In its 36 seasons, Saturday Night Live has seen a ton of recurring characters. While many of these characters are wholly forgettable, there are plenty others that manage to make us laugh no matter how many times we see them. While choosing the all-time best SNL characters is exceptionally difficult (and very subjective), we think the following 18 candidates are a pretty good representation of the show.
Photo credit: YouTube/NBC
18 The Church Lady (Dana Carvey)
Could it be…Satan!?!? Dana Carvey was a master of character acting, and his uber religious Church Lady was certainly one of his funnier personas.
17 Debbie Downer (Rachel Dratch)
Even though Debbie Downer was nothing more than a one-note character, that doesn’t stop her from being consistently hilarious. Rachel Dratch’s facial expressions and deadpan delivery really helped this sketch stay fresh. Of course, waiting to see how long it was going to take Jimmy Fallon to crack was also part of the fun.
16 Harry Caray (Will Ferrell)
“Hey Norm! If you were a hot dog, would you eat yourself?” Obviously, Will Ferrell has plenty of memorable characters that could have made this list. However, it’s Ferrell’s whacky, over-the-top take on Cubs announcer Harry Caray that earns his accolades from us.
15 Junice Merill (Kristen Wiig)
You may not remember the name, but you surely remember the baby arms. Kristen Wiig takes a classic Lawrence Welk Show and turns it into something incredibly different with her portrayal as the black sheep of the singing Merill sisters.
14 New York Governor David Paterson (Fred Armisen)
Poking fun at a blind man can be difficult territory. Not so for Armisen, who deftly plays the outspoken and cross-eyed New York governor. Whether he’s spouting hate-speech about New Jersey or walking in front of the camera after his segment is over, this is one of the best SNL characters of the past few years.
13 Spartan Spirit Cheerleaders (Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri)
Will Ferrell makes the list again along with co-star Cheri Oteri thanks to the overly peppy B-string Spartan Spirit Cheerleaders (a.k.a. Craig and Ariana). While their banter is always hilarious, it’s their hilariously stupid cheers that keep us coming back for more.
12 Beldar Conehead (Dan Aykroyd)
In the early years of SNL, the Coneheads sketches emerged as one of the longest running and most well received among viewers. At the head of the alien family (or are they from Remulak – a small town in France?), was Dan Akyroyd.
11 Bill Clinton (Darrell Hammond)
Darrell Hammond is an unsung hero of Saturday Night Live. He may have never gone on to major movie fame, but he clearly is one of the most skilled character actors to ever grace the SNL screen. One of his most beloved impressions is that of the fun-loving Bill Clinton.
10 The Continental (Christopher Walken)
The world rejoices when Christopher Walken stops by to host SNL. During his many, many appearances, The Continental inevitably returns to give the world a glimpse at how a self-proclaimed lady’s man fumbles through a date to inevitably spend the night alone.
9 Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer (Phil Hartman)
Starring one of the most beloved SNL cast members of all time and written by one of the best SNL writers of all time (Jack Handey), Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer is just the right amount of ridiculous.
8 Stefon (Bill Hader)
Bill Hader has emerged as one of the better character actors among the current cast members of Saturday Night Live. Perhaps the best example of this is Weekend Update’s City Correspondent, Stefon.
7 Bill Swerkski’s Super Fans (Chris Farley, Mike Myers, etc.)
“Da Bears!” Perpetually sitting at a barroom table piled high with spare ribs, Polish sausage and beer, Bill Swerkski’s Super Fans were the epitome of Chicago stereotypes. Their topics of discussion inevitably focused on Chicago sports, and whether or not Mike Ditka could beat up a hurricane.
6 Astronaut Jones (Tracy Morgan)
Tracy Morgan’s tongue-in-cheek portrayal in this parody of low-budget sci-fi TV shows is one of his greatest hits while on SNL. From the catchy theme song to his womanizing one-liners, this is definitely an SNL classic.
Astronaut Jones by djgreenuts
5 The Samurai (John Belushi)
No Saturday Night Live list would be complete without the legendary John Belushi. Think back on Belushi’s SNL career, and his Samurai Delicatessen sketch is likely to be the first thing to come to mind. If the sketch is ahead of your time, then you owe it to yourself to watch it below.
4 Sean Connery – Jeopardy
Who would have ever thought one of the best TV rivalries would occur on a parody of Jeopardy? Sean Connery’s brutally defiant actions towards Will Ferrell’s Alex Trebek make this sketch a classic (as do Connery’s hilarious mispronunciations of answer categories).
3 Sarah Palin (Tina Fey)
“You betcha!” Tina Fey’s spot-on impersonation and uncanny resemblance to Sarah Palin helped make Saturday Night Live relevant again during the last presidential election. Thank goodness she decided to take on the role even after she decided to leave the show.
2 Matt Foley (Chris Farley)
Matt Foley is Chris Farley’s crowning achievement on Saturday Night Live. Given his innumerable great moments, that’s saying a lot. Though the character only appeared a few times, Farley’s explosive characterization and great physical comedy make him forever memorable.
1 Wayne and Garth (Mike Myers and Dana Carvey)
Wayne’s World is one of the few SNL sketches to successfully make the jump to the big screen. This fact is just a testament to how rich and rewarding the actual sketches proved to be. From their babe-alicious top ten lists all the way down to their ridiculous catchphrases (Schwing!), Wayne and Garth deserve a top spot on this list.
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