SNL's Most Successful Cast Members
Saturday Night Live has served as a launching pad for numerous comic performers over the years. Many of the show’s alumni have turned their success on the show into even larger success in movies and other TV shows.
Out of all the performers ever featured as regular cast members on Saturday Night Live, those discussed here have been the most successful. That doesn’t mean they were all breakout stars on NBC's hit sketch show, however. In fact, a few of these performers gloriously failed on SNL before finding success elsewhere.
Dan Aykroyd was a cast member on Saturday Night Live from 1975 to 1979. Perhaps one of the most beloved sketches he appeared in during this time was with John Belushi as The Blues Brothers, a pair of blues musicians. In fact, Aykroyd helped turn the sketch into an actual performing band.
Chevy Chase was one of the original cast members on the first season of Saturday Night Live. He was the first to host Weekend Update, the satire news segment that has carried on as a key part of the show ever since.
Eddie Murphy was a cast member on Saturday Night Live from 1980 to 1984. He created several popular characters during his run on the show, including a grown-up version of Buckwheat from The Little Rascals, Mr. Robinson and his own unique take on the Gumby character.
Kristen Wiig joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 2005 and stayed on the show for 135 episodes until 2012. She had numerous popular characters and sketches on the show, including Gilly, Judy Grimes and an anxious cashier at Target. She eventually became one of the show's most popular cast members.
Mike Myers was a cast member on Saturday Night Live from 1989 until 1995. During his run on the show, he was best known for several comedic roles, including Simon, Wayne from Wayne's World and as one of the Chicago superfans. Myers was able to turn his character of Wayne from Wayne's World into success on the big screen as well.
Jimmy Fallon considered it the fulfillment of a lifelong dream when he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1998. He remained on the show for six seasons until 2004. During his run on the show, Fallon hosted Weekend Update in addition to appearing in sketches. He became famous — and sometimes criticized — for his inability to contain his laughter during sketches.
Seth Meyers joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 2001, but over the years, he also worked as part of the writing team. He became the co-head writer of the show with Tina Fey beginning in January of 2006. He shared the Weekend Update hosting duties with Amy Poehler that year as well.
Jenny Slate was not a cast member on Saturday Night Live for very long. She impersonated several celebrities during her time on the show, including Kristen Stewart and Lady Gaga. Her contract wasn’t renewed after her one season on the show.
Before she spent her time dancing poorly as Elaine on Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus was a cast member on Saturday Night Live from 1982 until 1985. She played several recurring characters, including a televangelist with the name April May June, Darla in parody sketches of The Little Rascals and Patti Lynn Hunnsacker.
Larry David was a writer for Saturday Night Live from 1984 until 1985. However, he only wrote one sketch that made it to air, and he quit after one season. It was after the brief stint on SNL that David really achieved success. He teamed up with Jerry Seinfeld in 1989 to create the show that became known as Seinfeld.
Robert Downey Jr.
Before he took on the role of Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Robert Downey Jr. was briefly a cast member of Saturday Night Live. The show attempted to focus on the youth movement in 1985 and brought on several new, young cast members, including Downey Jr. When the ratings sagged and the critics complained, the future Iron Man and several others were cut.
Anthony Michael Hall
Anthony Michael Hall joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1985. He was only 17 years old at the time, and he remains the youngest comedian to this day to be a cast member on the show. He only lasted one season, but it didn’t matter. He went on to achieve success on the big screen in several Hollywood films.
Amy Poehler joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in the 2001-02 season after being recruited to join the cast by Tina Fey. Starting in the 2004-05 season, she began to co-host Weekend Update along with Fey. In addition to hosting that segment, she was also a writer for the show. Perhaps her best-known celebrity impression on the show was of Hilary Clinton.
Chris Rock joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1990 as one of several new comedians hired that season. Along with Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider and David Spade, he is considered one of the "Bad Boys of SNL" that was part of the team during this period. Rock didn't last long on SNL, however.
