The long-running sketch-comedy series "Saturday Night Live" is responsible for launching the careers of a slew of funny stars. In honor of the show's 45th anniversary on Oct. 11, 2020, Wonderwall.com is taking a look at the comedy legends who got their big break as cast members and writers on the hit NBC series. Keep reading for more…
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Kristen Wiig first burst on the "SNL" scene in 2005 on season 31 and won audiences' favor soon after. Her cast of recurring characters were many and included Target Lady, impersonations of Kathie Lee Gifford and Suze Orman, plus Gilly — the elementary school child known to say "sorry" after cruelly hurting her classmates (seen here). Kristen famously appeared in the comedy "Bridesmaids" (for which she earned a best original screenplay Oscar nod) along with "SNL" co-star Maya Rudolph in 2011. Before leaving "SNL" in 2012, she appeared in films like "Whip It" and "Girl Most Likely." Her big-screen success carried on after departing from the show thanks to roles in movies like "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and 2016's "Ghostbusters." Next, she'll star as the villainous Cheetah in "Wonder Woman 1984."
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For years, "Saturday Night Live" had a reputation for failing to launch women's careers despite its success launching careers for its male stars. However, that changed in 1997 when they hired Tina Fey as one of their newest writers (she went on to become the show's first female head writer in 2000). She was first credited as a cast member during season 26 in 2000, but she'd already been making us laugh long before we knew her name. She became most recognized for her sarcastic delivery of the news as the co-anchor of "Weekend Update" (seen here with co-anchor Jimmy Fallon) until she left the show in 2006 to launch her own comedy series, "30 Rock." Lucky for us, Tina didn't stay away for long. In 2008, she made numerous guest appearances on "SNL" to impersonate vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin (and it was scary how well she nailed the part). Tina won numerous Primetime Emmys for her time on "SNL" as well as for her series "30 Rock" (which she wrote and produced). Tina also deserves props for writing the movie "Mean Girls" (and its Tony-nominated Broadway musical counterpart), creating the hit Netflix series "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and authoring "Bossypants," her bestselling 2011 memoir.
Recognize that adorable face? It's actress and producer Julia Louis-Dreyfus when she was just 21 years old after she'd landed the role of a lifetime as the newest cast member on season 8 of "SNL" in 1982 (making her the youngest new hire at the time). As we all know, Julia (who spent three years on the show) went on to star as Elaine on one of the most iconic shows of all time, "Seinfeld." Since then, Julia's made Emmy history: She's now the performer with the most Emmy Awards for the same role (for her work on "Veep") and, along with Cloris Leachman, holds the record for most overall Emmy wins by a performer (they've both got eight — but Julia also has another three Emmys for producing "Veep"). In September 2017, Julia shared with the world that she was battling breast cancer, which she's since beat after grueling surgery and chemotherapy treatments.
Oklahoma native Bill Hader was grinding away, going to comedy classes and working on his craft in Los Angeles when his sketch comedy group got noticed by Megan Mullally. The star passed Bill's info on to "Saturday Night Live" head honcho Lorne Michaels, who asked him to audition for the show — and the rest is history! He made his "SNL" debut in 2005 and quickly became known as the show's go-to impressions guy, delivering hilarious takes on Al Pacino (seen here), Clint Eastwood, Charlie Sheen, Vincent Price and more. His impressive work — including playing club kid Stefon on "Weekend Update" — garnered him three Emmy nominations. In 2013, Bill left the show and soon made the leap to the big screen, starring in 2014's "The Skeleton Twins" alongside fellow "SNL" alum Kristen Wiig and 2015's "Trainwreck" opposite Amy Schumer. In 2018, the actor — who won an Emmy for his work as a producer on "South Park" and has twice been nominated for his work executive producing the sketch-comedy show "Documentary Now!" — earned raves for his starring turn on "Barry," the HBO dark comedy on which he plays a depressed assassin who starts taking acting classes. He won the best actor in a comedy Emmy in 2018 and 2019 for his work on the show and has been nominated for writing, directing and producing it too. Bill's also made time to return to "SNL" to host multiple times since his departure.
