First, this is a list of those who performed best on the show. In other words, you won't see Robert Downey, Jr. Ben Stiller, or Sarah Silverman just because of their later success. If you didn't do it between 11:30pm and 1am, it doesn't count.
Also, this person might have gone on to have a flop of a career after SNL, but that doesn't weigh into my list. Which, by the way, is absolute gospel.
Also, this might not necessarily mean THE funniest (although I think most of them are) but sometimes the best role players or utility players. Some of them might not have been the primary focus of a given sketch, but they could be counted on more times than not.
Also, there are going to be some omissions here, and some might chalk it up to sexism or racism, but to me it's a matter of talent and performance. For example, some might think Amy Poehler is a no-brainer here, but aside from some early strong seasons, she got a little lazy with her impressions. (See: Clinton, Hillary; Grace, Nancy)
I am also going to put them into categories: Show-Stoppers, Utility Players, and Impressionists. The Show-Stoppers are the ones who could make a skit hilarious (regardless of writing) with just their charisma and humor. The Utility players could be relied on to do any role needed, despite the quality of the skit. (They were the ones you never realized you would miss so much when they left.) And the Impressionists were good enough to actually make you forget the performer's name.
Here we go...
- Bill Murray - The original "alternative comic" on SNL
- Eddie Murphy - Carried the show for 4 years by himself
- Gilda Radner - Oozing with charisma
- Jimmy Fallon - Despite his constant cracking up, his energy carried the show
- Kristen Wiig - The most talented female the show has ever produced
- Mike Myers - See Fallon above
- Will Ferrell - The heir apparent to Bill Murray
- Dan Aykroyd - The Swiss Army knife of the first cast
- Fred Armisen - Can play any race, always finds the funny part of the character
- Jan Hooks - The most versatile female the show ever had, and a great actress
- Joe Piscopo - Don't laugh, the guy was Eddie Murphy's only wingman
- Maya Rudolph - The female Armisen (or Armisen is the male Rudolph)
- Molly Shannon - Woefully underrated
- Phil Hartman - Never had a bad performance. Ever.
- Bill Hader - The best technician in show history
- Dana Carvey - No one did a better job of getting to the heart of the character
- Darrell Hammond - Sometimes phoned it in, but brilliant
- Tina Fey - Didn't perform much, but re-energized the show
- John Belushi - I just never got him.
- Chevy Chase - I thought he did the same schtick over and over
- Chris Farley - Sometimes brilliant, but sometimes just over the top
- Amy Poehler - Got a little too impressed with her own talent
- Chris Parnell
- Will Forte
- Abby Elliot
- Jon Lovitz
- Jason Sudeikis
And the worst five cast members in SNL history:
5) Melanie Hutsell - One-note
4) Rob Schneider - The brainless "Richmeister" was his only notable character
3) Adam Sandler - One note (Opera Man, Cajun Man), and usually just juvenile
2) Keenan Thompson - Bad actor, terrible impressionist, always the same
1) Horatio Sanz -