20 Most Memorable 'Saturday Night Live' Characters of All Time (PHOTOS)

Damarys Ocaña Perez | Aug 28, 2015 TV

Some people marvel at Saturday Night Live's longevity while others balk -- how can something that's been around for 40 years still be relevant? One answer: by not being afraid to try anything, even if it may bomb on live TV. The result is comedy gold and the start of a slew of superstar careers.

Here are 20 of the most memorable characters ever to appear on SNL, one of the longest-running comedy sketch shows on TV. They range from the politically savvy (Mr. Robinson) to the giddily absurd (Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer) but each share one quality: comedic brilliance. 

 

Image via NBC

  • Eddie Murphy as Mr. Robinson

    1

    The legendary comedian was just 19 when he became an SNL cast member in 1980, and he created enough great characters to populate his own best-of list, including Velvet Jones, Buckwheat, and Gumby. However, none tops the title character in "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood," his recurring parody of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. The jobless, shady ex-con lives in a crumbling apartment and introduces vocabulary words like scum bucket (to describe his slumlord) for an education about life beyond the 'burbs. This was smart social commentary that even had Fred Rogers' approval.

  • John Belushi as the Samurai

    2

    Like Murphy, Belushi is another all-time SNL great, and his 1970s character, the Samurai, is a fan favorite. In a series of videos named for occupations, such as "Samurai Optometrist" and "Samurai Stockbroker," the concept has Belushi wearing Japanese garb while holding a samurai sword that he uses to complete everyday tasks, no matter how small. In the classic skit, "Samurai Delicatessen," making a  a sandwich becomes increasingly complex and violent, freaking out customers. 

  • Jan Hooks and Dora Dunn as the Sweeney Sisters

    3

    The earnest exuberance of the singing sisters is what makes the characters of Candy and Liz Sweeney, played by Nora Dunn and Jan Hooks (late 80s-early 90s), so magnetic. Working Christmas parties and jailhouses, they launch into medleys with over-the-top vocal flourishes, tell sad stories between songs, and win over their audiences. It's all strangely endearing, and very funny.  

  • Tina Fey as Sarah Palin

    4

    The glasses, the expressions, the high cheekbones. Tina Fey was pretty much born to play the vice presidential candidate during the 2008 election. Fey nailed Palin's accent and her breezy political persona so well that even Fox News was fooled. In 2012, they used this same picture to identify Palin. Fey could have retired then and gone down in pop culture history. 

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  • Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon as Hans and Franz

    5

    Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the height of his box office -- and physical -- prowess when SNL put Carvey and Nealon in padded workout clothes and sent them in front of the camera as his Austrian cousins, Hans and Franz (late '80s). Pumping iron is their religion and their God is, of course, Scwarzenegger himself. Putting down weak girly men was their favorite hobby. The two comedians recently reprised their roles for a State Farm commercial co-starring quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a testament to Hans and Franz's place in pop culture history.

  • Mike Myers and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth

    6

    This pair of 20-something losers sound like Keanu Reeves and hang out in a basement filming their cable access rock show. With their love for Aerosmith and their infinite number of catchy lines ("As if!" "We're not worthy!" "Party on, dude!" among many others) Myers and Carvey struck a chord with 1990s SNL fans. No wonder their characters jumped to the big screen in a two-movie franchise, making $400 million in the U.S. and abroad.

  • Mike Myers as Linda Richman

    7

    Myers lampooned his own mother-in-law and the result was a classic SNL character -- a middle-aged Jewish woman with big hair, red nails, lots of jewelry, and a passion for Barbra Streisand. Myers threw in everything but the kitchen sink when playing the host of Coffee Talk in the '90s, including an exaggerated "New Yawk" accent and Yiddish words. It never came off as mean, but rather as a celebration of a certain kind of self-possession.

  • Dan Ackroyd and Steve Martin as Festrunk Bros

    8

    "We're two wild and crazy guys!" One of SNL's most famous lines comes courtesy of immigrant brothers from Czechoslovakia searching for "foxes," aka women, while dressed in their smarmiest late '70s outfits. This is squarely Steve Martin territory, and he and skit partner Dan Ackroyd fully commit to the increasingly desperate come-ons. Whether you've been that guy at the bar or a woman who got hit on by an undesirable, the result is the same: You're cracking up.

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  • Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri as the Cheerleaders

    9

    Ferrell's boyish dorkiness and Oteri's unhinged energy were perfect for their 1990s characters, two wannabe cheerleaders who failed to make their high school's squad. Undaunted, they made their own uniforms, and their own terrible moves and rhymes, and cheered from the sidelines. So sad. So hilariously sad.

