Who were the Best SNL Cast Members?
You know what people like? Lists. Whether for remembering what to buy at the grocery store or reading Consumer Reports for a compilation of the best vacuum cleaners under $100 for 2016, we love lists. And if I do remember correctly, Shakespeare once suggested, “Give them what they like- good and hard!” Or perhaps that was P. T. Barnum? Or maybe I just overheard that on the set of a porn film. Either way, after the success of my recent blog ranking the top grunge bands of the 90’s (http://www.waitingfortoday.com/nirvana-is-overrated-the-official-list-of-best-grunge-bands/), I figured another top-10 list was definitely in order.
So I was watching Caddyshack last night. At first, I was going to write that I “must admit I was watching Caddyshack last night”, but you know what, fuck that: I was watching Caddyshack last night and I’m damn proud of it. Or perhaps, like my dog addressing his needs in the family living room, I just have no shame. The point is that I always marvel at the cast of that movie: Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Ted Knight, Rodney Dangerfield. And it got to me thinking, who were the former Saturday Night Live cast members who went on to the most inspired careers after they left the show? And me being me, I decided to rank them. So here we go….
But first, a short disclaimer and a few honorable mentions….
The disclaimer: I am not including some talented people whose stints on SNL were so short or inconsequential that most of us forget they were even on SNL: Robert Downey Jr., Christopher “But this amplifier goes to 11” Guest, Martin Short, Billy Crystal, and Anthony Michael Hall. Just kidding- Anthony Michael Hall isn’t making the list because he just plain sucked. He almost ruined The Breakfast Club, for crying out loud, and that movie was pure cinematic genius.
Honorable mentions: Chris Farley, Tina Fey, and Adam Sandler, Tracy Morgan, and Jimmy Fallon. Each of these people have a legitimate case to be made, but the entire body of work falls just a bit short.
And now, onto the list….Remember the criteria I used here was success after their time on SNL, not their contributions while on it….
10. Phil Hartman Most folks will never truly appreciate the full brilliance that was Phil Hartman because he was never the star of the show; he was always a role player who saw the bigger vision and was willing to play his part in it. Do you know how many voices he did, for example, on The Simpsons? The show has never been the same since his tragic murder by his wife in 1998.
9. Kristen Wiig Wiig is the only woman on the list, and I think this is a weighty comment on the glass ceiling that still exists in Hollywood. There have certainly been SNL cast members who were as funny and talented as their male counterparts and were every bit as crucial to the show’s success. Think Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Jan Hooks or Amy Poehler amongst them, but none of them have been given the iconic lead roles in film that most of the others on this list have turned into defining moments in their careers. And then Wiig came along and made Bridesmaids. Well done, Kristen, well done. The future of comedy looks a lot brighter with you in it…
8. Dan Ackroyd Although he was often the sidekick (Blues Brothers, Ghostbusters, Trading Places) to his even more talented SNL brethren, Ackroyd has been a part of some true classics.
7. Chris Rock Largely overlooked in the world of film just as he was too often overlooked while he was still on SNL, Chris Rock has instead made his name through stand-up comedy. In fact, I could easily argue that Chris Rock is the funniest man in America.
6. Chevy Chase Caddyshack, Vacation, Fletch. Enough said. Pretty much everything he has done since has stunk worse than Jim Belushi after an all-night bender, but those three classics alone fortify his place as a legend. To those that disagree, I have just four words: Be the ball, Danny.
5. Jim Belushi I keep telling the kids today that heroin and cocaine just don’t mix, but do they ever listen? Belushi apparently didn’t as he died from “speedballing” in 1982 at the far too young age of 33. Like Chris Farley, he was known for his manic energy that he juxtaposed with an almost Zen calmness to further the contrast. It was just this dichotomy that made his characters in Animal House and The Blues Brothers so enigmatic and hilarious. Alas, it was also what fueled Belushi’s enormous appetite for life, alcohol and drugs. What moments of genius were we deprived of by his premature death? Unfortunately, we will never know.
4. Mike Meyers He certainly has fizzled as of late. In fact, has anyone checked lately if Mike Meyers is, in fact, still living? For a while, he was supporting numerous franchises on his back (Wayne’s World, Austin Powers, Shrek), but his recent track record is looking a bit sparse. By the way, if you have never seen So I Married an Axe Murderer, watch it right now. It might be the funniest thing he has ever done. “Woman….Wo…man….She stole my heart and my cat….”
3. Eddie Murphy Be it stand-up, acting or voice work, Eddie Murphy is one unbelievably funny and talented dude. His comeback in recent years falls slightly short of the glory years of Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places, and Coming to America, but it really has been nice to see. Just don’t sing, Eddie, ok?
2. Will Ferrell Ok, how many Will Ferrell movie lines can you quote right now, be they from Ron Burgundy, Ricky Bobby, Buddy the Elf, or Frank the Tank, you know them all. When you then stop to really think how divergent and far-cast this assortment of characters really is, that’s when you truly appreciate the work of Will Ferrell. For a moment, I had him at #1, but how can you argue with…..
1. Bill Murray Yes, I could just have easily put Will Ferrell here, but Murray has likewise taken us to unimaginable places with an assortment of mismatched personalities in films such as Stripes, Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, and Groundhog Day. What distinguishes Murray is his ability to equally carry off the more subtle, nuanced roles of his more recent work, films such as Broken Flowers, Lost in Translation, and my favorite, The Royal Tannenbaums (actually he’s spot-on perfect in every Wes Anderson film). All that, and he makes great appearances at golf tournaments….
So what’s the best part of this list? After you’re done reading it, you can play 9 holes on it and then smoke it and get high out of your bejeezus….
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: in 1000 words or less every TUESDAY and FRIDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com