Saturday Night’s Children: Dean Edwards (2001-2003)
Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 37 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member each week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.
While his biggest mainstream success up to now is probably subbing for Eddie Murphy in a Shrek TV sequel, Dean Edwards racked up over 20 celebrity impersonations over two seasons as a featured SNL player. Despite his spot-on mimicry of stars like Denzel Washington, Chris Tucker, and Michael Jackson and years of stand-up experience, he spent his two-season stint as more of a glorified extra than a rising star. Since then, Edwards has become a favorite college circuit comic thanks to his uncanny and ever-evolving list of celebrity impersonations, from Eddie Murphy to Jay-Z to Lil Wayne.
A native of the Bronx, Edwards moved around the New York area frequently during his youth. While earning a communications degree, he also enrolled in a six-year term with the U.S. Army Reserves. It was there that his interest in comedy blossomed: “Although his fellow soldiers loved his impressions of their drill sergeant,” he says in his website biography, “Dean spent many an afternoon doing push-ups to pay for his comedic talent.” After performing in a college talent show, Edwards turned to stand-up and voiceover work full-time, appearing on 90s stand-up shows like Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam and Showtime at the Apollo as well as voicing Scottie Pippen and Spike Lee on the MTV claymation series Celebrity Deathmatch in 1998.
Following the departure of Molly Shannon and Jerry Minor in 2001, Edwards was hired as a featured player alongside Jeff Richards, Seth Meyers, and Amy Poehler; his first episode was September 29, 2001 — the first after the 9/11 attacks. While Edwards was unsuccessful in creating recurring characters on SNL (his website bio jokingly names his original characters as “Man in Elevator” and “Cop #2”), his voiceover talents translated to over 20 celebrity impressions including musicians Billy Ocean, Grace Jones, Dave Matthews Band violinist Boyd Tinsley, and Redman; actors Don Cheadle, Sidney Poitier, and Wayne Brady; athletes Jordan Black and Serena Williams; as well as Nipsey Russell, Randy Jackson, Colin Powell, and Sway, the early-2000s MTV veejay. Although he only played Michael Jackson one time in a 2003 Versace sketch opposite Maya Rudolph, his cartoonish delivery of the Neverland Ranch King of Pop remains one of his more memorable impersonations, punctuated at every turn with his exaggerated YOO-HOOs.
Despite gaining momentum with his impersonations, Edwards never graduated to repertory status, and his run came to a halt after his second season (Chris Kattan and Tracy Morgan left the same year). He began regularly touring his self-identified “clean” stand-up act and has since appeared on P. Diddy Presents the Bad Boys of Comedy, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Comics Without Borders, Comics Unleashed, Guy Code, BET’s ComicView, and Gotham Comedy Live. He’s also appeared on The Sopranos and in 2007’s Spider-Man 3, not to mention his voiceover work on the MTV2 animated series Where My Dogs At? as well as impersonating Eddie Murphy as Donkey for the lesser-known Shrek sequels Scared Shrekless and Thriller Night.
While Edwards has yet to break into his own onscreen brand, he’s never abandoned his pavement-pounding roots as a touring stand-up, having taken his act from the states to Canada, Europe, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Kuwait. In addition to impersonating fellow SNL alum Eddie Murphy, Edwards now also channels Chris Rock and Tracy Morgan in his act. When asked by BET about his voice talents last year, Edwards replied: “That’s my mutant power. If I was an X-Man they’d call me Mimic.”
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.