Saturday Night’s Children: 2013 In Review

This year turned out to be another round of 1980s domination for Saturday Night’s Children. While it’s been a low-key year for the column as far as SNL superstars go, we reached feature #100 with Eddie Murphy a few weeks ago and passed the 70% mark on cast members covered overall – 101 out of 137 and counting. In the continued spirit of underdogs and lower-key SNL names, my favorite two cast members to learn about this year were Gary Kroeger and Danitra Vance, two underappreciated 80s players whose stories are both enlightening and inspiring in vastly different ways. So with that, here’s a rundown of the Saturday Night’s Children of 2013.

1. Dan Aykroyd (1975-1979)
From the cigarette-sucking burger-flipper in the “Olympia Café” sketches to the skeevy public access TV show host E. Buzz Miller to the robotic alien Beldar Conehead, Aykroyd made countless chameleon-like flips and turns with his many recurring characters and, unlike Chase and Belushi, disappeared into them with a sensitive brilliance that made him the show’s first steady utility player and uncanny impersonator.

2. George Coe (1975-1976)
Though his list of onscreen appearances almost tops 130 titles, Coe — who ties with Michael McKean as SNL‘s oldest cast member at his time of hire — only made occasional drop-ins on the show serving as announcers, hosts, judges, and other roles of authority that called for an older and wiser delivery that Chevy Chase, John Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd were all too young and wild to provide.

3. Peter Aykroyd (1979-1980)
Barely appearing on the show at all, the younger Aykroyd was credited as a cast member for only six of the sixteen episodes he spent as both a writer and sparingly used featured extra.

4. Brian Doyle-Murray (1979-1980; 1981-1982)
Despite his lack of success as a cast member, Doyle-Murray is one of the few writers who worked under all three SNL producers (Lorne Michaels, Jean Doumanian, Dick Ebersol) and saw the show through the rocky ratings and reviews that came in the wake of the original cast.

5. Charles Rocket (1980-1981)
One of the few truly “dangerous” moments of the infamous Jean Doumanian SNL run from 1980-1981 came from a louche, too-handsome 30-year-old comedian named Charlie Rocket, and it caused the whole cast to be fired, and Jean too.

6. Eddie Murphy (1980-1984)
Thanks to a combination of undeniable talent, persistence, luck, and a streak of Hollywood blockbusters, Murphy transformed from one of the show’s most unlikely hires to the biggest star in SNL history.

7. Matthew Laurance (1980-1981)
Looking back on his SNL stint, Laurance told the Inquirer that “it was a very weird scene involving new producers, actors and crew — we could have been brilliant, but nobody would watch.”

8. Ann Risley (1980-1981)
Risley’s comic versatility and appeal may have fallen short during the show’s dismal sixth season, but her dramatic acting background made her the go-to pretty-faced foil to her more boisterous cast mates.

9. Gail Matthius (1980-1981)
Matthius’s screen time may have faded soon after leaving SNL, but she went on to voice a slew of cartoon characters most 90s kids know well, most famously as Bobby Generic’s mother Martha and her Minnesotan catchphrases “fer corn sakes” and “don’t ‘cha know” for eight seasons on Howie Mandel’s Bobby’s World.

10. Patrick Weathers (1980-1981)
Between the backstage troubles with producer Jean Doumanian and onscreen dominance of Piscopo and Murphy, Weathers had little opportunity to prove more than a laconic Big Easy-accented musician-turned-actor with a knack for impersonating his musical contemporaries.

11. Christine Ebersole (1981-1982)
While Ebersole sought out film and TV roles both before and after her SNL stint, her passion for performing in Broadway and Off-Broadway productions has brought the most acclaim, and instead of leaving the 8H stage for a budding Hollywood career, she’s performed on just about every other stage in New York.

12. Gary Kroeger (1982-1985)
While his time on SNL is often overshadowed by cast mates like Eddie Murphy, Joe Piscopo, and Billy Crystal, a closer look at Gary Kroeger’s sketches reveals an engaged supporting player of charm and versatility who buzzed steadily — though very quietly — until the end of his three-season stint.

13. Jim Belushi (1983-1985)
Dick Ebersol hired Belushi as the lone new addition for SNL‘s ninth season — one of its most tumultuous eras, but despite Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo’s and later, Billy Crystal and Martin Short’s airtime domination, Jim held his own, showing he possessed the same on and offscreen intensity of his brother; he’s since been accused of fits of rage that include throwing a chair through a wall and throwing a fire extinguisher at Ebersol.

