With almost 50 seasons in the bag, Saturday Night Live has been on TV almost as long as TV has.
So it is truly a testament to acting and writing when a character leaves a lasting impression. All of us have our favorite era of the series. So the best SNL characters ever will include skits dating back to the ’70s. And even today, the current crop of players are bringing memorable roles to life.
What makes Saturday Night Live so special?
In short, everything. But you probably won’t accept that as an answer, huh? Well, let’s try to peg down exactly why this show has lasted decades. There are a few major reasons.
- It launched superstar careers – Think about your favorite comic actors. Chances are a healthy percentage started their careers on this sketch comedy show.
- It broke all the rules – When SNL started, there was literally nothing else like it on TV. Even at midnight. And even when copycats tried, they couldn’t duplicate the success.
- It’s live – We might take it for granted, but there is a big risk in airing a 90-minute weekly live show. And many memorable moments prove the format can keep things interesting.
- It’s pretty cheap – As networks try to tighten their belts, SNL looks even better. The show produces endless viral clips while keeping production costs down.
Okay already, what are the best SNL characters ever?
Fine, we’ll get to the point. There are a few factors we took into consideration. First of all, the skits had to be funny. The characters themselves have to be fully developed, i.e., they had to be in more than a few episodes. Finally, they must be memorable and unique, not mere goofballs (as great as they are). We’ll go pretty much in chronological order to keep things diplomatic.
1. Roseanne Rosannadanna
Gilda Radner was a stand-out character actor in a stand-out founding cast. She set the standard for what would be a groundbreaking sketch comedy show. And along the way she created one of the best SNL characters ever. Actually, she created a few. Roseanne Rosannadanna was billed as a consumer affairs correspondent on the earliest Weekend Update segments. In reality, viewers soon learned to expect her to veer wildly into some hilarious rants. Her catchphrases and mannerisms have inspired imitations to this day.
2. Mr. Robinson
Who doesn’t love Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood? It took Eddie Murphy’s comedic genius to poke fun at that classic children’s program. And he did it in a way that brought attention to some real social issues of the time. This is one of the biggest and brightest stars to grace the show. Even though any number of his creations could be among the best SNL characters ever, this is our favorite.
3. The Master Thespian
Saturday Night Live alumni have poked fun at all types of people and professions. But actors making fun of actors might just take the cake. And nobody did it with more fake pomposity than Jon Lovitz. The way he played The Master Thespian proved he actually had acting chops. Nobody could play a role so over the top (and make it funny) without real skill. In other words, he created one of the best SNL characters ever through “ACTING!”
4. Matt Foley
Another Saturday Night Live talent who went too soon, Chris Farley still left fans with plenty of highlights. One was Matt Foley, who famously lived in a van down by the river. A character he invented, perfected in improv and brought to TV audiences was a riot. Few gags so frequently caused the rest of the cast to crack up. Sure, you might not want to hang out with him. But it’s hard to argue he’s not one of the best SNL characters ever.
5. The Ladies Man
We know, some SNL characters got super famous and had their own movie and sold out. Or whatever. We still think sex therapist Leon Phelps is the Tim Meadows’ best work on the show. And we liked him a lot! The Ladies Man worked on a combination of his swagger and catchphrases. But the audience was in on the joke when he gave absurd advice with the utmost sincerity. By the way, yes we watched the movie. A few times. And we’re not ashamed about it.
One of the more popular characters of the past decade is a decadent city correspondent Stefon. Like our first character, he came out during several Weekend Update installments. The bizarre and offbeat reviews he gave were so hilarious even he couldn’t stop laughing. But it was all part of the charm. And there’s no doubt fans in the future will consider Stefon one of the best SNL characters ever.
We love Saturday Night Live. Some of it more than others.
These characters might not represent the funniest moments of the series. But we think they show what the show is capable of producing. They are all instantly recognizable and showcase a performer’s best qualities. It’s like they were the roles these funny men and women were meant to play. And we’re happy to sit back and enjoy them all for decades to come.