Here’s the bottom and top five, visit the website to see everyone else in between. More than once there we people we said, I did not know he/she was on SNL…
So — live from New York — a passionate, definitive, opinionated, subjective, irresponsible and indefensible breakdown of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players. It’s a celebration of Lorne Michaels’ creation 40 years on — and as every SNL fan knows, part of loving the show means surfing through the lows along with the highs. Keep in mind: We’re not ranking their careers, merely their stints on SNL. Also, we’re ranking them strictly for what they did onscreen, not behind the scenes. As for who counts as anSNL player, there’s a lot of gray area. The whole point of this list is ranking everybody, not just the big names, so it tries to err on the side of being inclusive. “Writers who occasionally showed up in sketches” is a mighty crowded category, but they’re ultimately judged by onscreen impact. It’s a game of inches out there. And no guest hosts, no matter how often they return. No Alec Baldwin or Andy Kaufman or Justin Timberlake, even though they’ve had way more airtime than many cast members.
Some of these stories get grim, especially below the Joe Piscopo Line. (You don’t want to be on the Cleghorne side of the Piscopo Line.) But these are all comedians who made it to the big leagues. This list is full of worthy performers SNLbumbled, or ugly ducklings who turned into swans elsewhere. So if you were funny in Anchorman 2 or you ended up a legend on Seinfeld, that’s sweet, but it doesn’t factor in here. The hilariously disastrous misuse of talent is part of what makes itSNL — we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Also crucial: If you were an SNL player and your feelings get bruised easily, you might want to stop reading now. Like Stuart Smalley says, it’s easier to put on slippers than to carpet the world.
141. Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr. is a comic genius. Making him unfunny stands as SNL’s most towering achievement in terms of sucking. How do you fuck up a sure thing like Downey? He’s funny in anything. I mean, dude was funny in Weird Science.He was funny in Johnny Be Good. He was funny in Iron Man.But he met his Kryptonite, and it was SNL, where he spent the 1985-1986 season sucking up a storm. His greatest hit? A fart-noise debate with Anthony Michael Hall. In a perverse way, the Downey Fail sums up everything that makes SNLgreat. There are no sure things. No rules. No do-overs. No safety net — when you flop on SNL, you flop big. And that’s the way it should be. The cameras roll at 11:30, ready or not. Live from New York — it’s Saturday Night.
140. The Muppets
Strange but true: The Muppets were first-season cast members. But not the funny Muppets — a dark and grumpy version, starring a lizard named Scred. Jim Henson hated the “I’m Scred and you’re not” gags. So he left to start The Muppet Show. Too bad — Gonzo and Belushi would have made quite a team.
139. Jim Breuer
Like Jay Mohr, except more of a “This asshole again? No, thatone” type.
138. Victoria Jackson
America had six seasons to wonder how the one-joke, baby-talking ninny ate up so much time on SNL, and nobody ever did figure that out. The best thing VJ ever did was show up on the 25th-anniversary special as an audience member and ask, “I was just wondering — whatever happened to me?”
137. Gilbert Gottfried
It’s so weird to think that Gottfried was ever young — or that he wasted a year of his youth bombing out on SNL. He wasn’t really Gilbert Gottfried yet — he was just a morose-looking hippie kid with a ‘fro that seemed to wilt by the minute. The best you can say for his SNL gig is it helped turn him into the bitter madman we know and love today.
136. Colin Quinn
All the Remote Control alum needs for his comedy style is to hang out and be himself, yet SNL required him to wear a tie and read cue cards. “Weekend Update” was so spectacularly wrong for his skill
set, especially his hoarser-by-the-minute croak, you barely noticed how hackity-hackity-hack the jokes were. Maybe that was the point.
135. Norm Macdonald
Macdonald clearly thought he was hilarious, and that counts for something — confidence is essential for a “Weekend Update” anchor. Unfortunately, he was just a Dennis Miller clone with no mullet and no jokes. Stare into the camera a little longer, Norm; maybe it’ll get funnier.
