20 Of The Greatest 'Saturday Night Live' Characters Ever!
April 9th, 2014 11:00am EDT
It's difficult to believe that there have been 39 seasons of "Saturday Night Live." The first show aired on October 11, 1975, under the original title "NBC's Saturday Night" and has run consecutively ever since. Many famous faces have graduated from this stellar cast of performers, comics and writers and so have many of their characters. Putting together a list that spans so many talents and decades is like picking your favorite child, so let's just say that these are the 20 greatest characters "so far", 'cause as is with the case of "SNL" characters are always evolving and changing. Who knows what greatness this "Saturday Night" may bring?
1. Roseanne Roseannadanna
Gilda Radner was one of the most expressive female comedienne's ever on television. She could make you chuckle first with her facial expressions, and only then did you fall down laughing with her delivery of a one-liner. She was "Weekend Update's" consumer affairs reporter who gave curt and opinionated editorial replies to current issues. Roseanne was crash and deadpan, based on a former anchorwoman on Eyewitness News in New York. Rose Ann Scamardella.
2. Wayne Campbell and Linda Richman
From the opening bars of the intro tune to the cable access show "Wayne's World," viewers of "SNL" knew they were in for something unique. Wayne Campbell (Mike Meyers) was a metal head with a heart and he hosted the show with his timid friend Garth (Dana Carvey). Meyers and Carvey were so over-the-top in their characterizations of these two lovable meatheads that viewers couldn't wait for their segments to air. On the flip side, Meyers was superb in his characterization of his mother-in-law, also Linda Richman. The character of Richman hosted a television show called, "Coffee Talk", where she extolled the virtues of Barbra Streisand. It was one of the funniest bits ever made for the show and stars clamored to be included in the fun.
3. Church Lady
"Isn't that special!" was the tagline to every Church Lady segment, starring Dana Carvey in a pious goof of a highly religious older woman. Church Lady interviewed her subjects in a church a-la "Tonight Show" format. When she didn't agree to the answer to one of her many pointed religious questions, she would invariably remark, "Who could have done this, could it be (camera close-up to her face) SATAN?" Carvey broke so many rules (and a couple of set pieces) with this popular weekly bit, that always ended with the unique and comical church lady dance.
Bill Hader was always a welcome sight to Weekend Update segments as the unpredictable Stefon, the New York City nightlife correspondent for the show. The character of Stefon knew all about New York and recommended the most bizarre places with the most illegal goings-on for the casual New York tourist. Hader almost always broke character midway through the segment, to the delight of WU anchor, Seth Meyers. In Hader's last formal appearance as an "SNL" cast member, Stefon won the heart of Meyers, whom he had always loved, and they married in a quickie wedding ceremony.
Mike Myers played "Dieter", the German talk show host of the fictional "Sprockets" who was bored by everything and everyone around him. Dressed all in black with slicked hair and wire-rimmed glasses, Dieter could have cared less who was sitting across from him. All he wanted to do was finish the interview and ask the celeb of the week, "Do you want to touch my monkey?" (Klaus, the monkey, was seated on a platform near Dieter.) At the end of each show, Dieter exclaimed, "Now, we dance!" and would commence with weird expressionist dancing.
6. The Coneheads
One of the original recurring skits on the first seasons of "SNL", The Coneheads were characters from another planet who were trying to assimilate themselves to Earth culture. The Coneheads were Dan Aykroyd as father Beldar, Jane Curtin as mother Prymaat, and Laraine Newman as daughter Connie. When anyone would ask where they were from, the three would reply, "France." Among their strange idiosyncrasies, the Coneheads would rub their cones together as a sign of affection and make a bizarre noise.
7. The Californians
It was one of the best parodies of a daytime soap opera ever portrayed on "SNL." "The Californians" was an ensemble cast of characters who played parodies of the worst types of California residents imaginable. From their overly-tanned skin to their beach blond wigs and valley accents, The Californians made being over the top so good, particularly when the music would build to a crescendo and one of the characters would look directly into the camera, as any respectable soap opera would.
8. Blues Brothers
Originally conceived as a sketch by Dan Akroyd, The Blues Brothers morphed into a life all their own. Alongside John Belushi, the band was also modeled on Aykroyd's experience with Canada's Downchild Blues Band. The Blues Brothers were never in formal skits. Rather, they would just come out with their band and sing blues songs, dressed in matching dark suits, ties, fedoras and black ray-ban sunglasses. The Blues Brothers eventually spawned two movies and millions of imitators. The duo continued to perform as Jake and Elwood Blues respectively until Belushi's death. His brother, James, has since taken over the role his brother made infamous.
9. Opera Man
Adam Sandler scored big portraying the unflappable Opera Man, who would sing his entire sketch. No matter what the topic, Opera Man would have a witty opera-like reply. Dressed in a tuxedo with a large red cape and bob hairdo, Sandler brought laughs to the Weekend Update desk and could hardly contain himself as he sang his news stories in Italian and later, as his character grew in popularity, English.
