NBC’s sketch variety series Saturday Night Live has been going strong for over 40 years now. Several generations of comedy legends have started out as SNL cast members – John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Kristen Wiig, Will Ferrell, Dan Aykroyd, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Mike Myers, and many, many more – and it’s seen as a breeding ground for comic talent.
During their tenures, each truly great cast member will play at least one or two really memorable characters in a series of recurring sketches. So, here are The 10 Funniest Saturday Night Live Original Characters Ever, Ranked.
10 Blizzard Man
Andy Samberg’s character Blizzard Man is a hilarious satire of white rappers. He looks just like Vanilla Ice and his lyrics are even worse. Over the years, he was shown making terrible lyric suggestions to such legendary rappers as Ludacris, P. Diddy, 2 Chainz, T-Pain, and Common, and they always ended up collaborating with him, despite his awful ideas.
Samberg has always said that the key to spoofing rap is respecting it, and that’s on clear display here. The fact that the SNL writers got Robert De Niro to dress up in drag and play Blizzard Man’s mother was just the icing on the cake.
The best SNL characters seem to be based on obscure satirical targets. If something weird and specific forms the basis of a comedy character, then the character itself will turn out weird and specific, and that is what a comedy character needs to be. This was the case with MacGruber, Will Forte’s delightfully absurd skewering of MacGyver.
Just like MacGyver, MacGruber is constantly expected to deactivate ticking bombs with creative methods. However, unlike MacGyver, MacGruber always fails to successfully deactivate the bomb and it detonates, yet it never kills him. This is consistent with the kind of ‘80s action show that the sketches parodied, which would often bend the laws of physics.
8 Gene Frenkle
Despite appearing in just one sketch, Gene Frenkle became a Saturday Night Live legend, because that one sketch was one of the most memorable SNL sketches – and it might even be the best of all time. The whole sketch was built around a really obscure idea: there’s a cowbell in Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.”
There’s a whole fake episode of VH1’s Behind the Music built around Christopher Walken’s Bruce Dickinson requesting that the cowbell be used more and more. It ends with a tribute and obituary to the “late” Gene Frenkle that was reportedly so convincing that people offered condolences to Blue Oyster Cult for their loss.
Like Kate McKinnon in today’s cast, Bill Hader was the guy who stole every sketch and could play a wide range of characters. But the character that made him a star was Stefon, the New York City expert on Weekend Update who recommended weird nightclubs and had strange tastes.
Stefon was created by Hader and standup comic John Mulaney, who used to write for SNL back in the day. Everything about the character is hysterically absurd, from his father being David Bowie to his dog being called Bark Ruffalo. According to Hader, thanks to Stefon, Tom Cruise recognized him at the first table read for Tropic Thunder.
6 David S. Pumpkins
Tom Hanks’ David S. Pumpkins character started off as so weird and out-of-the-blue that it was hard to determine whether or not he was funny. But he was at least very interesting and curious, so he kept coming back. He was even given his own animated Halloween special. Comedy fans slowly caught on that this was, in fact, a hilarious character.
Writer Streeter Seidell, who co-created the character, has suggested the fact that David S. Pumpkins has no political affiliation while his first sketch aired in October 2016, right before the Presidential election, helped to fuel his popularity. This “Santa Claus for Halloween” was so weird and so harmlessly fun that he brought a divided America together very briefly.
5 The Blues Brothers
Being a variety show, each episode of Saturday Night Live features both comedic sketches and musical performances. The great thing about the Blues Brothers is that they can do both. They’re hilarious when they’re just talking to each other and they’re hilarious when they’re performing their music – but the music itself is great, too.
The characters were born out of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi’s shared love of the blues, so they play the musical segments with a respect for the traditions of the genre and an impeccable authenticity. Jake and Elwood Blues are easily two of SNL’s most legendary characters.
4 The Church Lady
We all know the kind of church-going Christian woman who thinks she’s better than everyone else because she goes to church, and Dana Carvey captured their smug attitude perfectly in the character of Enid Strict, better known simply as “the Church Lady.”
Catchphrases don’t always work well for comedy, but in certain cases, the repetition works brilliantly as the lines become funnier each time. This is the case with the Church Lady, whose catchphrases “Well, isn’t that special?!” and “How convenient!” and “Could it be…Satan?” It worked, thanks to Carvey’s delivery of each of the lines, which stopped them from ever getting old.
3 Debbie Downer
Played by the great Rachel Dratch, who also created her, Debbie Downer was a personification of the idiom of the same name, which refers to someone who brings down an otherwise positive conversation with something mind-numbingly negative. That’s what the character always did.
She’d mention something really sad – usually the rate of feline AIDS, the number one killer of domestic cats – and then the camera would close in on Dratch’s awkward facial expression with a hilarious “wah-wah” sound effect. It’s no wonder that the other actors in the Debbie Downer sketches would often break. The first one was included on TV Land’s list of the Top 100 Most Unexpected Moments in TV History.
2 Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar
Okay, so this is technically two characters, but you can’t have one without the other. They work well on their own, as shown by their individual subplots in the wildly popular movies that were based on their sketches, but they work spectacularly as a duo.
Mike Myers and Dana Carvey have terrific chemistry, and they captured the airy spirit of both slackers and metalheads perfectly. At first, Myers got some push-back when he pitched the characters to the other writers, because the comedic target was thought to be too obscure, but they ended up becoming a pair of SNL greats.
1 Matt Foley
Matt Foley, the thrice-divorced motivational speaker who lives “in a van down by the river,” was the character that made Chris Farley a star. He was created by Bob Odenkirk and there’s a timeless quality to the absurdism of his dialogue. Ask any Farley-era SNL cast member who the funniest person on the cast was and they’re guaranteed to say it was him.
The Matt Foley sketches were among Farley’s most hilarious and most popular on the show. The character was so funny that David Spade could never keep a straight face. Unfortunately, he’s one of the comedy greats who have been taken from us at a tragically young age.
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