Will Ferrell joined the cast of "SNL" during season 21 in 1995 and quickly developed a reputation for making us laugh till it hurt. One of his first memorable characters was Marty Culp (seen here with cast member Ana Gasteyer as Bobbi Culp), a middle school music teacher known for singing highly inappropriate songs to the students. Will officially left the show in 2002 to star in the comedy "Old School," which he immediately followed with the hit holiday film "Elf" in 2003. It wasn't long before Will was headlining some of the biggest comedies of the decade, including "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," "Stranger Than Fiction" and "Blades of Glory." Will's a five-timer now, having returned to host in 2005, 2009, 2012, 2018 and 2019. He's also made plenty of unannounced cameos.
Before Eddie Murphy launched a film career that included comedies like "Beverly Hills Cop," "Coming to America," "The Nutty Professor" and "Dr. Doolittle," he was a beloved cast member on "SNL." He joined season 6 of the series in 1980 and hung around until 1984. One of Eddie's most hilarious sketches on the show was "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood" — a play on "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood" that featured Eddie living in the projects and teaching kids important lessons like where babies come from (and how much you can sell an abandoned baby for on the streets). Eddie was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for his work on the show. He later proved he could also be a serious actor when he earned Oscar and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations — and won a Golden Globe — for his performance as James "Thunder" Early in the 2006 musical drama "Dreamgirls." In 2020, it all came full circle when he won an Emmy — his first — for best guest actor in a comedy series for his work hosting "SNL" in 2019.
Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actress, writer and producer Amy Poehler also got her start on "SNL." Amy joined the cast for season 27 in 2001 and quickly became a fan favorite (as well as co-host Tina Fey's BFF). Whether Amy was impersonating Hillary Clinton (seen here with Tina as Sarah Palin) or anchoring "Weekend Update," she never ceased to make us laugh. Amy officially left "SNL" in 2009 to star on NBC's "Parks and Recreation" (a show she also wrote and produced). Other shows Amy's worked on both on-camera and behind the scenes include "Broad City," "Welcome to Sweden" and "Difficult People." In 2014, Amy published the memoir "Yes Please" before starring alongside her "SNL" bestie Tina in the hit comedy "Sisters" the following year.
Actor, writer and all-around superstar Bill Murray joined season 2 of "SNL" back in 1976. He quickly rose to prominence on the show, where he was known for his deadpan joke delivery (he once apologized to the audience in a sketch for "not being funny"). He won an Emmy in 1977 for his work on the series. In 1979, Bill headlined his first major motion picture, the Canadian comedy "Meatballs," which launched his career as a movie star. He left "SNL" in 1980 and followed his departure with a string of hit films including "Where the Buffalo Roam," "Caddyshack," "Ghostbusters" and "Groundhog Day." One of his most notable roles to date, though, was in the drama "Lost in Translation," which earned Bill a Golden Globe Award for best actor plus Oscar and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations.
Adam Sandler, seen here in an "SNL" skit with actors David Spade (left) and Chris Farley (right), joined season 20 in 1990 and developed some of the series' most memorable characters ever, including Lucy Brawn of the Gap Girls (shown), Opera Man and Cajun Man. He landed roles in "Coneheads" in 1993 and "Airheads" in '94 (while still on "SNL"), prompting him to leave the show in 1995. That same year, Adam headlined his first big-screen comedy, "Billy Madison," which led to countless lead roles in films like "Happy Gilmore," "The Wedding Singer" and "50 First Dates." In 1999, Adam formed his own production company, Happy Madison, and began producing all his own films. He's known for keeping his friends close, including those he met on "SNL" like David, Rob Schneider and Rob Riggle. In 2002, he earned his first Golden Globe nomination for his work in the romantic dramedy "Punch-Drunk Love" and in 2007, he showed his talent for serious roles in the drama "Reign Over Me."
The lovely (and outright hilarious) Maya Rudolph was a game-changer for "SNL." Joining in 2000 for season 25, Maya quickly developed a reputation for transcending racial stereotypes by playing a wide variety of characters, including Donatella Versace, Beyonce, Dionne Warwick, Paris Hilton, Michelle Obama and even Oprah Winfrey (seen here with Steve Martin in 2005). She left the series in 2007 and has since appeared on numerous TV shows like "Kath and Kim," "Up All Night" and "Maya & Marty" as well as in films like "Away We Go," "Grown Ups," the infamous "Bridesmaids" and "Sisters" (pairing her with her old "SNL" co-stars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler). In recent years, she's returned to "SNL" to play Senator (and vice presidential hopeful) Kamala Harris.