10. Junice Merrell
As one of the singing sisters on "The Lawrence Welk Show," Junice Merrell was definitely the odd one out of the bunch. Portrayed to perfection by the incomparable Kristen Wiig, The Merrell sisters were from The Finger Lakes in New York. Poor Junice had long, skinny arms, tiny hands and a wide forehead She also had a cracking voice, where every word sounds like a whine. Most of all, she said very odd and inappropriate things.
11. Buckwheat/Gumby/Mr. Robinson
Oh Eddie Murphy, what you brought to "SNL" was one of the greatest gifts, unpredictability. We just never knew what was going to come out of your mouth! Some of the funniest characters of the 80's began with you, from Buckwheat to Gumby to Mr. Robinson. Buckwheat was so unpredictable, so funny, it took everything we knew about the beloved Little Rascals character and turned it on its head. As Gumby, you added the effective, "I'm Gumby dammit!" to prove a point. Mr. Robinson lived in the projects, dodging bullets and running from the cops, something Mr. Rogers, who it was based on, would never do. And we loved you for it!
12. Fr. Guido Sarducci
Father Guido Sarducci first appeared on "SNL" in 1978 portrayed by Don Novello, also a writer for the show. Sarducci was a chain-smoking priest with tinted eyeglasses, who worked as gossip columnist and rock critic for the Vatican newspaper. Most of his appearances on SNL were on Weekend Update, chain-smoking and being as inappropriate as any man of the cloth could possibly be. Sarducci was one of the most lampooned characters of the show's early years.
13. Ed Grimley
Martin Short was a prominent member of "SCTV" before he was recruited to "SNL" and he brought the iconic character of Ed Grimley with him. Grimley was a hopeless cause, with his checkered shirt, armpit high pants and slicked back unruly hair. His hyperactive persona, coupled with his obsession with "Wheel of Fortune" and its host Pat Sajak, made him the most lovable nerd in the show's history. Oh yeah, he could play a mean triangle too!
Created and portrayed by Julia Sweeney, Pat was an androgynous character who never quite let you know if he/she was a boy or girl. Rather, Pat usually answered with ambiguous answers that never revealed the truth. Pat was an overweight character with short, curly black hair who wore glasses and a blue western-style shirt with tan slacks. To portray the character, Sweeney wore no makeup, but overdid her eyebrows to hide any gender clues. Sweeney later revealed that Pat came to be when she attempted to play a male character in a sketch but looked unconvincing.
This fan favorite sketch was a parody of the series MacGyver. It starred Will Forte as special operations agent MacGruber. His mission each episode? To deactivate a bomb. Sounds simple, but simple-minded MacGruber was continually distracted by those surrounding him, allowing the bomb to detonate and kill both MacGruber and his associates. MacGruber's father was MacGyver and his grandmother was portrayed by Betty White.
16. Sarah Palin
"SNL" will always be known for its political satire, so when Alaska Governor Sarah Palin came on the scene, Tina Fey took a stab at portraying the dimwitted vice-president elect. Her portrayal became comedy gold, as Fey looked and sounded so much like Palin that many people thought Fey was the real VP candidate. It was a coup for the show to actually have the real Sarah Palin as a guest-star to work alongside Fey in one of the most memorable mash-ups in the show's history. With a wink and a "you betcha!" Fey went down in the comedy books for her dead-on characterization of the woman who would be VP,
17. Hanz and Franz
In a clear rip-off of Arnold Schwarzenegger during his bodybuilding days, Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon hosted a weekly bit called "Pumping Up With Hanz and Franz." In homage to Schwarzenegger, the only standout effects on the set were life-size cutouts of the now-actor during his bodybuilding days. Most of the sketches consisted of Hanz and Franz telling the "girlie men" in the audience how they were going to "pump you up!" and how their prowess was better than most everyday men. The show even had Arnold himself appear in one sketch to ridicule his "cousins" for being weak.
18. Samberg and Timberlake's "The Lonely Island"
SNL always found a way to work a digital short into the show, a way to air pre-taped segments and allow for costume/set changes on the show. Although always entertaining, these digital shorts elevated to an entirely new level once Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake began starring in them as two smooth, albeit perverted, operators, "The Lonely Island." Songs like, "D**k in a box," "Motherlover" and "3-Way" put this raunchy duo on the map and gave Timberlake his first Creative Arts Emmy win for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics.
19. Fernando Lamas
With the departure of Lorne Michaels from 1980 to 1985, "SNL" was in turmoil. In order to up the ratings, the producers brought in comedy names such as Billy Crystal, who had gained success as a television and movie star. Although Crystal brought a new energy to the show, he was truly known for one memorable skit, his characterization of Fernando Lamas as the host of "Fernando's Hideaway.". With the tagline, "You look marvelous" and "It's better to look good than to feel good, and I do," Crystal took what could be a one-note character and ran it to amazing "SNL" success.
20. Barry Gibb
Jimmy Fallon, known for breaking character during most of his time on the series, created a gold mine as Barry Gibb and the host of the "Barry Gibb Talk Show". As Gibb, Fallon sang his way through his questioning and yelled at each of his guests because it was, "his show" and he could do what he wanted. With the addition of Justin Timberlake on occasion as brother Robin Gibb, Fallon found his niche as a celebrity impersonator. The most memorable moment? When the real Barry Gibb made a cameo with Fallon and Timberlake to close out the segment.
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