28th Oct2020

Ten Best: Saturday Night Live Alumni

by Chris Cummings

This was difficult, because boy oh boy has Saturday Night Live brought us a mass of talent who have since become mega-stars in movie and/or television. I had to make this list, scrap the list, edit the list, add and take away from the list, and do it all over again before landing on a final ten. I’m still not sure I have this right, because it’s also a bit subjective too. There are huge names not on this list, like Jimmy Fallon, Kristen Wiig, Chevy Chase, Tim Meadows, Chris Rock, Andy Samberg and various others. Yes, each of these names appeared on the list at one point or another, but I decided on this ten based on their memorable moments on SNL, their impact on the show, and yeah, the things they went on to do afterwards. Some are here because their runs on SNL were iconic, some are here because they would go on to be mega-stars elsewhere, but they all belong here however you slice it. It’s a shame, though, that so many didn’t make the list, because I could have, in all honesty, done a top twenty and still not had enough space for the wide array of great talent that appeared on Saturday Nights. Anyway, subjective list time. Let’s get on with it.

10. Amy Poehler

Poehler was great on SNL, and did some hugely memorable things on the program before she stepped away. From there she went on to carve out a huge career in film and television. Her work as Leslie Knope on the tremendous Parks and Recreation is the standout thing she’s done, in my view. It’s a hilarious and wonderful program that launched Poehler into the hearts of the globe. She has gone on to appear in many other films, as well as write for television, including the Netflix show Russian Doll. She’s co-hosted a bunch of award shows, and appeared in flicks like Baby Mama, Sisters, Inside Out (as the voice of Joy), Blades of Glory and a bunch more. She’s a superstar, for sure, and the future appears bright for her, as expected.

9. Chris Farley

When Chris Farley sadly passed away in 1997 at only 33 years of age, a potential career packed with incredible comedy highlights was left behind, but what we did get has only become more beloved in the years since he left us. Farley was a phenomenon on SNL, appearing in some of the most-watched and well-remembered skits in the show’s annals. He took that frenetic and zany comedy style and made a career in film out of it, too. Whether it was appearing as a secondary character in movies like Wayne’s World 2, or as the star of movies like Tommy Boy, Black Sheep and Beverly Hills Ninja, it was obvious to everyone that Chris Farley was destined to become one of the biggest comedy actors of all time. Tommy Boy is still regarded as his greatest work on film, and it is a truly brilliant film with a lead performance that is hypnotic in a sense. You simply cannot have a list of the best SNL alumni without including Chris Farley. He was that good.

8. Mike Myers

Myers is one of the actors I think of when I think about SNL alumni. He was great on the show, but his life beyond Saturday nights is even more impressive. Going on to highly successful franchises like Wayne’s World, Shrek and Austin Powers being three of the biggest things he has done in his career. Aside from those highly popular projects, he has worked on films like Bohemian Rhapsody, So I Married An Axe Murderer and Inglorious Basterds. He was a big star of the 90s and early 00s, and while his career has certainly slowed in the past decade or so, he is a hugely memorable former SNL cast member, and a guy that pretty much everybody knows. Whether you see him as an ogre, a sex-addicted 60s groovy cat, or a rocker in a ball-cap, he’s easily one of the most successful guys from SNL’s history.

7. Tina Fey

During and after a long stint on SNL, Fey has found great success as both actor, writer and producer. She wrote and starred in the now-classic teen comedy Mean Girls in 2004 and created, wrote and executive-produced as well as acted as a lead character on the very popular show 30 Rock, which saw 139 episodes. Those are two big things from Fey’s career away from Saturday Night Live. She has also appeared in comedy movies like Wine Country, Sisters, Date Night, Baby Mama and Admission, among others, and worked as creator and producer for many shows. She was also playwright for Mean Girls, which was taken to Broadway in 2018. She’s co-hosted several award shows, and remains a popular voice in comedy, especially comedy of the more politically-edged side of things. One of the most successful talents in SNL history, undoubtedly.

