Saturday Night Live’s 7 Best Cast Members of All Time

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Since its inaugural season in 1975, Saturday Night Live has established itself as a pillar of sketch comedy, popularizing the format for generations of viewers from the swinging ‘70s onwards. From one decade to the next, SNL has maintained its taut hold over mainstream comedy, ushering in dozens upon dozens of awe-inspiring talents who have graced NBC’s sound stage at one time or another. 

With much of the show’s success predicated upon the strengths and comedic sensibilities of its cast, Saturday Night Live has shined a spotlight on countless younger comedians over the years. From the founding members of the Not Ready For Primetime Players to more contemporary stars like Bill Hader, here are seven of the best cast members to ever perform on Saturday Night Live.

Will Ferrell

It’s hard to think of a comedian more synonymous with SNL than Will Ferrell. Rising through the show’s cast list from the mid ‘90s until the start of the 2000s, Ferrell could do anything and everything he set his mind to, whether convincingly playing an air-headed George Bush or portraying a beleaguered Alex Trebek. A fantastic comic able to play the straight man, a scene-stealing supporting character, or headline his own surreal sketches, Ferrell made any segment he appeared in well worth watching, regardless of whether he was screaming, crying, or delivering his lines with a sardonic straight face.

Eddie Murphy

At the close of its fifth season, most of the original cast and crew of Saturday Night Live departed the series for greener pastures, including SNL mastermind and backstage producer, Lorne Michaels. Rebuilding the show from the ground-up, NBC executives recruited a variety of little-known comics to fill out their non-existent cast lineup. For as many comedians as SNL hired during this period, however, the show’s true saving grace came with 19-year-old stand-up talent, Eddie Murphy.

The breakout superstar of SNL at the start of the decade, Eddie Murphy helped carry the series on his shoulders following Michaels’ exit, ensuring Saturday Night Live lived on into the 1980s. Embodying an eclectic rogues’ gallery of recurring characters–from the crotechy primadonna Gumby to his twisted Mr. Rogers parody, Mr. Robinson–Murphy gave audiences a reason to tune into SNL during an incredibly uncertain point in the series’ history.

Chris Farley

The dramatic successor to John Belushi–a man he idolized in more ways than one–Chris Farley truly personified the core characteristics of a young Belushi in his prime. Alternating between explosive fits of anger and energetic slapstick, Farley demonstrated unwavering commitment to each and every sketch he was featured in, from competing in a dance-off against Patrick Swayze to randomly tossing himself through a wooden table in the middle of a scene.

Gilda Radner

One of the original members of the Not Ready For Primetime Players, Gilda Radner won over the hearts and minds of every viewer in the mid 1970s, demonstrating a keen willingness to elicit laughter on a weekly basis. Popping up on SNL in a wide array of sketches and segments, Radner could tickle audiences’ funny bones through her absurdist humor or inspired physical comedy (as seen with her hilarious dance numbers with Steve Martin). Possessing unique comedic chemistry with almost every one of her co-stars, Radner blazed a trail for almost every female comedian who followed, from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to Kate McKinnon and Kristen Wiig.

Bill Hader

Quite possibly the most skilled impressionist SNL has ever had, Bill Hader possessed that rare quality that most comics lack: versatility. Like Peter Sellers or Mike Myers before him, Hader disappeared into each of his characters, whether he was portraying a real-world figure like Vincent Price or a fictional creation like “Weekend Update”’s city-life correspondent, Stefon. From his distinct array of satirical voices to his penchant for breaking out in laughter mid-sketch, Hader had a way of elevating every sketch he was featured in–sometimes without even having to utter a word at all.

Norm Macdonald

Norm Macdonald may not have been the first person to helm “Weekend Update,” but he’s almost assuredly among the greatest hosts the segment has ever seen. Whereas most other hosts drew on a more sarcastic, straight-faced sense of humor, Macdonald specialized in darker, more bizarre comic delivery, such as his repeated attacks on O.J. Simpson that ultimately got him ousted from the show. A performer well ahead of his time, Macdonald’s incendiary humor allowed for a comedian of frightening unpredictability, with viewers waiting on the edge of their seat in anticipation of Norm’s next shocking joke.

John Belushi

Another member of the original Not Ready For Primetime Players, John Belushi brought a fiery intensity to SNL that viewers simply couldn’t ignore. Whether screaming at the top of his lungs or juking and jiving around on-stage in a fedora and sunglasses, Belushi’s far-ranging gifts as a comedic performer were simply unmatched. An extraordinary talent who thrived off of eccentric roles, there’s a reason Belushi is always mentioned in the same breath as Will Ferrell or Eddie Murphy as one the show’s breakout stars: he was simply that good.

Richard Chachowski is an entertainment and travel writer who has written for such publications as Fangoria, Wealth of Geeks, Looper, Screen Rant, Sportskeeda, and MDLinx, among many others. He received his BA from The College of New Jersey and has been a professional writer since 2020.