I just watched the SNL 40th Anniversary show for a second time and think it holds up. Sure, there was easily an hour that could have been cut for more sketches, but I guess we should feel lucky we got as many as we did.
Rolling Stone has a list of all SNL cast members throughout the history of the show ranked from best to worst. It's a good list that's surprisingly agreeable to me. There are notable exceptions, of course (Dennis Miller would drop from 34 to the low 80's for me since I never found him very funny)... but I'm onboard right up until the top 20, which Rolling Store ranks thusly...
- John Belushi
- Eddie Murphy
- Tina Fey
- Mike Meyers
- Dan Aykroyd
- Bill Murray
- Phil Hartman
- Amy Poehler
- Gilda Radner
- Chevy Chase
- Dana Carvey
- Will Ferrell
- Bill Hader
- Kristen Wiig
- Chris Farley
- Rachel Dratch
- Adam Sandler
- Maya Rudolph
- Jon Lovitz
- Al Franken
Here's what my Top 20 would look like...
- Eddie Murphy. Nobody makes me laugh like Eddie Murphy. Nobody. His characters from SNL (and beyond) are easily the most memorable of the lot.
- Phil Hartman. One of my all-time favorite comedians easily jumps to number two. His versatility on SNL was mind-blowing in a way that few cast members could hope to approach.
- Tina Fey. Her Sarah Palin impression is enough to put her in the top three... but she was so much more than that. Hands-down my favorite Weekend Update anchor.
- Will Ferrell. Another performer whose near-limitless ability to create new characters makes him among the best cast members of all time.
- Bill Murray. One of those rare performers who just gets better and better and better with age. My favorite of the original cast, Bill was amazing on SNL... and even better after.
- Dan Aykroyd. Within a whisker of Bill Murray as my favorite original cast members. Few performers can deliver a line as well as Aykroyd for maxium comedic effect.
- Amy Poehler. I don't even know where to start. She is beyond fearless.
- Chevy Chase. As a physical comedian, few comedians can reach Chevy's level. This made him a total standout from the original pack, and one of my favorite comedians of all time.
- Kristen Wiig. She has the uncanny ability to disappear into characters in a way that really impresses me.
- Jason Sudeikis. Painfully underrated. Any sketch he appeared in, he dominated.
- Dana Carvey. Another comedian who has a limitless capacity for unique characters. He should have never left SNL, because no other venue utilized his huge talent like they did.
- Bill Hader. When Hader first showed up, I was not impressed. But he kept plugging away and eventually became a favorite. He has some kind of gravitas that grounds his characters in a very real way... no matter how outlandish.
- John Belushi. Don't get me wrong... I loved Belushi... but number one on Rolling Stone's list? Maybe it's because I'm not a huge fan of brute-force comedy that I've dropped him down my list... but his characters lack the subtlety that I need to laud comedic genius.
- Jimmy Fallon. Um... yeah... Barry. Gibb. Talk. Show. I know a lot of people don't like Jimmy at all, but I'm not one of them. I always thought he was a solid performer on the show, and the fact that he all-too-often laughed at his own jokes did nothing to diminish this for me.
- Will Forte. Coming in at 52 on the Rolling Stone list is about what I expected. Nobody seems tog give Forte the recognition I feel he deserves. The man was MacGruber for crying out loud!
- Maya Rudolph. Extremely capable performer that managed to totally nail characters that I put out of reach for her. Always happy to have my expectations exceeded.
- Gilda Radner. Gilda was a much-beloved performer whom I adored... but she just didn't have as many memorable characters to me as cast members I ranked higher. Baba Wawa, Rosanne Rosannadanna, and Lisa Loopner are about all I can think of off the top of my head.
- Chris Parnell. Another cast member that I feel gets overlooked more often than he should. Parns is hugely talented, and filled bit parts that would have killed sketches in lesser hands.
- Rachel Dratch. I love Dratch and have always been impressed at her incredible capacity for filling critical roles in many, many sketches... but as a lead character? We have what... Debbie Downer? I honestly can't think of another memorable character that would push her higher on my list. Perhaps I could give her Zazu from the Boston Teens sketches, but that was as much Fallon as her.
- Chris Rock. One of my all-time favorite comedians should be ranking much, much higher on this list... but I never felt the writers gave him enough to work with. His being short-changed week after week was a real disservice to SNL fans, and I was actually relieved when he left SNL because you got to see more of him.
And that's a wrap. Here's hoping Eddie Murphy guest-hosts the show before too long.
The only time I laughed when reading the Rolling Stone list was when they quoted “Kill My Landlord.” I could hear Eddie Murphy saying it.
So, why did Eddie Murphy even show up at the reunion? He held back on that tremendous talent with a less than two-minute commentary.
I have few issues with everybody’s rankings, but would rate Norm McDonald much higher. He did a great Letterman, Burt Reynolds, and Bob Dole, plus was quite daring and funny on Weekend Update. His undoing may have been his occasional camera stare-downs.
Dave – thanks for putting Phil Hartman at #2. One of the most underrated alumni of SNL.
And for what it’s worth, my overall take of SNL: most of the time the skits are not funny, but when they are, they are better than anything on TV. A national icon, indeed.