It was YouTube that helped Andy Samberg get noticed by "Saturday Night Live" after his Lonely Island videos gained notoriety. He joined the "SNL" cast in 2005 and the next year, his "D*** in a Box" sketch alongside Justin Timberlake became one of the show's most popular bits of the decade after it went viral (it even won an Emmy for best original music and lyrics). Aside from crafting great digital shorts, Andy also brought the laughs with impressive impressions of everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to Mark Wahlberg — with whom he's seen here during the hilarious "Wahlberg's Confrontation" skit in 2008. Andy exited the show in 2012 and went on to star on the hit FOX comedy "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," which netted him two Golden Globes.
Hilarious Mike Myers (left) joined season 14 of "SNL" in 1988 and won our hearts with his brilliant recurring skit with co-star Dana Carvey (right) about two radical dudes, "Wayne's World." The duo, seen here with actress Sharon Stone, landed a film deal based on the sketch in 1992, marking the beginning of Mike's love affair with the big screen. He left "SNL" in 1994 (after starring in both "So I Married an Axe Murderer" and "Wayne's World 2" before launching the hit film franchise he both starred in and wrote, starting with "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" in 1997. Other roles we know and love Mike for include the titular character in "The Cat in the Hat" and the animated ogre in "Shrek." In 2017, it was revealed that Mike might be returning to the big screen for "Austin Powers 4."
Tracy Morgan first came to "SNL" during season 22 in 1996 and stole the show with his playfully dumb humor and recurring sketches as Astronaut Jones (seen here with Britney Spears in 2002). Fun fact: He was chosen over Stephen Colbert in the final callback. He left the show in 2003 to star on his own series, "The Tracy Morgan Show," before starring in films like "The Longest Yard" and "Littleman." In 2006, Tracy joined fellow former "SNL" star Tina Fey on her hit show "30 Rock," where he remained until 2013. In 2015, Tracy was involved in a deadly automobile accident involving a Walmart-operated tractor-trailer. The comedian suffered numerous broken bones as well as a traumatic brain injury that left him comatose for two weeks. His friend, comedian James McNair, was killed. The truck driver responsible for the crash pleaded guilty the following year. After years of recovery, he slowly returned to stand-up and the small screen where he landed another successful show, the TBS comedy "The Last O.G."
If you look closely at the young man in striped blue pajamas, you'll recognize one of the hottest stars in Hollywood today — Robert Downey Jr. (Also shown: Terry Sweeney, Jon Lovitz and Joan Cusack.) While we all know Robert was an '80s heartthrob who was a member of the exclusive young set of actors known as The Brat Pack, he got his big break on season 11 of "SNL" in 1985. He was widely considered a flop and only lasted one season before getting the boot. After spending a few rocky decades on- and off-screen (and in and out of jail), RDJ conquered his addiction issues, relaunched his career and became one of our favorite superheroes of the century, Iron Man, and helped launch Marvel's "Avengers" franchise.
Molly Shannon (seen here in a skit with Jeff Goldblum) joined season 20 of "SNL" in 1994 and inspired an entire generation to rock their weirdness. Whether she was playing nervous Catholic schoolgirl Mary Katherine Gallagher or 50-year-old dancer Sally O'Malley, Molly always had us rolling in the aisles. While on the show, Molly also appeared in several films like "Night at the Roxbury," "Never Been Kissed" and, in her first headlining performance, "Superstar" (where she reprised her Mary Katherine role). In 2000, Molly had a co-starring role in the hit holiday film "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and the following year, she officially left "SNL." Since then, she's starred in films like "Osmosis Jones" (which partnered her with "SNL" alums Bill Murray and Chris Rock), "Marie Antoinette" and "Evan Almighty."
Yes, even notorious funnyman Chris Rock once belonged to the cast of "SNL." Upon joining the New York City-based sketch series for season 16 in 1990, he became well-known for doing impressions, playing characters like Nat X and delivering doses of his excellent stand-up comedy during appearances on "Weekend Update" (seen here with anchor Kevin Nealon). Chris starred in films like "New Jack City," "Boomerang" and "CB4" while still on the show. He left "SNL" in 1993 and spent a few months on the competing sketch series "In Living Color." By 1995, Chris's film career was in full swing with movies like "Dr. Dolittle," "Lethal Weapon 4" and "Down to Earth," though he was also starring in his own comedy specials like "Chris Rock: Bring the Pain" (which won him a Primetime Emmy) as well as the comedy series "The Chris Rock Show," which ran from 1997 to 2000. From 2005 to 2009, Chris narrated a show based on his life, "Everybody Hates Chris," which he also wrote and executive produced.