  • Don Novello as Father Guido Sarducci

    10

    So the Vatican's newspaper employs a chain-smoking gossip columnist who happens to be a priest. Of course it does. Novello's long-running character had appeared on other shows, but his most famous appearances as Sarducci were on SNL in the 1980s, where he delivered wry movie and music reviews on Weekend Update in a thick Italian accent.

  • Kristen Wiig as Dooneese

    11

    Playing corny ladies with terrible haircuts was a specialty for Wiig on SNL, who took it to another level in 2008 with Dooneese, one of four singing sisters on the "Lawrence Welk Show" skits. Her sky-high forehead and doll hands aren't the only freaky things about her. She's also oversexed and prone to saying wildly inappropriate or just plain strange things. The sum of the parts is one disturbing, funny character.

  • Bill Hader as Stefon

    12

    Why would you hire this guy to give tips to tourists on family vacations in New York? Stefon, played by Bill Hader (starting in 2008), was a gay club rat whose recommendations were definitely out there, unless you think taking the kids to meet "Gizblow the coked-up gremlin" at a dive is a good idea. Part of the fun was watching Hader's constant struggle not to break character, which led to Stefon's trademark move of nervously flapping his hands and hiding his mouth.

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  • Jon Lovitz as Tommy Flanagan

    13

    Lovitz is often overlooked among SNL alumni, but he excelled at what he did -- playing underachievers who think they're overachievers. His best character, lawyer Tommy Flanagan (1980s), is a pathological liar whose increasingly ridiculous lies were equal parts desperation and smarminess.

  • Ana Gayester and Molly Shannon as Margaret Jo McAllen and Terry Rialto of the 'Delicious Dish'

    14

    In the "Delicious Dish" skits, it's NPR's turn to get satirized for their policy to have hosts speak in "Minnesota nice," a pleasantly bland tone. In the late 1990s, Gayester and Shannon played hosts on the cooking show, and their voices could lull bears to sleep as they rave about funnel cakes and ice cream scoopers. They're also clueless to notice sexual double entendres when they discuss treats like Schweddy Balls and Dusty Mufflns.

  • Gilda Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna

    15

    This one's divisive. Plenty of fans found Radner's character beyond annoying, but it's equally brilliant. Sporting frizzy hair and a grating voice, Roseanne is a consumer affairs reporter on Weekend Update, but her reports quickly devolve into stories of her run-ins with celebrities who share deets about their hygiene in painful detail. With this 1970s character, Radner was busting into gross-out comedy, which was until then male-dominated territory, and marking it as her own.

  • Gilda Radner and Bill Murray as Nerds in Love

    16

    Here's more proof of SNL's influence on pop culture. The term nerd went mainstream after the show created Lisa and Todd of the "Nerds in Love" skits in the late 1970s. Strangely sweet, the skits focused on Lisa and Todd's awkward courtship. He would ask her if her mosquito bites (breasts) had grown, then they would give each other noogies. Perfect.

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  • Christopher Walken as the Continental

    17

    In the grand SNL tradition of creepy guys, the ultimate creep may be Walken's Continental, a smoking jacket-wearing, pseudo-European, would-be ladies man who brings women to his hotel room but fails to seduce them. Part of the brilliance of the Continental's skits from the 1990s is that they're shot entirely from a (silent) woman's point of view, with only her hand showing occasionally. Walken looks at the camera the entire time and it feels as if it's the audience who is being accosted. 

     

  • Dana Carvey as the Church Lady

    18

    She was the perfect SNL character: The Church Lady was judgmental, she had catchphrases that became synonymous with the '80s ("Well now, isn't that special?"), and she had her own dance. Through her show "Church Chat," she'd interview famous figures of the day (whether it was the episode's host or cast members in costume), then chastise them for their sins and public scandals. It was a brutal and spot-on lampoon of holier-than-thou types. 

     

  • Phil Hartman as the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer

    19

    It may have been the silliest concept ever to work on SNL. Keyrock, played by Phil Hartman from 1991 to 1996, was a Neanderthal -- complete with block-like brows -- who was dug out of ice by scientists. He was also an articulate top personal injury lawyer with fancy cars and a house on Martha's Vineyard who would win over juries by claiming to be "a simple caveman frightened and confused by the modern world." He invariably won.  

  • Stephen Colbert and Steve Carrell as the Ambiguously Gay Duo

    20

    They foiled plots of world domination in every skit, but not before everyone around them wondered whether the dudes in the turquoise and yellow tights were in a relationship with each other. Voiced by Stephen Colbert and Steve Carrell in the late 1990s -- before they went on to huge success at the Daily Show and beyond -- Ace and Gary, aka the Ambiguously Gay Duo, seemed oblivious to the questions their body language raised.    

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