14. Rich Hall (1984-1985)
While Rich Hall’s biggest claim to fame to younger Americans is being the inspiring force behind the grumpy bartender Moe Szyslak on The Simpsons, for those old enough to remember watching Fridays, Not Necessarily the News, and Dick Ebersol’s era of Saturday Night Live, Hall was a prolific young street performer-turned-writer/performer who skyrocketed the term “sniglet” to fame throughout the eighties and starred in one of the very first shows on The Comedy Channel, now Comedy Central.

15. Randy Quaid (1985-1986)
Whether you believe Quaid’s allegations or dismiss him as a whack job actor overly consumed by Hollywood politics, he’s spent the majority of his life working steadily in films, TV movies, and stage productions, including an oft-forgotten year on SNL from 1985-1986.

16. Damon Wayans (1985-1986)
Mistakes on live television are inevitable even for the most experienced SNL cast members, but where character breaking and even accidental F-bombs have garnered Lorne Michaels’s forgiveness, Damon Wayans’s firing remains the show’s most infamous case of intentional sketch sabotage.

17. Danitra Vance (1985-1986)
SNL‘s first gay black female repertory player Danitra Vance joined during the show’s eleventh season, and though she had a background as a classically trained Shakespearian actor, Second City performer, and recent Off-Broadway favorite, she spent her single season stint mostly relegated to black bit parts.

18. A. Whitney Brown (1986-1991)
Occupying the peripheral space on SNL in the late eighties and early nineties was A. Whitney Brown, noted for his stuffy straight-man delivery as Weekend Update correspondent and preference for more cerebral political commentary rather than recurring character gags or impersonations.

19. Mike Myers (1989-1995)
Whether you know him best for Party on, Garth, Yeahhh baby!, or It’s like buttah, Mike Myers remains one of SNL‘s most talented creators of original characters as well as one of its biggest smash-hit successes.

20. Chris Rock (1990-1993)
With an overcrowded family, years of taunting by his classmates, and struggles as the only black kid in an all-white school, Rock’s success as a comedian soon after was all but predestined, and his three seasons of ushering SNL into the nineties fast forwarded his already steady ascension into fame.

21. Robert Smigel (1991-1993)
Whether or not any given Smigel work made it to film or TV or whether he got much screen time as an SNL cast member makes little difference; he’s one of the most respected, hardworking, and on-point sketch comedy writers out there, and an integral part to SNL’s branching out to the viral video era.

22. Beth Cahill (1991-1992)
Among the players who lingered in the shadow of the Sandler-Farley brofest was Chicago native Beth Cahill, whose young blonde appeal and traditional improv roots couldn’t stand a chance against the established tone and overcrowded cast.

23. Norm Macdonald (1993-1998)
Macdonald’s real SNL success came with his turn as Weekend Update anchor in 1994, where his bitingly dry take on the news harkened back to the straight-delivery style of Chevy Chase and Dennis Miller with an added touch of aggression, even when at the expense of the audience.

24. Michael McKean (1994-1995)
As the oldest person to be hired as a cast member in SNL history, it makes sense that Michael McKean once described his role on the show as “to be kind of the adult — to be David Spade’s dad.”

25. Darrell Hammond (1995-2009)
Considering he holds the SNL distinctions of being the oldest hired cast member, most celebrity impersonations, final 90s-era player to leave the show, longest overall tenure, and most times saying “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” all at once, Hammond managed to stay impressively under-the-radar during his 14-season stint.

26. Dean Edwards (2001-2003)
Despite his spot-on mimicry of stars like Denzel Washington, Chris Tucker, and Michael Jackson and years of standup experience, Dean Edwards spent his two-season stint as more of a glorified extra than a rising star.

27. Abby Elliott (2008-2012)
Elliott’s announcement of her SNL departure in August 2012 came as an odd surprise to most fans and we’ll never know what would’ve happened had she stayed a little longer, but for such a consistently underused cast member, Elliott still managed to shine even in the smallest roles she was given.

28. Paul Brittain (2010-2012)
Though he appeared infrequently during his year and a half stint as a featured player, Brittain’s small frame, shy-flirty delivery, and ability to sway from joyful to creeptastic and back again in even the smallest of roles guaranteed an added level of eccentricity to any sketch.

Thanks to all who’ve enjoyed reading my column, and I’ll see you in 2014 with a whole new set of SNL cast members.

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