It's impossible to talk about "SNL" legends without mentioning the indomitable Chris Farley (see here performing the hilarious "SNL" skit "Chippendales Audition" with Patrick Swayze in 1990). Chris joined the show during season 16 in 1990 (the same year as Chris Rock). He was known for his brash, loud and wild characters and for never being too shy to show his belly to the world. He appeared in several movies starring his "SNL" friends like "Coneheads," "Wayne's World" and "Billy Madison" before striking out with his own film career in 1995. His first headlining role was in the comedy "Tommy Boy," which was followed by "Black Sheep" and "Beverly Hills Ninja." Sadly, Chris died from a drug overdose at 33 in 1997. What's most startling is that before ever joining the cast of "SNL," Chris idolized one of its early stars, John Belushi, who also died at 33 from an overdose.
Speaking of John Belushi, we'd be crazy not to mention him in our list, as he was one of the earliest legends to come from "SNL." John was one of the original cast members from season 1 in 1975. He was a hit from the start, embodying hilarious characters like Samurai Futaba and, of course, his most iconic role — Jake Blues (seen here) in the "Blues Brothers" sketches, which he created with co-star Dan Aykroyd in 1978. After leaving "SNL" in '79, John, who was known to party hard in his off-hours, was cast along with Dan in "The Blues Brothers," the film version of their skit. He went on to star in the 1981 comedy "Neighbors" as well as "Continental Divide." Sadly, on March 5, 1982, John was found dead in his hotel room from a drug overdose at what many consider the height of his career.
Another "SNL" original was Emmy-winning actor Dan Aykroyd, who debuted on the show's first season in 1975. Some of Dan's notable "SNL" roles include Fred Garvin (the awkward male prostitute) and a salesman for the Bass-O-Matic (seen here). It was Dan's 1978 sketch as Elwood Blues alongside his pal and co-star John Belushi in "The Blues Brothers" that became Dan's earliest signature performance. Blending their shared love of the blues, Dan and John paved the way for future "SNL" stars to incorporate music into their acts as well. In '77, Dan won his first co-starring role in the movie "Love at First Sight," which would be the first of many films in his career. Dan, along with John, left "SNL" in 1979 to film the big-screen version of "The Blues Brothers," which arrived in theaters the following year. Dan's gone on to star in many hit films like "Coneheads," "Ghostbusters," "My Girl" and "Driving Miss Daisy" (which earned him an Oscar nomination).
Jimmy Fallon made his "SNL" debut on season 24 in 1998. At just 24, Jimmy brought a young, fresh energy to the set and quickly made his presence known — mostly because he was terrible at staying in character and would often break down in fits of laughter during his sketches (which we all loved). His most loved skits were usually anything where he sang (like here, with co-star Chris Kattan and guest star Derek Jeter in 2001) — and then there were his famous "Boston Kids" skits, where he spoke with an obnoxious accent. He also spent time as a co-anchor on "Weekend Update." Before leaving the show in 2004, Jimmy debuted a comedy-music album, "The Bathroom Wall," and picked up roles in films like "Almost Famous" and "Taxi." Now we know Jimmy as the host of "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon."
Ben Stiller arrived on the set of "SNL" for season 14 in 1988 (although he worked on the show as a writer beginning in '87). He was only on the show for one season (and only appeared in a few sketches) before landing his own weekly series, "The Ben Stiller Show," in 1990. From there, Ben took the comedy world by storm. He's appeared in numerous films like "Along Came Polly," "Meet the Parents," "Zoolander" (which he also directed), the "Night at the Museum" franchise, "Dodgeball," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and many, many more.
Emmy winner Seth Meyers first joined "SNL" for season 27 in 2001 but also worked behind the scenes as a writer for the show. When Tina Fey left in 2006, Seth took over her position as head writer of the series. He also filled Tina's spot on the weekly "Weekend Update" segment alongside co-anchor Amy Poehler. In 2014, Seth jumped ship to take the helm of his own weeknight talk show, "Late Night with Seth Meyers" (which he took over from his old "SNL" pal Jimmy Fallon, who went on to host "The Tonight Show" that same year).
