Trading carrots for chocolate pudding since 2012.
With 40 seasons under Saturday Night Live’s belt, scores of comedic actors and actresses that came from SNL over the past half-century owe the sketch show for much of their success.
In spite of the ever-present argument that “it’s just not funny anymore,” which has been said every year since the late ‘70s, SNL has turned out some amazing talent.
Below are nearly two dozen people who came from SNL that you might not have realized. Whether these people just didn’t work out on the show, or they were relatively hidden because of bigger talent at the time, there’s no doubt they became successful in other avenues afterward.
These 23 people might not have been big names/faces on Saturday Night Live during their tenure, but they have to give the show some credit for their success — which most of them do.
One of the best stand-up comedians in the past 20 years, Attel hasn’t really been able to break into the mainstream much. He became a writer and part-time performer on SNL before becoming concentrating on his standup career. Then he few years with The Daily Show, when Jon Stewart first took over. Finally, he hosted Insomniac with Dave Attell on Comedy Central from 2001 to 2004.
It makes even more sense now that David and Julia Louis-Dreyfus ended up working together again later on after their tenure at SNL at the same time. David, the co-creator of Seinfeld, was only able to get one sketch on the air – and even that made it on at 12:50am, the last time slot. One of my favorite SNL stories – Larry David was so sick of not getting sketches on the air that he ended up quitting midseason, only to show up back to work a few days later acting like nothing happened. That incident actually inspired an episode on “Seinfeld,” where George Costanza quits his job, but decides to return like nothing happened (“The Revenge”).
Despite being on SNL for an entire season, Iron Man really isn’t known for much of a presence on the show. Along with Anthony Michael Hall, the two young guys from “Weird Science” were just out of their element. After a successful early career as part of the Brat Pack, then a ton of drug problems, Downey has rebounded quite well with Marvel’s Iron Man — easily one of the highest grossing characters in film history.
The former AFLAC Duck voice was in 12 episodes to start the 1980s, but his presence at SNL was forgettable at best. To this day, his best work might have been as Iago the Parrot on Disney’s “Aladdin.”
While you might not recognize the name, Guest is more famous for directing several movies involving a repertory group, consisting of Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Michael McKean, Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, Jennifer Coolidge, Harry Shearer and several others. Some of his more notable movies included “Best in Show,” “This is Spinal Tap,” and “A Mighty Wind.” My favorite line was when he played Frankie on SNL, “I hate when that happens.”
We know Higgins as Jimmy Fallon’s sidekick from Late Night and now The Tonight Show, but he was a co-head writers on SNL for a couple seasons, and still writes for them to this day — while continuing his duties for Fallon. Michael Schur, a former SNL writer and a co-creator for Parks and Recreation, said in an interview with The A.V. Club that Higgins was the inspiration for the Parks and Rec character Andy.
Judge is famous for creating TV shows Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill, as well as the movie, “Office Space.” That movie, in fact, was based on his cartoon, Milton, which also came from SNL, as a short back in the early ‘90s. He also created the new hit HBO show, Silicon Valley. Did you know he was a programmer for the F-18 fighter jet back in the late ‘80s?
While Kaling wrote for just one episode in April of 2006, we’re still counting her! She went on to be the annoying Kelly Kapoor in The Office, and finally, she parlayed that into her own show on Fox, The Mindy Project. On a side note, one of my favorite characters on TV right now is Morgan, the male nurse, played by Ike Barinholtz, who used to be on Madtv.
Well before she was judging if guys were sponge-worthy or serving as the Vice President, JLD was working with Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal and Jim Belushi on Saturday Night Live in the early ‘80s. Heck, she even married another SNL cast alum in Brad Hall. Until Abby Elliott broke the record in 2008, Louis-Dreyfus was the youngest female cast member ever hired, which explains why she’s still relevant (and hot) today.
You might not know the face or the name, but McKay happens to work as Will Ferrell’s writing partner. They worked together on SNL, and then they wrote movies like, “Talladega Nights,” “Anchorman” and “Step Brothers.” He was an SNL head writer for a couple years, just before Tina Fey became the head writer.
Roseanne’s sister on the show appeared in a Weekend Update piece, but that was about it, then the cast was essentially redone for the next season.
Along with Robert Downey Jr., AMH was one of the new cast members in the mid-‘80s that just didn’t work out. Strangely, getting on SNL seemed to be mark the end of his success, rather than the beginning of it, like mostly everyone else. At 17 years old, he was the youngest SNL cast member ever, and he came to the show after finding success in “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” “Weird Science,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles.” He has done a lot in his later years, including playing Bill Gates in a movie and starring in The Dead Zone TV show, but nothing was as good as his John Hughes’ films.
