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I grew up a big fan of Saturday Night Live thanks to my sister who loved it in the late 70s and early 80s. She made me aware of many hilarious characters like Ed Grimley, Rosanne Rosannadanna, and those "wild and crazy guys" the Festrunk Brothers. When I was in high school I was hooked on Wayne's World, Hans and Franz, The Grumpy Old Man, Matt Foley, and many others. I stopped watching the show as much in the last decade but I'm familiar with many of the better sketches and comics on the show. It looks like it is "coming back" as it always does with some very funny cast members like Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, and Andy Samberg. After watching for over twenty years, here's my not so humble opinion of the Top Ten show performers. Keep in mind this has nothing to do with their post-SNL movie or TV careers. These are the guys that dominated the show and made me laugh the most when they were a part of the SNL cast. Sorry to burst any bubbles, but Adam Sandler never made me laugh that much.
Honorable mention: Martin Short.
Most famous character: Ed Grimley
He would probably be in my top ten, but unfortunately I've only seen a handful of his sketches from the early 80s. His era of the show, which included Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest, is probably the most underrated in the history of the show.
10. Jimmy Fallon
Favorite Sketches: The Barry Gibb Talk Show and Weekend Update
Besides the fact that Jimmy was in sketches and did a long stint co-anchoring Weekend Update, my favorite thing about him is the way he so easily cracked up in the middle of sketches, particulary with sidekick Horatio Sanz. Also he does tons of great impressions, including former SNL star Adam Sandler.
9. Norm Macdonald
Favorite Characters: Burt Reynolds, Bob Dole, David Letterman
Norm famously got FIRED from Weekend Update and that alone makes him legendary and worthy of being on my list. I loved his straight-for-the-jugular comic style on Update which I think many people just didn't get at all. Replacing him with Colin Quinn made him look even better! And what was ironic about him losing that gig is that he survived the purge between the Sandler/Farley cast and the new Will Farrell cast of '95. At that time Norm was the funniest guy on the show. He was and is a rebel and he's still hilarious to me.
8. Bill Murray
Favorite characters: Nick the lounge singer, Todd (The Nerds)
Some might think this is way too low for Bill but remember this is just about SNL. As far as star status and a movie career he is #1 by far. Nobody has achieved as much or made as many great films as Bill Murray. He has won numerous acting awards and I wouldn't be surprised if he gets an Oscar before he's done. As far as his time on SNL his sketches were always the best while he was on the show because he was one of the most naturally funny people to ever appear on that stage. But at the same time not many characters stand out among the rest which is why he's not near the top.
7. Mike Myers
Favorite Characters: Wayne Campbell, Dieter, Middle Aged-Man, Simon, Linda Richman, and many more.
Mike dominated the show while he was on. He was obviously gifted at writing sketches for himself and other cast members. When Dana Carvey was on with him they just chewed up the set. I feel sorry for some of those less talented people on the show. For a while it looked like his film career was going to be just as rich, but he hasn't had a hit in quite a while. No matter, I can always watch his best moments on SNL.
6. Will Farrell
Favorite Sketch: Blue Oyster Cult: Behind the Music ("More Cowbell")
Favorite Characters: George W. Bush, Harry Caray, James Lipton, and many more.
Like Phil Hartman in the decade prior, Will was the "glue" that held the show together. He was in nearly every sketch from the moment he started until he left. He did commercials, he made Jimmy Fallon crack up, and he made Chris Parnell the perpetual straight guy. His comic style usually follows the same formula, which some don't like, but once in a while he just nails it. There are many Harry Caray impersonaters out there, but Will Farrell's version is the best!
5. Chris Farley
Favorite character: Matt Foley
Favorite sketches: Chippendale dancers, The Chris Farley Show, Bill Swerski's Superfans
Speaking of chewing up the set, Farley was possibly the greatest physical comedian to ever grace the stage of SNL. He didn't need to write, or rehearse, or get into character, he was naturally hilarious. His idol was former SNL great John Belushi and ironically he died young just like his hero. But what an impression he made while he was here.
4. Phil Hartman
Favorite characters: Frank Sinatra, Phil Donahue, Ronald Reagan, Ed McMahon, Charlton Heston, Andy Griffith, Jack Nicholson, Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer,
and many, many more!
As previously stated Phil has been described by Mike Myers and others as the "glue" of the show. He held everything together, appearing in nearly every sketch while on the show. He played every kind of character, did numerous impressions, did commercials, and even famously cracked up a time or two. He made fellow performers stand out even more, like Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey, Jan Hooks, and Kevin Nealon. Phil is still very underrated in my opinion, and has always been one of my all time favorites.
3. Eddie Murphy
Favorite sketch: Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood
Favorite characters: Buckwheat, Velvet Jones, James Brown
Eddie Murphy might be the funniest person ever to be on Saturday Night Live, so it seems crazy to put him at number 3. But the fact is the show was so weak when he was there the only person close to being as funny was Joe Piscopo....yeah, Joe Piscopo. So Eddie was IT, basically. He carried the show and his few sketches were the only reason to watch. It was no surprise when he jumped to the movies and became an even bigger star. Either way there's not much funnier than: "O'tay", "little Opie Cunningham", or "C-I-L-L my landlord!"
2. Dana Carvey
Favorite Characters: The Church Lady, The Grumpy Old Man, Johnny Carson, Regis Philbin, George Bush, Ross Perot, Garth, Hans, John McLaughlin, Dennis Miller and way too many more to name!
Dana Carvey was born to do sketch comedy....no he was born to be on Saturday Night Live! His film career has really gone nowhere. Actually, if it weren't for Mike Myers I don't think he'd have anything funny to watch on film. His stand up is okay, but his true element is doing impressions and sketches in front of a live audience. Carvey absolutely killed on SNL. He dominated the show like no one before or since. If you wanted to get some face time you had to really bring something good, which is why Mike Myers was able to thrive alongside Carvey. In my opinion, when Dana Carvey left the show it had a vacuum that not even Chris Farley, David Spade, and Adam Sandler could fill with their combined efforts. He would be number one on this list, but that spot is reserved for the King of SNL, the icon, the man all the rest labor in the shadow of....
1. John Belushi
Favorite sketches: Blues Brothers, "Cheeburger, Cheeburger", The Thing That Wouldn't Leave, Weekend Update spots
Favorite characters: Marlon Brando, Joe Cocker, the Samarai
I know what you're thinking: I think Belushi is the best because he died first or he's just an original member and blah blah blah. Nope. I racked my brains trying to think of someone else who people think is both cool and hilarious and nobody else stands out like Belushi. Sure Bill Murray is cool, but I think that really happened more after the show. Chevy Chase might have been cool then too, but he only did one season, and he never made me laugh the way Belushi does. Belushi is brilliant. He was super talented. He could sing, he could dance a little, and he could even do impressions. He created the Blues Brothers which is still a familiar icon in the world of music and the world of comedy. His physical attributes as a comic were also among the best ever. As I've already said, he was THE major influence of Chris Farley's style of comedy. And most of all, Belushi's best work was on the show. He didn't bolt for Hollywood right away. He became the backbone of the original cast. He set the standard for all subsequent SNL stars. He is the King of SNL.
Next time I will count down the top ten Ladies of SNL.