With the 40th anniversary celebration of Saturday Night Live coming up, we’re seeing a lot of listicles. Rolling Stone went to extremes, ranking nearly everyone who was ever in the cast.
The best part of the list is that it’s relatively snark-free. Some talented people just don’t get to show their best qualities on SNL. Robert Downey Jr., now a proven commodity in comedy, drama and action films, ranks dead last at No. 141. Randy Quaid (134) was caught in a disastrous season, as were Anthony Michael Hall (112), Janeane Garofalo (102) and Chris Elliott (103). They call Mark McKinney (104) a comedy star in his own right, though they forget to mention why. (Kids in the Hall, in case you were wondering.) It’s curious that they don’t mention the eventual success of Nancy Walls, David Koechner and Laura Kightlinger, all lumped together at 105-110. And Aidy Bryant surely deserves better than being tossed in with “the New Kids” at 81-92. (So does Pete Davidson, but at least it’s his first season.)
They also came up with some underrated people. Tim Kazurinsky (32) was a highlight of some otherwise dubious years. Ana Gasteyer (33) is nicely appreciated.
The choices get tough in the top 20. Every time I try to think of my ultimate SNL cast, I’m left with tough choices. I’m glad they gave Maya Rudolph (18) and Rachel Dratch (16) some respect, and it’s hard to argue against Chris Farley (15), Bill Hader (13), Will Ferrell (12), Dana Carvey (11), Gilda Radner (9), Amy Poehler (8), Phil Hartman (7), Bill Murray (6), Dan Aykroyd (5), Mike Myers (4), Eddie Murphy (2) or John Belushi (1). I might re-order them a little — Carvey and Hartman up, Belushi and Myers slightly down — but that’s nit-picking.
But all lists get a few things wrong. So here we go …
3. Tina Fey: If you combine writing and on-stage work, sure. No question she’s one of the most important people in SNL history. She was also very good on Weekend Update and as Sarah Palin. But strictly as a cast member, can she be ranked ahead of Carvey, Radner, Hartman, etc.? Probably not.
She was good as a host, though:
(Incidentally, that bit alone should’ve saved Noel Wells’ job. But I digress.)
10. Chevy Chase: Almost as good as he thought he was.
14. Kristen Wiig: Really talented, but my goodness, her recurring characters were grating.
17. Adam Sandler: No. Sure, he had some good characters, some of them more subtle than you might think (remember the old married couple of him and Chris Farley). But he deserves a lot of blame for the awful 1994-95 season, where he, Farley and David Spade tried and failed to fill the Phil Hartman void while Chris Elliott, Janeane Garofalo and Mark McKinney were criminally underused.
20. Al Franken: Another one whose writing contributions would put him high on a list of important people. But the original Franken-and-Davis sketches weren’t that great. Good for him for doing some fine Weekend Update appearances and Stuart Smalley, but that’s not enough for the Top 20.
24. Laraine Newman: Just didn’t leave that much of an impression.
27. David Spade: No. Just … no.
42. Don Novello: One Weekend Update character vaults you into the top 50?
45. Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Certainly went on to better things.
51. Pamela Stephenson: Seemed talented. What did she do on the show?
(Also: Paul Shaffer (56)??, Tom Davis (63))
26. Jan Hooks: At the very least, switch her with Newman. I will occasionally say “I am a barfly” for the rest of my life.
28. Seth Meyers: I’d have to say he was the best Weekend Update host. And he had some terrific sketch work.
49. Darrell Hammond: Another of those great utility players like Hartman and Hader.
76. Julia Sweeney: No, she didn’t spend “most of her time playing Pat,” and no, Pat wasn’t an awful character. Better than most of Wiig’s characters.
94. Cheri Oteri: Hell no.
95: Chris Kattan: Such as Mango. And Mr. Peepers, one of the great physical characters on the show.
98. Bobby Moynihan: Not big on recurring characters outside Update, but not the one-note guy they’re implying.
135. Norm Macdonald: Pretty good in sketches and perhaps too fearless on Weekend Update.
138. Victoria Jackson: In real life, she’s practically a socio-religious cult member. On SNL, she was a versatile cast member who didn’t mind making fun of herself.
139. Jim Breuer: Really? Don Novello’s way up there for doing Guido Sarducci, and Breuer gets no respect for the Joe Pesci Show and “Goat Boy”?
OTHER STUFF I’VE NOTICED TODAY
– SNL is also getting an app.
– Loved Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. “I’ve been perusing the Internet and … um … did I die?”
– Franklin Graham … doesn’t … get it.
– Good Onion piece today on swimming with the Miami Dolphins.