Saturday Night Live made its television debut on October 11, 1975, which is roughly a billion years ago. Seriously, go to the old folks home where your family has stuffed your great, great, great grandmother and ask her about SNL. She probably had a crush on the Samurai Delicatessen guy.
SNL is one of those things that is just omnipresent in our culture now. Every generation has their own version. Chances are whatever cast you grew up watching was your favorite. When you're a kid, it is a super big deal to stay up late, sneak to the TV and watch some of that 'adult' humor. You may not have understood half of the jokes, but you could tell by the studio audience that what they were saying was funny.
Wild and crazy, over the top characters have been Saturday Night Live's bread and butter ever since day one. And there have been a lot of them. When a new performer lands the SNL gig, they struggle to get screen time. There is no better way to guarantee a recurring spot on the show than to create a character that connects with the audience. The show will take what works and blow it out until they run it into the ground. Then after that, the character will probably get a movie. These are some of the most memorable characters in SNL history, as well as a couple of lesser known ones. How well do you know your SNL?
This Bill Hader Orginal
Bill Hader and John Mulaney created this memorable character. Hader would frequently crack himself up during Weekend Update segments. This character was the New York City correspondent and would regale Weekend Update host Seth Meyers with tales of the hottest clubs in the city. Each club and party scene would have intricate and bizarre descriptions. Some of the most memorable were "nightmares of a crystal meth addict," and "visions a dying gay man would have if he was under too many blankets". Can you name him?
What Bobby Moynihan Will Forever Be Known For
Man, we're going to seriously miss Bobby Moynihan. This upcoming SNL season just won't be the same without him. And Weekend Update segments will never be the same without this character showing up and creating chaos. This guy was so funny because he was so relatable. Almost everyone has one of these guys in their family. If you don't think that's true, you may want to do some serious self reflecting because it could be you. Think about it, man.
These Funny/Annoying Folks
Has someone you know has ever made a really stupid looking face at you and said in a dumb voice, "What are you doing here?" and you had no idea what they were talking about? Well, they were impersonating the characters from this sketch. This is one of those ideas that is so over the top dumb and annoying that it eventually becomes funny. Not super funny, but funny enough. Also, it's always a good way to get that week's host to dress silly.
One Half Of An Iconic Duo
This one is part of a 90's classic duo. This basement dwelling teen played by Dana Carvey was the best friend of a character played by Mike Meyers. They had numerous SNL sketches together and two hilarious feature films. There were rumors back in the day that Meyers had underwritten Carvey's part due to jealousy when Carvey's character was so well received. The rumored feud seems to have been settled in the last few years. Maybe someday the old blonde wig and glasses will come back.
That One Character Al Franken Played
He's good enough, he's smart enough, and doggone it, people like him. If you have any idea what that is from, then you probably already guessed the correct answer. If not, good luck. Those were the words uttered in the daily affirmations of this old-school Al Franken character. Franken, currently a Minnesota senator, had written for the show for years and with this, finally had a breakout character. Eventually a feature length film was made starring him. We won't talk about that.
Eddie Murphy's Neighborhood
It seems like Eddie Murphy has been a star for forever. It's hard to imagine how much of a lightning bolt he was to a dead program when he arrived on Saturday Night Live in the 80's. Murphy was one of the youngest cast members ever, and he gave the tired show the youthful shot of energy it needed. This character was Murphy's twisted take on Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. He taught kids how to properly identify a prostitute and how to handle an angry landlord.
Kristen Wiig In A Wig
Kristen Wiig is one of the most talented comedic performers of her generation. With this character, she managed to create something that some people find hilarious, and fills others with hot, boiling, rage. Wiig portrays an elementary school student that gets into increasing ridiculous and often violent trouble during camera cutaways to her teacher. When the camera cuts back to her, she replies with one of her catchphrases, "What?", "Uh-huh", and "Sorry". Yes, those were seriously her catchphrases. You can see why some people hated it.
Dan Aykroyd's Pointy Dome
Way back in the day in the day, before Dan Aykroyd was making ignorant comments about Paul Feig's Ghostbusters, he was one of the original Not Ready For Primetime Players that starred on the debut of Saturday Night Live. Those first few years are remembered fondly by comedy nerds and people that didn't see whole episodes and just watched the highlights. Aykroyd quickly became a fan favorite with characters such as this alien family that claimed to be from France.
Phil Hartman And A Great Theme Song
The mega talented Phil Hartman was one of the most versatile cast members in Saturday Night Live history. He could blend into the background and pop out with a killer one-liner, he could play the straight man, and he could ham it up while keeping it grounded with a crazy character. This is his craziest. The theme song was legendary, but it gives the name away. So here is an edited version: "Once he was a (blank) (blank). Now he's a (blank). (blank) (black) (blank) (blank)
Cecily Strong's Character With a Long Name
In the last few years, Saturday Night Live has gone away from having sketches driven by a wacky character (although they definitely still exist) and now features most of its craziest characters as guests on Weekend Update. Cecily Strong killed it at these character guest spots right off the bat, which made her short term move to the Weekend Update host job a few years ago puzzling. This character thinks she has everything figured out, and will let you know.
Kate McKinnon's Deadpan Chainsmoker
Kate McKinnon is a super star if we are having the privilege of watching her shoot to the top. Many of her characters are impressions, but she always manages to give them a weird twist that makes them unique. This is one of her just straight up bizarre characters. You may not know her name, but you've seen her. This tough, cigarette smoking lady describes her extremely uncomfortable experiences while everyone else in the scene struggles no to bust out laughing.
