This list is actually gonna be a little bit different from the one I used to give verbally whenever asked because, although I think he’s had the most distinguished post-SNL career, I can’t think of a single skit he did on the show that I actually remember except for singing a made up Star Wars theme so… tragically, I lose Bill Murray.
5. Tina Fey
She was always funny as the Weekend Update anchor and you knew she did a good bulk of the writing for the show, but if there was any SNL cast member that it could be said may have actually had in some way influenced an American presidential election, then certainly Fey’s take on then-Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin came spectacularly close to being a genuine reason that Barack Obama is currently in the White House – for good or ill.
Fey’s Palin didn’t even have the good-natured simple stupidity that other SNL alumnus, Will Ferrell’s take on George W. Bush had. Fey’s Palin was brutally stupid, painfully stupid. dangerously stupid. There was no way that we could have a woman who could be portrayed as being that stupid with any sort of access to the White House, even as a visitor.
4. Will Ferrell
Ferrell’s Bush was brilliant and, though portrayed as being just as stupid as Fey’s Palin, Ferrell’s Bush had a likable quality that you couldn’t help feel extended to the genuine article. And despite being an almost criminally inept president, I’m still convinced that George W. Bush is probably a heckuva guy. Also, Ferrell had another two recurring characters I thought were great; his Marty Culp, the Altadena music teacher, and his Craig Buchanan, the Spartan Cheerleader.
3. Mike Myers
For all the hype, I thought Wayne’s World was overdone. Funny at some times, annoying at most, of all the characters Mike Myers played on SNL, the least likely I thought to spawn a fan base then subsequently not only a movie, but a sequel, was Wayne Campbell. But… what do I know? Loved his Simon, the British boy in the tub left alone by his diplomat father to play and fend for himself. What does that say about me? And his Dieter from the dance-interview show Sprockets was comfortably one of my favorite recurring characters and the one that I thought genuinely had the best chance on film.
2. John Belushi
I’ve been an SNL watcher since it’s first season as a insomnia-ridden 8 year-old and even then, I couldn’t take my eyes off Belushi. Whether he wouldn’t let you order anything in his diner but “Cheeseburger-Cheeseburger” or whether he was a singing Killer Bee, or whether he was a dueling White samurai fighting dueling Black samurai Richard Pyror, John Belushi dominated. And here was the twist; though John Belushi was certainly the fat man and, when needed, played physical comedy for maximum effect, he was never the fool, thus casting the old Abbot and Costello ‘slim guy-straight man/fat guy-fool’ formula out the door. One last thing on Belushi that differentiates him from, say, other SNL fat-guy physical comedian Chris Farley; Belushi’s physical comedy had precision. And even though I didn’t want to stray into outside-SNL work with this, the scene in Animal House where he smashes the guitar is a perfect example. Unlike attempting to prod laughter at the sloppy fat guy that Farley would later demonstrate – even in his best SNL skit – Belushi’s controlled, psychotic violence was scary. That made the laughter more real and way more necessary.
- Eddie Murphy
Too much has been written about his Buckwheat. Too much has been written about his Gumby. Too much as been written about his Mr. Robinson. Too much has been written about his James Brown. If there are four performances on SNL, two recurring characters, two isolated sketches, that prove that Eddie Murphy is SNL’s greatest ever cast member/Not Ready for Prime Time Player, it’s these:
Then there’s the sketch where he nearly out-Stevie’d Stevie Wonder when Wonder appeared in person as his own impersonator. And finally, there was, bar none, the most offensive sketch in the history of sketch comedy – Dave Chappelle’s channeling of Rick James included – when Murphy, to the tune of maybe an Ojays song, gave his own interpretation of what then-presidential candidate Jesse Jackson meant when he called New York ‘Hymietown‘.