Who's the greatest SNL alum of all time?

Even in its darkest hours, Saturday Night Live has served as a springboard for wildly successful careers.

SNL original castFor all but a handful of seasons Saturday Night Live has been nigh-on unwatchable. Still, it has generated a veritable conga line of major stars through the years – you may not even realize how long a line.

So this came up recently as I was hanging with some friends:

Which Saturday Night Live alum had/has had the greatest post-SNL career?

Hmmm. This perhaps seems a manageable enough question at first. Not a slam dunk obvious conclusion, but the field isn’t that broad, right?

Wrong. After a few seconds it begins to dawn on you just how hard it is to answer.

Wikipedia lists all current and former players and the total is nearly 150. I boiled it down a more manageable list of people who had or are having a measure of success beyond SNL:

  • Fred Armisen
  • Dan Aykroyd
  • John Belushi
  • Dana Carvey
  • Chevy Chase
  • Billy Crystal
  • Jane Curtin
  • Joan Cusack
  • Robert Downey, Jr.
  • Chris Elliott
  • Jimmy Fallon
  • Chris Farley
  • Will Ferrell
  • Tina Fey
  • Janeane Garofalo
  • Gilbert Gottfried
  • Christopher Guest
  • Bill Hader
  • Anthony Michael Hall
  • Darrell Hammond
  • Phil Hartman
  • Chris Kattan
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus
  • Jon Lovitz
  • Norm Macdonald
  • Michael McKean
  • Seth Meyers
  • Jay Mohr
  • Tracy Morgan
  • Eddie Murphy
  • Bill Murray
  • Mike Myers
  • Kevin Nealon
  • Amy Poehler
  • Randy Quaid
  • Gilda Radner
  • Chris Rock
  • Andy Samberg
  • Adam Sandler
  • Rob Schneider
  • Paul Shaffer
  • Harry Shearer
  • Martin Short
  • Sarah Silverman
  • David Spade
  • Ben Stiller
  • Damon Wayans

Yow. I don’t think a number of these folks are especially talented (if at all), but ratings and box office numbers make clear that a lot of people out there disagree with me.

There are a lot of criteria you might apply, and I won’t even try working through that list. But I thought about it, and here’s my take:

Bill Murray Caddyshack Dali Lama SceneBill Murray.

Here are the highlights of his filmography:

  • Meatballs
  • Where the Buffalo Roam
  • Caddyshack
  • Stripes
  • Tootsie
  • Ghostbusters
  • Little Shop of Horrors
  • Scrooged
  • What About Bob?
  • Groundhog Day
  • Ed Wood
  • Kingpin
  • Space Jam
  • The Man Who Knew Too Little
  • Rushmore
  • The Royal Tenenbaums
  • Lost in Translation
  • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
  • Broken Flowers
  • Zombieland
  • Get Low
  • Passion Play
  • Hyde Park
  • A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • St. Vincent

There are a few epic comedic hits in there, including the funniest sports movie in history, Caddyshack. Gunga galunga. There are also a lot of critically acclaimed turns in films like the wonderful Lost in Translation and he keeps pushing himself toward a more substantive legacy than we might have predicted after, say, Stripes.

So there you have it. What do you think?

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7 thoughts on “Who's the greatest SNL alum of all time?”

  1. For me personally, there are a ton of “arty” films there that kinda….suck? Caddyshack and Ghostbusters puts him in the Hollywood Hall of Fame… But I think you could argue Downey is the biggest star on the planet now, right? Eddie Murphy at his peak probably biggest for a decade. A really hard question.

  2. Rolling Stone ranked all cast members. They gave #1 to Belushi. Murray #6. Ackroyd #5. Eddie Murphy #2. Fey #3. But they put Chevy in the top ten, so as usual they proved their raking system completely spurious.

    1. Were they ranking them for their time on the show? Must have if Belushi was #1 because he didn’t live long enough to do anything after he left.

      Also, were they using defensible criteria or were they, in true RS fashion, just making shit up?

      1. RS ranked them on their SNL years only. Even with that Chevy made the top 10. Yes, he originated the Weekend Update skit. And he gets credit for the first “blow the censors’ minds” comment – Belushi’s “chit – and chat” came later. His infamous “no, honey, you don’t blow on it” comment on the phone call opening of WU was water cooler before water cooler was a thing. And the Fall was imitated a few times, but even with Gilda it never came off so they dropped it. Well, maybe he does deserve the top ten. So maybe all I can say is “Mmm…great bass….”

        The shame of Belushi’s loss is that “Continental Divide” and “Neighbors” allowed him to act and one could see that he could have become something special….

        Maybe most underrated would be a good discussion – my vote goes to Jane Curtin…

      2. Jane was remarkably underappreciated – still is. She was kind of the gravity in a cast that threatened to fly off into space at any second.

        There’s a parallel universe out there where Belushi is still alive. I can’t help wondering what his career is like.

  3. i returned from peace corps, never heard of snl, up late watching TV, saw ackroyd and curtin doing a faux ad–which I thought was real at first, until they named the product–speed. literally spit beer across the room.

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