Adam Sandler Wacky Character #436
Adam Sandler is the master of making a goofy voice, scrunching up his face and calling it a character. And that is not a critique. He's great at it. This character made several appearances on Weekend Update. This character was a man that was an opera singer, then the man would opera-sing the news. There is honestly not much more to the character than that. As is the case with almost all of Sandler's character's, the humor is in the simplicity.
Well Isn't That Special
Dana Carvey created so many insane characters during his Saturday Night Live tenure that some are bound to be lost in the shuffle. This one however, is on Carvey's personal character Mount Rushmore. This is one of the ones that got people to first notice him and catapulted him to the top of the Saturday Night Live pecking order. This character's catchphrases were repeated ad nauseam in the 80's, especially these gems" "Could it be... Satan?" and "Well isn't that special?"
Remember Chris Kattan? No? Try Harder
In the 90's, Saturday Night Live was getting pretty stale. The Sandler, Farley, and Meyers dominated cast was great, but was just no longer clicking. SNL cleaned house and brought in a whole new cast with then unknowns Will Ferrel, Cheri Oteri, Chris Kattan and others. Chris Kattan was a very good utility player and proved capable of creating memorable characters as well. This character was a male exotic dancer who performed in a strip club. It was the perfect setup to dance and grind on that week's guest host.
Coffee Talk With...
Mike Meyers is a man of extremes. He is extremely talented, extremely dedicated to his craft, and extremely meticulous about his comedy. He is also an extreme jerk according to many who have worked with him. Meyers was a character creating machine back in his days performing on Saturday Night Live. This one involves a broad stereotype of a Jewish woman that speaks with a heightened New York accent and hosts a show called Coffee Talk. The character was also obsessed with Barbara Streisand.
Rachel Dratch Is A Bummer
We all have that one friend that has an unbelievable knack for bringing the mood down, no matter the situation. You got a dog, theirs got run over. You got a promotions, they got fired. You got a haircut, the got cancer. It's infuriating. Rachel Dratch captured this truism with this character and heightened to a ridiculous degree. She would say her piece, bringing everyone down, look to the camera, make a sad face, the sad trombone played, and everyone in the scene would try not to laugh.
When She Gets Nervous She Puts Her Hands Under Her Armpits And Smells Them
Molly Shannon was a character driven powerhouse during some of Saturday Night Live's best years in the mid 90's. Shannon has proven herself to be a capable dramatic actor as well in her years after SNL. This character was an amazingly awkward teen at a catholic school. She told everyone within earshot that "When I get nervous, I stick my hands under my armpits then smell them... like this! That's bad. I'm bad". You are right, Molly. That is bad.
Some People Say What's That...?
Julia Sweeney may be one of the lesser known Saturday Night Live performers on this list, but this particular character of hers will forever live in infamy. Nobody knew whether this character was a man or a woman. Everybody would try to figure it out by trying to trick him/her into revealing his/her gender without being overtly obvious about it. That is the premise and that is the joke. Yep, that's it. They stretched that out into several sketches and eventually into a feature length film in 1994.
If you are looking at the picture and thinking, "man, that is freaking old" well you're right. You don't have to be a jerk about it. This invading group of flying insects appeared in the first season of Saturday Night Live, way the heck back in 1976. They were the very first recurring characters on the show. And the fact that you may not have heard of them may clue you in that they weren't exactly the most popular. Just look at the costumes and figure it out.
He Lives In A Van Down By The River
Everybody has to remember Chris Farley's motivational speaker. The sweaty charisma and his raspy, hoarse bellowing of his "Living in a van down by the river!" catchphrase is forever burned in the SNL viewer's conscious. But do you remember his name? That is were it starts to get a little more complicated. This sketch was written by Bob Odenkirk. Odenkirk later co-created Mr. Show then starred in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. But go back and watch this sketch, it's his best work.
It is a little difficult to describe this character using his catchphrase, because his catchphrase is just him yelling his name. Tracy Morgan is a hilarious weirdo and all of his characters are hilarious weirdos as well. This one is one of the weirdest. It is a wildlife show, but the narration at the top makes it clear he is definitely not a wildlife expert. He's just a guy that loves animals. He then proceeds to hear the animals talking to him as he yells at them. Like a said, weirdo.
Amy Poehler's One Legged Lady
Amy Poehler is sketch comedy and improv royalty. She was one of the big four that became the UCB brand. She then went to Saturday Night Live, and became a household name. Out of all the over the top characters that Poehler created during her SNL tenure, none captured her ability to get in your face with crudeness than this one. This character, a self described one-legged hypoglycemic would appear and spout off her catchphrases like "Yeah, I farted. Jealous?"
This One Is A Cat. Seriously.
Okay, when you saw this one, you either had one of two reactions. You either knew it right away, or you were super confused as to why a cat is on this list. Also, you may be asking yourself why that cat is driving. Well, the cat is driving because he is a driving cat. Makes sense. That is the character. He is a cat that drives, but not very well. Every sketch end with the cat driving all of the passengers off of a cliff and to a fiery death. That's why cats shouldn't drive.
The More Cowbell Guy Has A Name
Hey, you remember that "More Cowbell" sketch? The one where Will Ferrell was banging the cowbell in everyone's face? The one where Christopher Walken told everyone that he had a fever and the only prescription was more cowbell? Well guess what? That guy that Christopher Walken was playing actually had a name! Weird, huh? In fact, he was playing a real person that exists in real life. Walken was playing the real life music producer working with Blue Öyster Cult.
The Fella Who Is All About The Ladies
Tim Meadows is one of the longest tenured performers on Saturday Night Live, having been working there for approximately 2,700 years. Meadows spent the vast majority of his career as a utility player, playing the straight man, or coming in with a one-liner. But this character was the one that finally caught on. He was immediately popular from his very first appearance and inspired a series of sketches and, eventually, a feature length film. This character loves nothing more than some ladies and courvoisier.