With “Saturday Night Live” celebrating its 45th anniversary on October 11, we are excited to unveil our rankings of the 30 best cast members. It’s a daunting task since there have been over 150 regular and featured repertory members and each fan has a favorite cast grouping (often from when they were watching in high school or college). Tour our photo gallery to see our full list of choices, but keep in mind that none were considered for their work beyond “SNL” with great film and/or television careers.
Our overall top selection is Eddie Murphy. After the original cast and creator Lorne Michaels left the show in 1980, ratings and critical reviews took a big fall. The explosion of succession by Murphy well into that sixth season literally saved the program from cancellation, so that’s the reason behind our decision.
It would have been easy to include all of the original 1970s cast among our Top 30, and we do have Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and Gilda Radner spread out among our choices. Chase would have been higher since he was the first big star on the variety sketch show, but he departed after one full season and a handful of second season episodes. Radner is our favorite among that group, especially having to fight a bias against female comedians behind the scenes.
Our list sprinkles in the best of the best throughout the Top 30, hoping to give fairness to favorites across the decades. Some have had remarkable long runs (Phil Hartman, Kate McKinnon, Kenan Thompson) while others weren’t on there long at all (Chase, Billy Crystal, Chris Rock). Quantity and quality were part of the criteria in the rankings.