As a writer on SNL for four seasons, you might not recognize him or his name (he co-wrote the character Stefon with Bill Hader). But he has actually done some pretty awesome stand-up concerts in the past five years. If you get a chance, listen to his bit on “The Best Meal I’ve Ever Had.” Apparently, he’s going to be the main character of a show on Fox this coming fall.
During some of the Phil Hartman years, O’Brien served as one of the team’s writers, fresh out of Harvard. He later moved on to be a writer and producer for The Simpsons for a couple years before being tabbed to replace David Letterman on Late Night. Choosing the relatively unknown O’Brien (especially as an on-camera host) to replace Letterman still has to rank as one of the ballsiest executive moves in network history. One of my favorite Conan SNL moments was when he served as the doorman to the “Five-Timers Club,” when Tom Hanks hosted for the fifth time.
Mostly known as Kevin’s forgetful mom from “Home Alone,” and for her roles in Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries, O’Hara was actually a great sketch actress from SCTV, which was basically Canada’s SNL. Interestingly, O’Hara never appeared on SNL, as she quit once SCTV got a deal with NBC.
It’s amazing to think that those late ‘80s years were really considered bad SNL years, when you realize they had some great cast members, along with Odenkirk and Conan O’Brien as writers. He went on to Mr. Show, and finally, he played chatty lawyer Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad, considered one of the best dramas in TV history. That character is spinning off into his own show, Better Call Saul, this fall. While he wrote for nearly half a decade on SNL, but his greatest contribution might have been the Matt Foley sketch he wrote for Chris Farley.
You might know him better for his time spent as a correspondent on The Daily Show or as the resident crazy comedian on the Fox NFL Sunday pregame show. I’ve always loved this guy and just wished someone could create a vehicle for him. My favorite Riggle line probably comes from when he played a cop in “The Hangover,” when he said, “In the faaaaace!!!”
While Sanborn might not be considered one of the funniest people on SNL ever, he could be considered one of the most talented. After leaving the SNL band, he would become one of the most influential saxophone players of his time.
Speaking of music, Shaffer played the piano for the SNL house band for the first five seasons of the show’s existence. Then he went on to serve as the band leader for Late Night with David Letterman, and then The Late Show with David Letterman”at CBS. He was noticeably absent from the film “The Blues Brothers,” which starred fellow SNL alums John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, and several SNL band members. Apparently, he was working on a project with Gilda Radner, and Belushi dumped him from “The Blues Brothers.”
This is definitely one of those situations I’d love to see SNL get a do-over with, just to see Silverman in more sketches. Granted, she was a writer and a featured player, yet she only got one sketch to dress rehearsal and none to air. Not a great track record. Yet, I feel like she could have held her own later in that decade with SNL women, like Cheri Oteri, Molly Shannon and Tina Fey. Silverman might not have been a great character actress, but she’s magnetic on screen. And hot. And funny.
I would also like to submit to you that the 1993 SNL season had to be one of the most star-stacked seasons in its 40-year history. Here are some of the more notable names that were either performers or writers from that season:
Smoove has been a regular cast member on Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, where he played Leon Black. He worked as a writer on SNL for three seasons. His standup was not nearly as good as some of the characters he plays, which is ironic, because now he’s going to be the host on Last Comic Standing.
Stiller worked as a writer/performer, but his intent was to create short films for the show, which they didn’t want him to do. Then he moved on to The Ben Stiller Show on MTV, and then another show with the same name on Fox the year after. That show had Judd Apatow as one of the writers, also. It’s weird to think these guys could go through so many failures before hitting it huge. Stiller could have been the Andy Samberg for SNL with short films in the early ‘90s.
Struggling to get his characters and skits on the air, Wayans chose to play a background character (a cop) in one skit as flamboyantly gay. And since improvisation is one of the worst things you can do in a sketch show with less than a week of preparation, Lorne Michaels let him go. He later created In Living Color, which has to rank up there with one of the greatest sketch shows in TV history, and Wayans proved, after all, that his characters and sketches were funny.
I’m sure there were a few people on this list you knew were from SNL, but you have to understand how I had to sell the article to you, right? Without question, Saturday Night Live continues to be where we cultivate the funniest and most talented people on television. I’m looking forward to the next 20 years of the show, to see who Lorne Michaels’ castoffs end up becoming!