In honor of Saturday Night Live’s 40th Anniversary Special this Sunday, we are counting down our favorite 15 original characters seen on the show over the years. This means no impersonations of real-life people, as much as we also love those. Furthermore, this list only included regular SNL cast members. SNL has given us a lot of memorable skits, quotes, and characters over the years and we hope we get many more in the future. There are a lot more great characters that didn’t make it onto this list, as well.
Our Top 15 Saturday Night Live Characters
Performers: Dan Akyroyd, Jane Curtain, Laraine Newman
The Coneheads are some of the most iconic characters in SNL history. They got their own movie in the 90s and people still know of them today, even if they don’t know where exactly they originated. The humor of the skits hasn’t held up against the test of time like other older skits, but they’re certainly legendary in SNL history.
14. Bronx Beat
Performers: Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler
It was the chemistry between Rudolph and Poehler that really made these skits work. With their thick Bronx accents and obnoxious gum-chewing, we could listen to them talk about anything, honestly. They’d interview various people, always with judgment and quick quips.
13. Blues Brothers
Performers: John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd
There’s no denying the power of the Blues Brothers, who got their own legendary film in 1980. You’d be hard-pressed to find any SNL fan who doesn’t know the legacy of the Blues Brothers. Like the Coneheads, watching their skits now is definitely like taking off your rose-colored glasses, but they’ll forever be part of SNL’s history.
12. Roseanne Roseannadanna
Performers: Gilda Radner
The character who largely gave New Jersey its bad rep, Roseanne was one of the first characters to become a huge, recurring hit on Weekend Update. There have since been others, but she absolutely deserves a spot here for the impact she had and her hilarious, abrasive nature as this character.
11. Boston Teens
Performers: Jimmy Fallon and Rachel Dratch
Those thick Boston accents, all that aggressive making out. We remember these Boston teens very fondly, especially whenever Ben Affleck showed up. Fallon and Dratch seemed very at ease in these roles and eager to do a good job. They had a lot of chemistry together which really sold their characters.
10. The Californians
Performers: Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen
This relatively recent skit had numerous recurring characters and guest-stars but it was these three who really catapulted them onto this list. Whether it was their ridiculous Southern Californian accents and stereotypes, driving directions, or fact that they often broke character (always one of the most fun aspects of SNL), these various sketches are hilarious time and time again. There are plenty of critics who don’t like these sketches but I believe it’s one of SNL’s most subversive skits and one of their best takes on dark humor.
9. Debbie Downer
Performers: Rachel Dratch
If you’ve got good or exciting news, you definitely don’t want Debbie Downer to be there when you break it. The character made famous by Dratch has a negative attitude about everything. And while she might have been a downer to her fellow characters, she was a crack-up for both audience and cast members alike.
8. Dick in a Box Guys
Performers: Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake
The Lonely Island’s Dick in a Box first aired in 2006 but it was so big that it spawned five more appearances by them. We love all the skits that they’re in but nothing will beat this first musical number. The Lonely Island was a massive success on SNL and we frequently miss them, but Samberg and Timberlake continue to have a lot of success outside of SNL.
7. Target Lady
Performers: Kristen Wiig
Wiig has had a lot of memorable characters on SNL, so much so that it’s hard not to do a whole count-down dedicated to her, but Target Lady is undoubtedly one of her best. That Midwestern accent and obnoxious optimism made this very not self-aware character land a spot on this list. Wiig absolutely sells it, as she does all her roles.
6. Church Lady
Performers: Dana Carvey
Can’t you hear Carvey’s voice as the Church Lady just from looking at that photo? Church Lady was one of SNL’s most enduring charcters, having a whopping 21 appearances throughout Carvey’s career on SNL. She originated in the 1980s, when television evangelicals were at a high and that’s where her inspiration came from. After all, isn’t part of why we watch and love SNL so much because it does such a good job of parodying and pointing at all of society’s quirks and culture?
5. The Festrunk Brothers
Performers: Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd
The Czech brothers made for a perfect sketch duo in the 1970s. The characters were a reflection of their historical time period and a big hit. Their bumbling, loud personalities made them a hit with the ladies, as did their ridiculous fashion sense. They were a whole lot of fun and while they might be a huge turn-off now, we remember them fondly.
4. Mary Katherine Gallagher
Performers: Molly Shannon
There’s perhaps no more intense SNL character than Mary Katherine Gallagher, the competitive Catholic schoolgirl. Shannon played her with such enthusiasm that she got her own movie which people still quote today. The physicality of the character was a sight to behold and Shannon was a champ about it. She was also oddly very easy to relate to.
3. Matt Foley
Performers: Chris Farley
Watch out or you’ll live in a van down by the river! No one could contain their laughter when Farley got into this character. Nothing with Farley was ever quite able to match this, and so we’re grateful we got it at all. It was a magnetic performance and truly a sight to behold.
Performers: Bill Hader
Arguably the most famous and popular Weekend Update character, Stefon was your go-to guide to all the hottest places in New York City. From all the absurd club names to breathy voice to human midgets and the fact that Hader broke character every time, Stefon is still popular and beloved. It’s particularly amazing when you remember the first appearance of this character bombed. Plus he finally got his happy ending with Seth Meyers! Now everyone go aww.
1. Wayne's World
Performers: Mike Myers and Dana Carvey
Wayne Campbell (Myers) and Garth Algar (Carvey) are probably the most popular SNL characters of all time. Their movie had the biggest box office success of any SNL-inspired film and people are still exclaiming their catchphrases today. We can remember so many of their skits, which is what lands them here in the number one spot.