John Belushi is one of the most fondly remembered comedians in Saturday Night Live's history. He was a member of the original cast in 1975 and remained on the show until 1979. Some of Belushi's most famous contributions include playing one of the Blues Brothers, playing a Samurai and nailing celebrity impersonations of Henry Kissinger, Beethoven and Captain Kirk.
Bill Murray joined the cast of Saturday Night Live for the show's second season in 1976. He remained on the show for three seasons before leaving in 1980. During his time on the show, he portrayed several successful characters, including Nick the lounge singer and a socially inept young man named Todd.
David Spade joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1990 along with several other new members. Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and Rob Schneider were other soon-to-be huge names that started at the same time. He left the show in 1996 after appearing in 70 episodes.
Most of Sarah Silverman's career success came after her very brief stint on Saturday Night Live. She was a cast member during the 1993-94 season and also worked on the writing team. Not a single one of the sketches she wrote made it to air, and she was fired after only one season. She did get to perform in a couple of sketches, however.
Joan Cusack is not particularly known for her work on Saturday Night Live, where she was only a cast member from 1985 to 1986. Instead, she is more recognizable for her film and TV roles, such as Sheila Jackson on Shameless. She has received five consecutive primetime Emmy award nominations for her performance on that show. During her time on SNL, she did celebrity impersonations of Queen Elizabeth, Jane Fonda and Brooke Shields.
Comedian Gilbert Gottfried was a member of the Saturday Night Live cast in 1980. Unlike the performances he is probably best known for, Gottfried did not perform on SNL using his trademark obnoxious voice. Maybe he should have, because he didn't appear in many sketches and only lasted 12 episodes on the show.
Adam Sandler joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1990 and quickly became one of the most popular comedians on the show. He was perhaps best known for the amusing songs he wrote and performed for skits. Some of the songs included the infamous Hanukkah Song and the Thanksgiving Song.
Chris Farley was one of the bad boys of SNL in the early to mid-90s. During his time on the show, he portrayed characters such as motivational speaker Matt Foley, one of the Chicago superfans and a female retail worker at the Gap.
Bill Hader had a long run on Saturday Night Live after joining the cast in 2005. He remained on the show until 2013 and received four Primetime Emmy Award nominations for his work. Some of the more famous characters he portrayed on the show include the Weekend Update correspondent Stefon as well as celebrity impersonations of Al Pacino, John Malkovich and Clint Eastwood.
Tina Fey began working for Saturday Night Live as a writer in 1997. She made the transition to performing in sketches starting in the year 2000 when she became a co-anchor of Weekend Update. She remained a key part of the writing team up until her departure in 2006.
Al Franken started as a writer on Saturday Night Live during the show's first season in 1975. He also performed in some sketches and portrayed the self-help guru Stuart Smalley. The character of Smalley was one of the more well-reviewed characters early in the show's history. When performing as Smalley, Franken repeated that he was "good enough, smart enough and people liked him" into a mirror.
Many fans of Saturday Night Live point to Will Ferrell's run on the show from 1995 until 2002 as one of the best periods in the show's history. Farrell played numerous popular characters in recurring sketches while on the show. His celebrity impersonations included George W. Bush, Harry Caray, Robert Goulet and Alex Trebek.
Phil Hartman performed on Saturday Night Live from 1986 until 1994. During his eight seasons as part of the cast, he mastered several celebrity impressions, including Frank Sinatra, Charlton Heston, Ronald Reagan and — perhaps his best-known impression — Bill Clinton.
Tracy Morgan joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1996 and remained on the show until 2003. While a member of the cast, he portrayed several memorable characters, including the wildlife enthusiast Brian Fellow and Astronaut Jones. After SNL, Morgan starred in his own sitcom called The Tracy Morgan Show, but it was canceled after one season.
Dennis Miller joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1985 after being discovered by Lorne Michaels at The Comedy Store. He was immediately slotted into the role of the anchor of Weekend Update. He left the show in 1991 and was replaced by Kevin Nealon in the role.
Andy Samberg joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 2005 and was one of the more popular performers up until his departure in 2012. He broke the mold a little bit, as many of his popular sketches and characters were pre-recorded music videos as opposed to live sketches.