Saturday Night Live has been airing every season on NBC for over forty years. Over that time, it has established itself as a sort of pit stop on the way to comedy stardom. The original cast's playful nickname, "The Not Ready for Primetime Players", referred to their youth and relative inexperience in front of the screen. Very soon, as the show began to grow in popularity, cast members like Chevy Chase, Jon Belushi and, Dan Aykroyd went on to enjoy very successful post-SNL careers. It became increasingly clear that aside from being a place for subversive sketch comedy on network television, SNL could function as a perfect testing ground for up-and-coming comic talents.
Sometimes these cast members make a name for themselves on SNL and jump directly into other high-profile projects, other times they have a very brief and forgettable tenure on the show only to make it big years later. How well do you know the dozens of performers who have graced the stage at studio 8H? It might be a bit tricker than you thought.
Note that for the purposes of this quiz, being a part of the show's cast and being a featured player are considered the same thing. What doesn't count as being a cast member is simply guest-hosting or cameoing, no matter how frequently it happens. So no, Alec Baldwin was never a cast member even if he's probably been on the show more than most. Now, let's get started...
One of the most legendary standup comedians of all time, Murphy is particularly known for his standup TV special entitled Eddie Murphy Delirious and its theatrical follow-up Eddie Murphy Raw, the latter of which remains to this day the highest-grossing standup film of all time. But he's also a prolific actor, starring in the action-comedy Beverly Hills Cop film series, which spanned four films from 1984 to 1994. More recently, he has starred in more family-oriented films, most notably voicing Donkey in the animated Shrek film series. But was he on SNL?
The critic-proof comedy star, Kevin James seems to have made it his mission to only appear in critically-panned, but financially successful comedies. Since the conclusion of his hit sitcom The King of Queens in 2007, James has starred in films such as The Zookeeper, Here Comes the Boom, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 1 and 2, as well as co-starring with Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and David Spade in two Grown Ups movies. Each of these films was produced by Adam Sandler's production company so it seems they like working with each other.
Quite a polarizing comic known for her lewd and bizarre antics, Sarah Silverman is perhaps one of the poster children for the current alternative comedy movement. One of her earliest parts was in the cast of HBO's highly influential 1990s sketch comedy series Mr. Show. Her Comedy Central sitcom the Sarah Silverman Program, which she co-created with Dan Harmon of Community and Rick & Morty fame, earned critical acclaim for its offbeat style. She later lent her voice to the animated film Wreck-it-Ralph and won an Emmy for her standup comedy special We Are Miracles.
Jack Black is considered one of the members of the so-called "Frat Pack", a loose collection of comedic actors who dominated comedy films in the early 2000s. While most of the Frat Pack, which includes the likes of Steve Carrell, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn did not begin on SNL, Will Ferrell had a very prominent run on the show and Ben Stiller was briefly a writer. Black is no stranger to sketch comedy, having appeared on the pioneering HBO sketch show Mr. Show. But was he ever on SNL?
Keegan-Michael Key is undoubtedly best known for his partnership collaborations with fellow comedic actor Jordan Peele. Besides their enormously successful Comedy Central sketch show Key & Peele, which ran five seasons before ending in 2015. Key has also collaborated with Peele in the buddy-comedy Keanu, the first season of FX's crime series Fargo and reprised his famous Key & Peele role as Luther, Barack Obama's anger translator at the former president's final White House Correspondents' dinner. Recently he has appeared in more dramatic roles in the films Win it All and Don't Think Twice.
One of the most influential and widely talked-about comedians of the his era, Richard Pryor broke down barriers with his deft engagement with taboo language and subject matter. Not only did he curse onstage and lampoon serious issues like race relations, by the 1970s he had managed to become a household name while doing it. Pryor also starred in several big-screen comedies such as Stir Crazy and See No Evil and Hear No Evil as well co-writing the Mel Brooks western comedy Blazing Saddles. Did he find time to be a cast member on SNL before his big break?