6. Will Ferrell

The former Groundling went on to a very popular stint on SNL for many years. He would help bring SNL back to popularity during that time and became one of the most memorable faces in the show’s history. After Saturday Night Live, Ferrell etched a career as one of the zaniest comic actors, entering popular performances in films like Step Brothers, Anchorman, Elf, Old School, Daddy’s Home, Blades of Glory and countless more. He is one of the most recognisable actors in the world and has been for some time, so it’s impossible to ignore just how good he is. You may not like his style of comedy, but he has found massive success with it. It’s hard to bet against Ferrell and whatever he does in the future is more than likely going to be a hit.

5. Dan Aykroyd

I mean… it’s Dan Aykroyd, for goodness sake. He didn’t only write for Saturday Night Live, but, as we know, appeared in 76 episodes of the show in the late 70s. He would then go on to big things as one of the premier comedy actors of the 1980s, appearing in classics like Trading Places, Ghostbusters, Dragnet, The Great Outdoors and many others. In the 1990s he would do further comedy work on films like Tommy Boy, Nothing But Trouble, Coneheads and others. His career slowed down in the 00s, but he has still appeared in a lot of stuff over the years since the 90s ended. Evolution and Christmas with the Kranks to name a couple of decent ones. He has been announced to appear in the upcoming Ghostbusters: Afterlife, scheduled for release in 2021. Aykroyd has put in his time as a comedy performer for decades and is etched in the memory of film fans because of this.

4. Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Six or so years on SNL prepared Julia for an incredible career in acting, but little did we know just how successful she’d be. Going on to nine seasons of Seinfeld on which she played a main character, she won tons of awards and received massive recognition for her performance during the show’s lifetime. She would appear in 1989 in the classic Christmas comedy, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, sure… but post-SNL and post-Seinfeld she has done voice-work for Disney animation and acted in a wonderful and underrated indie drama called Enough Said back in 2013. A wonderful comedic actor, she is also very good in drama roles, and it’s always a joy to see her in film or on television. She is now working with Apple as a producer and actor for upcoming projects for the Apple TV+ platform. I have a feeling she will see more success in that avenue, also.

3. Adam Sandler

Billy Madison. Happy Gilmore. The Wedding Singer. The Waterboy. Little Nicky. Bulletproof. Airheads. Funny People. Uncut Gems. The Meyerowitz Stories. Is there much else to say? Sandler has delivered some of the most popular silly comedy films of the past few decades, even though he’s also brought us some absolute dross (Grown Ups 2, Jack and Jill, The Ridiculous 6). He was a riot on SNL, and he took many of those elements to his films, especially the early ones. Love him or hate him, he’s easily one of the most successful stories from Saturday Night Live.

2. Eddie Murphy

Choosing between Eddie being number one or number two on this list was hard. I landed here purely because I have much more of a connection with the top spots work, but Eddie has done some fantastic stuff, that’s undeniable. Following his run on SNL, Murphy went on to do a mass of classic comedies, from Trading Places, the Beverly Hills Cop series, Coming to America and 28 Hours, to popular blockbuster titles like The Nutty Professor and Dr. Dolittle. Even when the material wasn’t great in some of the big Hollywood pictures, he still brought us some terrific and more underrated films, like Bowfinger. He would put in a great performance in Dreamgirls, become an iconic animated Donkey in the Shrek series, and go old-school in Dolemite Is My Name. Eddie Murphy is one of those actors that everyone knows, that everyone loves a movie from, and who has become so well known that you almost forget he was an SNL guy. A legend.

1. Bill Murray

Bill Murray is one of the greatest comedy actors of all time. His work on SNL was terrific, but the stuff he went on to do afterwards is incredible. His career in film has resulted in some classic comedies and dramas. From Stripes to Ghostbusters to Scrooged in the 80s, to What About Bob?, Groundhog Day and Kingpin in the 90s, to The Royal Tenenbaums, Lost in Translation, The Life Aquatic and Fantastic Mr. Fox in the 00s, to Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel and St. Vincent in the 2010s, he has appeared in so many great movies. Saturday Night Live gave us so many wonderful actors, but Bill Murray just may be the diamond among them, the best of the brilliant bunch.


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