My 10 Favorite Saturday Night Live Cast Members

Throughout 46 seasons, Saturday Night Live has had over 160 cast members. There are ones that are very memorable due to the show spotlighting more often than others. There are ones that were on so briefly most people don’t even know they were on the program (Ben Stiller, Damon Wayans, Robert Downey Jr.). Some cast members are incredibly overrated (looking in Kate McKinnon’s direction), while others are solid MVPs that never got the praise they deserved (did someone say, Ana Gasteyer?). Here are my top 10 favorite cast members (in order of joining the show) of Saturday Night Live with my thoughts on why I love them and a tiny sample of their work.

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TV Review – When was SNL Funny? Part 9 (of 9)

And so we come to the finale. This chunk of Saturday Night Live where they lost me. I’d watched at varying levels since I was a teenager, but by season 41, I just didn’t find it remarkably funny anymore. It certainly got worse when Trump became president, and the show pivoted into the most shallow critique of him, not on policy ever but instead on what a meanie he was or mocking his hair. Those sort of pointless jokes signals a lack of perspective, in my opinion, a writing staff that has been declawed or never had any, to begin with. All the while, the show made sure to hold up people like Jeff Bezos as heroic and pen jokes for Update criticizing citizen-led protests against Amazon warehouses. SNL affirmed its place as a comedy for the bourgeoisie.

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TV Review – When Was SNL Funny Part 8 (of 9)

Saturday Night Live was never a controversial show. If anyone took offense to the comedy being presented, then they have to be one of the most sheltered people on the planet. You can feel the punches being pulled at every turn when it comes to politics. Or when they want to take jabs, it’s entirely superficial rather than writing clever political comedy (see everything Armando Iannucci has done). The 2010s were, for me, the sign that SNL was becoming a piece of processed cheese, it looked okay, but you weren’t craving it. The people involved were always much funnier outside the show than in it. The perfect example is 2011’s Bridesmaids, which showed Kristin Wiig being much more entertaining than I ever found her on SNL.

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TV Review – When Was SNL Funny Part 7 (of 9)

Saturday Night Live changed in some subtle cosmetic ways, but it didn’t really do much in terms of content. You had the same recurring character sketches and one-off bits, with those often tucked away in the show’s latter half. Commercial parodies would usually be played after the host’s opening monologue with a digital short after a musical guest. Weekend Update came in the middle of the show, and this is just the formula the show continues to this day. Season 31 was the first year the feed was changed from video to digital, leading to the show being presented in a widescreen format.

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TV Review – When Was SNL Funny? Part 6 (of 9)

In the 2000s, Saturday Night Live would find its groove and pretty much never leave it up to the present day. There would be few significant cast shake-ups with a steady in and out every season, with most cast members staying put. I think this era and what follows may have some of the longest tenures ever recorded. one performer, in particular, is pushing for 20 years at the moment. There are some great moments in these episodes, but it continues on with most sketches being fine or terrible. This is also the Fallon era which is…one of my least favorite periods.

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TV Review – When Was SNL Funny? Part 5 (of 9)

In watching episodes from all forty-six seasons of Saturday Night Live, I’ve come up with the theory that there are multiple shows with that title airing in that time slot. The original cast (1975-80) was the first show; from 1980-86, there were constant attempts to retool the program. Finally, in 1986, the show was rebooted and stayed in that form until around 1995. Then from 1995 to possibly the present day, we’ve had a very consistent, though increasingly bland network brand under the name Saturday Night Live. These eras are so distinct in tone and style that it’s hard to say they are the same show.

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TV Review – When Was SNL Funny? – Part 4 (of 9)

Lorne Michaels apparently saw it was time to inject new blood into Saturday Night Live, starting with the sixteenth season. He’d had a fantastic four years of a consistent cast; many performers are absolute icons when the show is discussed. This is the moment where SNL begins to become a brand. I don’t think it fully realizes that until the end of the 1990s, but it’s clear NBC sees this as a critical piece of their late-night line-up instead of what the show was like through most of the 1980s, a deadweight.

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TV Review – When Was SNL Funny? Part 3 (of 9)

Saturday Night Live was at a crossroads by 1985. Dick Ebersol’s four-year run had ended in shambles with a constant reshuffling and discarding of cast members. The 1984-85 season was actually Ebersol’s most successful, but it wasn’t a ratings winner. In preparation for the next year, Ebersol proposed making the majority of the show’s content pre-taped segments sort of undermining the whole Live part of the title. NBC said no, and the show was on the verge of cancellation. Lorne Michaels was brought back along with Al Franken and Tom Davis as producers. Jim Downey (the debate moderator from Billy Madison) was made head writer.

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TV Review – When Was SNL Funny? Part 2 (of 9)

1980 began an extraordinarily difficult period for Saturday Night Live. The plan was for showrunner Lorne Michaels to step away from the program and promote writer Al Franken into the top spot. However, NBC President Fred Silverman passed on this after Franken delivered a monologue on Weekend Update near the end of the fifth season titled “A Limo for a Lame-O.” This piece involved Franken cracking jokes about Silverman being responsible for poor ratings on NBC programs during his tenure, and people were actually very shocked at how mean Franken was. I don’t know if this was intentional self-sabotage, but it basically sealed the deal that Franken was out. Silverman gave the job to Jean Doumanian, who had been an associate producer under Michaels. But things were not settled in any way, and the next five years would be chaotic.

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TV Review – When Was SNL Funny? Part 1 (of 9)

Since 1980 in the United States, there has been an unending argument that will likely never have a definitive solution. It is centered around when the late-night comedy show Saturday Night Live was actually good. For Boomers, they reminisce about the 70s original cast, Gen Xers might cite the mid-1990s with Sandler & Farley, while Millennials point to Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader. Most people agree the early to mid-1980s is a garbage fire (more on that in a later post). I wanted to determine when SNL was “good,” so I needed to watch samples from all 46 seasons to determine where the funny was.

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