Gilbert Gottfried has the perhaps somewhat dubious honor of possessing one of the most recognizable voices in show business. His voice is often compared to that of an obnoxious bird. This description certainly explains his roles as the voices of Lago the parrot in Aladdin, the Aflack insurance company's talking duck mascot and the anthropomorphic bird Digit in the PBS children's show Cyberchase. Despite his frequent roles in children's entertainment, Gottfried's personal sense of humor is known for being quite raunchy and excessive.
Kal Penn is notable for having two very distinct careers. He is best known of course for his acting roles as Kumar in the Harold and Kumar stoner-comedy film series and as Lawrence Kutner in the medical drama series House. He also, however, has a political career and worked in two relatively high-profile positions under President Obama. These roles included the White House's "associate director of public engagement" (for which he left House) and later was named co-chair for the reelection campaign.
Arguably one of Hollywood's go-to comedic leading men (particularly if they're looking for a nervous, dorky straight man type), Ed Helms is likely the second-biggest star to come out of the US version of The Office. After appearing as a correspondent on the Daily Show alongside Steve Carell, Helms joined the cast of The Office in season 3 and eventually received top-billing on the show after Carrell's departure. Both The Daily Show and SNL have proven to be star-making shows, but did Helms appear on both?
Jenny Slate is an up-and-coming actor and comedian who has appeared in over ten films in the last two years alone. Despite this, she's not quite a household name yet. Her most prominent leading role has been in the acclaimed indie film Obvious Child wherein she plays a young comedian who unexpectedly becomes pregnant. She also had a recurring role on Parks and Recreation as Mona-Lisa Saperstein, sister of Jean-Ralphio. In 2017, she voiced Harley Quinn in The Lego Batman Movie.
Robert Downey Jr.
One the world's most recognizable actors, Robert Downey Jr. is probably the best example of a celebrity comeback story. Downey made a name for himself in the 80s appearing in films such as Less Than Zero, Johnny Be Good and Weird Science. In 1992, he played the lead in the biopic Chaplin. For most of the 90s, he very publicly dealt with drug addiction and run-ins with the law. The 2000s of course saw his very successful return to stardom, bolstered by his pivotal role as Iron Man in several Marvel films.
Nick Kroll's style of comedy is built around grotesque caricatures. His recently concluded Comedy Central sketch show The Kroll Show, existed mainly as a showcase for his many excessive characters inspired mostly by reality TV. These include macho clubber Bobby Bottleservice, melodramatic publicist Liz G. and proud Pawn store owner Murph. He is also known for his role in the sitcom The League. His voice roles include a talking douchebag in Sausage Party and Professor Poopypants in the upcoming Captain Underpants.
Margaret Cho is mainly known for standup comedy stylings, which dealt with issues such as the Asian-American experience and other sensitive and little-discussed social issues. Her acting career has had its ups and downs over the years. For instance, her sitcom All-American Girl was cancelled after one season and heavy criticism. She later starred in the Lifetime dramedy series Drop Dead Diva and had a recurring role as then-North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il in 30 Rock. Was she an SNL cast member sometime before her 90s heyday?
Bill Murray's internet fame may be somewhat excessive but it's difficult to argue that he hasn't had a very rich and varied acting career. With roles spanning from classic comedies like Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, and Meatballs to the quiet drama of Lost in Translation and films like Groundhog Day, What About Bob? and his many collaborations with Wes Anderson which deftly blend the two. Murray is also known for stories of his quirky behaviour which includes arriving unexpectedly showing up at college parties and stealing people's french fries.
While not quite as recognizable as Steve Carell or Ed Helms, Rob Riggle has had quite a successful post-Daily Show career. His square jaw and imposing physique makes him ideal as comedic bullies or authority figures. In fact, he could fill an entire resume with all the times he's played cops. These cop roles include 21 Jump Street, The Hangover, The Other Guys, and Let's Be Cops. He has also lent his voice to animated features including The Lorax, Hotel Transylvania and the upcoming Emoji Movie.