You might know Al Franken as the U.S. senator from Minnesota who resigned in 2017 amid allegations of sexual misconduct, but he also has major history with "SNL." Hired first as a writer for the show in 1975, he officially joined the cast in 1977 during season 3 (although he did make earlier appearances). Al is probably best remembered for his role as Stuart Smalley, who gave daily affirmations and coined the popular phrase "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and doggone it, people like me!" (which was also the title of his first book). Other notable sketches include "The Franken and Davis Show," where Al was known to bring on guests like his own parents (shown). Al remained with "SNL" for years, both as a writer and recurring cast member, publishing books in his spare time (like "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot" and "Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them") before finally stepping down in 2007 so he could pursue a career in politics.
Today, Jason Sudeikis is one of our favorite comedic actors from hit films like "Horrible Bosses" and "We're the Millers," but before he became a successful big-screen star, he was making us cry tears of laughter on "SNL." Jason joined the cast officially in 2005, but had been with the show since 2003 as a writer. Known for his hilarious political impersonations, which included Mitt Romney, Joe Biden and impeached Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (shown), Jason spent 10 amazing years on the show before bidding them adieu. Fun fact: In addition to his numerous film and TV credits, Jason's also lent his voice to series like "The Cleveland Show" and "Son of Zorn."
Fans of "Weekend Update" (which is the longest running segment in "SNL" history) owe their thanks to original cast member and Primetime Emmy-winning actor Chevy Chase, who joined the cast in 1975 and helped create the satirical news sketch. Chevy left in 1976 after just a year on the show and went on to become a favorite comedic film star in classics like "National Lampoon's Vacation" (and its many sequels), "Caddyshack," "Funny Farm" and "Memoirs of an Invisible Man."
After putting in work with the comedy group The Groundlings and working alongside Paul Reubens to develop the character Pee-wee Herman in the '70s and '80s, Phil Hartman got his own big break in 1986 when he joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live." During his eight seasons on the show, Phil was known for his hilarious impersonation of then-President Bill Clinton and was actually the first person in the show's history to portray Donald Trump (back in 1988!). His other memorable characters include Keyrock the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, a super-funny Frankenstein and a bitter, old version of Frank Sinatra — all of which made numerous appearances during his run until 1994. But even once Phil left, he couldn't stay gone for long. He returned to host the show twice before he was tragically murdered by his wife in 1998.
Another former late night host who owes a debt of gratitude to "SNL" is former cast member Dennis Miller. Dennis joined the sketch series during season 11 in 1985 and quickly took over the anchor position of the newly returned news segment "Weekend Update." He held the seat for six years before parting ways with the show in '91. The following year, he began his reign as a talk-show host, beginning with "The Dennis Miller Show" and "Dennis Miller Live" before spending nine years on "The O'Reilly Factor" with his "Miller Time" segment.
Tim Meadows is one of the legendary comedians of "Saturday Night Live." He joined the variety show in 1991 and would go on to become a long-running cast member, appearing on the program until 2000. He is best known for his hilarious takes on celebrities like O. J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, Tiger Woods, Oprah Winfrey and Erykah Badu and for his original character, horny talk show host Leon Phelps. He went on to appear in some of the most successful comedy films to hit Hollywood including "Trainwreck" and "Mean Girls," which was written by fellow "SNL" alum Tina Fey. Fans can now catch him on ABC's "The Goldbergs" and NBC's "Brooklyn Nine-Nine."
Originally a writer on the show, Rob Schneider transitioned to a cast member on "Saturday Night Live" from 1990 until 1994. Seen here with Macaulay Culkin in 1991, he was known for his sketches like "Richmeister," playing the obnoxious office worker who insisted on giving coworkers nicknames, and "Subway Guitarist," Rob made a name for himself on the NBC show. After leaving, he landed some pretty big movie roles in flicks like "Deuce Bigalow," "The Hot Chick" and "The Benchwarmers" and famously snagged bit roles in fellow former "Saturday Night Live" star and pal Adam Sandler films like "The Waterboy," "Little Nicky," and "50 First Dates." Most recently the funny guy had his own Netflix show, "Real Rob," which ran for two seasons from 2015 until 2017, which featured his real-life wife Patricia Azarcoya Arce, and their two daughters Miranda and Madeline. (Fun fact: he's also the proud father of singer Elle King, whom he had in 1989 with model London King.)