5. Dan Aykroyd
Of the original greats, Aykroyd is the least imitated — just because nobody else can do what he did. His seriousness, his biker-intellectual intensity — he could grab your attention just standing onstage for the “good nights” and asking if anyone could sell him fuel tanks for his ’71 Harley. The classic sketch where he’s a grumpy mechanic telling his daughter Gilda a bedtime story about doing a wheel alignment — only Aykroyd could make that so touching as well as funny. He had a real empathy for American hucksters and sleazebags – what makes the “Bass-o-Matic” sketch isn’t the joke (a fish in a blender, big deal), it’s Aykroyd’s demented grin.
Greatest hit: President Jimmy Carter, talking down a kid from a bad acid trip. “Remember, you’re a living organism on this planet and you’re very safe. You’ve just taken a heavy drug. Relax, stay inside and listen to some music — do you have any Allman Brothers?” If the actual President Carter could have governed like that, the 1970s might have turned out differently.
4. Mike Myers
Myers has kept a low profile since his Austin Powers days, so at this point he seems curiously obscure. But more than anyone, he epitomized the manic, art-damaged energy that revitalized comedy in the early Nineties. Like his British idols Peter Sellers and Peter Cook, he threw himself into his characters with madcap enthusiasm — metalhead Wayne, middle-aged yenta Linda Richman, monkey-stroking German aesthete Dieter. He missed the first few episodes in 1992 because he was working on the Wayne’s World 2 screenplay; it turned into a nationwide vigil praying for Myers to return. The only word to sum up his genius is “asphinctersayswhat?”
Greatest hit: Linda Richman hosting “Coffee Talk,” gettingverklempt over Barbra Streisand’s legs. Like buttah.
3. Tina Fey
You could argue that most of her onscreen contribution was “Weekend Update,” but Fey did a lot more than salvage “Update” from a decade-long losing streak — it swiftly became the highlight of the show, as the entire franchise remade itself around the wry, sardonic, not-afraid-of-her-brain Fey style. She slapped SNL out of its late-Nineties coma. Suddenly the skits were full of ass-kicking women, just because Fey proved how much they could get away with. And her 2008 return as Sarah Palin might be the most brilliant move SNL ever made. Talk about a hot streak — it was a moment when all America spent the week waiting to see what Fey would come up with on Saturday.
Greatest hit: “I can see Russia from my house!” almost made it worth having Palin around.
2. Eddie Murphy
It’s customary (and accurate) to say Eddie Murphy is the only reason SNL survived the five-year wilderness without Lorne Michaels. Nobody had seen anything like him. He stood out from anyone else on TV, mostly by being so young — he was the first post-boomer comedy star, a kid born in the Sixties and down with the Eighties. He mocked SNL’s racial hang-ups (which isn’t to say he made them go away). Murphy could make any moment memorable — the shooting of Buckwheat, the boiling of Larry the Lobster, the C-I-L-L-ing of his landlord. But he was funny just standing still, as in the classicTootsie sketch that basically consisted of Gary Kroeger putting makeup on Murphy. He knew how to stare into a TV camera like he owned it.
Greatest hit: His 1981 “Kill My Landlord” poem remains a heartwarming piece of verse. “Dark and lonely on the summer night/Kill my landlord, kill my landlord/Watchdog barking — do he bite?”
1. John Belushi
Nobody embodied the highs and lows of Saturday Night Livelike Belushi. He was the first rock & roll star of comedy — a touch of John Lennon soul behind all that Keith Richards pirate bravado. All the extremes were there in his weird physique — a wrestler’s body with a dancer’s feet, a palooka face with a showgirl’s eyelashes. He was the first to make a cocaine joke on SNL (sixth episode — Beethoven takes a hit from the snuffbox and turns into Ray Charles), as well as the first to make the host (Buck Henry) gush blood after accidentally slashing him in the head with his samurai sword. There was always something boyishly vulnerable in his madness, whether he was doing the slow burn (Captain Kirk, George Wallace) or exploding (his horrifying Sam Peckinpah). Belushi was the “live” in Saturday Night Live, the one who made the show happen on the edge. We should have gotten a lot more years with him than we did. But no.
Greatest hit: “Samurai Hitman,” where Belushi proves he doesn’t need words — just a robe and a sword — to turn a one-joke premise into a savage comic ballet.