Wanda Sykes' highly recognizable voice and persona is perhaps more widely known than any of her individual roles. In addition to her numerous standup comedy appearances, she co-starred on The New Adventures of Old Christine and Curb Your Enthusiasm (in which she played herself). Like Gilbert Gottfried, her distinctive voice has been used in commercial campaigns. In the mid-2000s she voiced an apple in a series of Applebee's commercials. She has also written for the Chris Rock Show, for which she won an Emmy.
If one were to describe Martin Short in a word, it would probably be energetic. Even approaching the age of 70, Short seems to be bursting with glee and enthusiasm in everything he does. He, along with the likes of John Candy, Catherine O'Hara, and Eugene Levy starred in the beloved Canadian sketch comedy show SCTV, which eventually was aired in the US by NBC. He has also starred in films such as Three Amigos and Father of the Bride. He's hosted SNL multiple times, but was he ever in the cast?
Along with Richard Pryor, his raw, uncompromising standup comedy style paved the way for today's satirical comedy landscape. His emotionally charged delivery and often political subject matter was a perfect match for the spirit of his era. His most famous routine describes the seven words you supposedly cannot say on TV and was prominently cited in a US Supreme Court case. His acting roles include time-traveller Rufus in the Bill & Ted films and the voice of Fillmore in Pixar's Cars.
Chris Rock certainly has many ties to SNL. His comedy mentor in his earlier years was none other than SNL legend Eddie Murphy, who also gave Rock his first film role in Beverly Hills Cop II. His standup fame eventually even came to rival Murphy's. In more recent years he has collaborated with SNL vet Adam Sandler in multiple films. He has also lent his voice to the Madagascar film series. Recently, he made his directorial debut film Top Five, in which he also starred. We know he has SNL connections, but was he ever in the show?
Eric Andre's abrasive and often self-destructive comedic style at the very least demonstrates his enthusiasm for the craft. Virtually any interview he's on the receiving end of sees him playing a comedic persona to some degree. And his Adult Swim talk show/prank show hybrid The Eric Andre, shows him creating an anarchic fever dream for his confused and often uncomfortable guests. He has appeared in more traditionally comedic roles, as a recurring character on Two Broke Girls and as a supporting cast member in Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23.
John Travolta's career may be in a bit of a lull at the moment, but he was once one of the biggest stars in the world. His back-to-back roles in Saturday Night Fever and Grease made him an A-list movie star in a very short while. And his comeback role in Pulp Fiction over a decade later solidified him as a lasting presence in Hollywood. What often gets forgotten about Travolta however, are his comedic roots. His breakout role was as the attention-grabbing teen Vinnie Babbarino in the sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter.
Whoopi Goldberg is most often seen these days as a host of the daytime talk show The View, having been on the show since 2007. Her career however, has been extremely varied and prolific. She is one of the few people to have won all four major showbiz awards (a feat nicknamed EGOT, standing for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony). Despite her celebrated standup comedy career, her breakout role was in Steven Spielberg's very serious film The Color Purple. Her subsequent roles included Ghost and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Billy Crystal is likely best known for his charming, quick-witted demeanor. This quality is on display quite heavily in his starring role in the romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally, likely his most iconic role. His nine times hosting the Oscars between are also quite fondly remembered. To younger audiences, his voice is unmistakable as Mike Wazowski in the Pixar film Monsters Inc. and its prequel Monsters University. But did this loveable wise-guy ever serve as a member of SNL's cast?
Sarah Jessica Parker
Sarah Jessica Parker is perhaps not the first name that comes to mind when you think of sketch comedy. And certainly it's certainly easy to think of Sex and the City as less of a comedy and more of light-hearted drama. Likewise, her lead role in the slice-of-life teen comedy Square Pegs paints her as a performer able to juggle comedy and drama within a single role. Her other roles include Hocus Pocus, the First Wives Club, Failure to Launch, and Ed Wood.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus has certainly had the most fruitful post-Seinfeld television career. After Seinfeld's conclusion in 1998, she starred in The New Adventures of Old Christine until 2010. Soon after, she began her award-winning turn as the lead character Selina Meyer in the HBO sitcom Veep. With six in total, accrued across all three of these shows, she has won the Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series more times than any other woman in history. Was she on SNL before Seinfeld?