Weekend Update" with her sharp, saucy, cutting wit that is still unmatched behind the desk. As the show's head writer — and the first female one to boot — Fey was the brains behind some of the early aughts' best clips (hello, mom jeans!), but seldom appeared in sketches during her six seasons in front of the camera. She actually made her biggest mark as an alum, giving us her legendary (and Emmy-winning) impression of Sarah Palin — and reminding us that "bitches get stuff done." In addition to penning a best-selling book, the 30 Rock creator-star and Men Girls scribe has kept busy in TV and film.
It's tough to believe that Chevy Chase was only a permanent fixture for one season, because his presence endured on the show long after. As one of the original cast members, Chase's impersonation of President Gerald Ford paved the way for SNL's practice of creating influential caricatures of politicians. But he also set the standard for future "Weekend Update" hosts with his deadpan delivery of the week's top (and most bizarre) headlines. In addition to his lucrative film career, which included hits like Fletch and the Vacation films, Chase hosted the show eight times before he was banned from hosting after he allegedly verbally abused the cast and crew during rehearsals leading up to a February 1997 episode. He's since been relegated to making cameo appearances, most recently in 2013 as a member of the "Five-Timers Club."
One of the best things about watching Dana Carvey's SNL sketches was the amused smirk that tugged at the corner of his mouth during his performances. From his spot-on impressions of George Bush and Johnny Carson to Garth on "Wayne's World" and The Church Lady, Carvey had a way of making viewers feel like they were in on a private joke. Though he hasn't enjoyed the post-SNL success of colleagues like Will Ferrell, Carvey can still pull "Choppin' Broccoli" out of the comedy vault during his stand-up routines and it will get the audience laughing every time.
Superstar! Molly Shannon may be best remembered for her awkward Catholic schoolgirl Mary Katherine Gallagher, but let's not forget her other weird-yet-charming creations, including Sally O'Malley ("I'm 50!"), "Dog Show" co-host Miss Colleen, and Joyologist Helen Madden. She also wasn't afraid to match the male cast members in terms of physical comedy — Mary Katherine Gallagher never met a stack of folding chairs she couldn't jump into. Shannon may not have been as diverse a comedienne as some of the other female performers on SNL, but she's certainly one of the most memorable.
As the show's female stars Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph exited, Wiig became the It girl, capturing the spotlight with recurring characters like the Target Lady, Gilly and Dooneese, along with great impersonations of Suze Orman and Michele Bachmann. Her turn on SNL landed her four consecutive Emmy nominations. Since leaving Studio 8H, Wigg has gone on to be extremely successful due to the box office hit Bridesmaids, which also earned her Academy Award nomination.
Along with co-star and best friend Dan Aykroyd, Belushi helped generate the recurring characters the Blues Brothers, who, along with actual musicians, became a rhythm and blues revivalist band that went on in the real world to book gigs, cut an album and even make it to the big screen. Another of Belushi's popular recurring characters was Samurai Futaba, a parody of Toshiro Mifune's laconic Yojimbo, who speaks (fake) Japanese and wields his katana in incongruous settings, such as divorce court, the delicatessen, dry cleaners and bakery. Belushi died from an accidental drug overdose at the age of 33 just as his film career was ramping up after the success of Animal House and The Blues Brothers.
Radner's manic energy, seemingly powered by a dozen suns, was only rivaled by the quirky sweetness that she imbued in all of her outrageous characters — from the often-incorrect elderly Emily Litella to the uber-obnoxious advice expert Roseanne Roseannadanna. Her parody of Barbara Walters, "Baba Wawa," wasn't necessarily popular with Walters, but she thought it was a "great compliment" and noted that Radner was the "first person to make fun of news anchors." The loss of her humor after her death at age 42 from ovarian cancer is still felt today.
A versatile cast member, Myers had a knack for creating characters that became pop culture touchstones. While certainly most known for "Wayne's World" with Dana Carvey (which inspired two films, and became one of the few SNL-to-big screen success stories), Myers memorably embodied Linda Richman as the NewYork-accented host of "Coffee Talk ," Simon, the young British boy who talks about his drawings in the bathtub and Dieter Sprocket, a self-interested talk show host that parodied German art culture. Myers would go on to use his diverse sense of character to portray multiple roles in the Austin Powers franchise and to bring Shrek to life.
An outsize performer in every sense of the word, Chris Farley threw himself into every sketch he performed during his five-year tenure — and quite literally so, often destroying sets as he barreled through doors and propelled himself through windows. Though he used his girth as a comedic tool for characters such as inspirational speaker Matt Foley and a Chippendale's dancer, Farley wasn't all brash. As the shy, nervous host of "The Chris Farley Show," he proved that subtle line readings can be just as powerful as physical comedy. Revisiting some of Farley's more memorable sketches, which still hold up 20 years later, makes his untimely death at age 33 all the more tragic.
Murphy helped revitalize the series after producer Lorne Michaels left and took much of the original cast with him. The comic put an irreverent spin on his most popular recurring characters — whether it was parodying Fred Rogers' iconic children series with the grittier, less ethical and more socially jaded sketch "Mister Robinson's Neighborhood," portraying a cynical version of the clay figure Gumby or Little Rascals's grown-up character Buckwheat, who spoke and sang in his signature garbled speech. Of his original characters, his most famous was the leisure-suit-wearing, pompadoured pimp Velvet Jones. Murphy's movie career overlapped his run at SNL, and with the popularity of 48 Hours and Trading Places, he eventually left the show to pursue his film career full time — a career he still enjoys today.
Before she captured America's hearts co-hosting the Golden Globes alongside Tina Fey, Poehler was promoted to full cast member during her first season (only the third person to have earned this distinction), and went on to co-anchor "Weekend Update" with Fey, and later Seth Meyers. Well-known for impersonating Hillary Clinton, Poehler also created other characters like Betty Caruso from "Bronx Beat," and the excitable teen Kaitlin. ("Rick! Rick! Rick!") In addition to her acclaimed co-hosting gigs, Poehler has become known for her hilarious and unpredictable bits at awards shows like the Emmys, and for her starring role on Parks and Recreation.
There was a reason Hartman was called "The Glue." During his eight-season run, the comedian always delivered and was known for always helping his fellow cast members do the same. Hartman performed over 70 different characters on the series, most notably impressions of Bill Clinton and Frank Sinatra, as well as Frankenstein, Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer and Eugene, the Anal Retentive Chef. He even won an Emmy for his work as a writer on the show in 1989 and was nominated another two times for the series before leaving for NewsRadio, on which he starred until he was murdered in 1998.
Will Ferrell tops our list based on the comedic range he displayed during his seven years on the show. Whether he was doing hilarious celebrity impersonations (Alex Trebek, James Lipton, Harry Caray, George W. Bush and Janet Reno, to name a few), creating his own immortal pop culture characters (The Spartan Cheerleaders, The Culps, The Lov-ahs), or elevating a one-time sketch with his straight-man delivery (the "Oops, I Crapped My Pants" spokesperson, a homeless man posing as a nude model, Blue Oyster Cult's cowbell player Gene Frenkle), Ferrell was always at the top of his game. He's also one of the few cast members who consistently kept a straight face during even the most absurd of sketches. And his post-SNL career is nothing to sniff at either. From Anchorman to Zoolander, Ferrell has left an indelible mark on the world of comedy.