Yesterday, Grantland writer Andy Greenwald answered a question in his mailbag column about Saturday Night Live. Wade B. asked Greenwald, “Who would be your All Time SNL cast including head writer? Considering that if you include Belushi his drug problems come with him, Eddie Murphy would have to work with Lorne Michaels, and Chevy Chase is a asshole?”
Greenwald took Wade’s restrictions into consideration, based his cast size of seven on the original cast from 1975 (guess he forgot about George Coe who lasted three episodes), and made his dream cast: Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Phil Hartman, Bill Hader, and Amy Poehler with Tina Fey as head writer. He would also have Fey anchoring the Weekend Update desk. It is a strong cast, and it got me thinking about my dream SNL cast.
I have written on this blog about SNL before. It is my favorite television show of all-time, and I have watched it almost religiously for 23 years. I watched Sinead O’Connor rip up a picture of Pope John Paul II, saw Chris Farley’s ass (probably more than once), and heard Jenny Slate drop an f-bomb during her first sketch. I have also (thanks to Comedy Central and Netflix) watched episodes from the 1970’s and 80’s, so I feel like I can put together a pretty good cast.
Greenwald had four locks on his cast: Ferrell, Wiig, Murray and Murphy. I only have two locks: Ferrell and Hartman. These two are my locks not just because I consider them the best cast members since I started watching in 1990, but also because their fellow cast members talk about them making everyone else in the cast better. These guys are like the Michael Jordan and Peyton Manning of SNL. You can almost guarantee a laugh if either Ferrell or Hartman appear in a sketch whether it’s through their delivery, facial expressions, or movements.
Murphy would be my next cast member. Without Eddie Murphy in the 1980’s SNL might have been cancelled. The show was awful, ratings were down, and Lorne Michaels left due to “exhaustion.” It was not a good time for the show. Could Michaels and Murphy get along? Murphy’s sketches were funny from Gumby to Buckwheat to James Brown, and Michaels knows that his show needs to be funny for people to watch. It also needs an edge, and Murphy would bring that as well.
Greenwald’s female lock, Wiig, is not on my dream cast. I know, blasphemy. If this cast could include 10 members Wiig would make it, but my one concern about Wiig is versatility. I always felt that Wiig was playing a slightly different version of the same character. I do not dislike Wiig, but if you are limiting me to seven cast members, she does not break into that seven. To fill this fourth spot I am going with Poehler. As a fan of Upright Citizen’s Brigade I knew of Poehler before she joined the cast in 2001 (her first episode was the season premiere which aired 18 days after 9/11), and over her eight seasons on the show she became, in my opinion, the greatest female cast member in the history of SNL. Poehler would also be my lone Weekend Update anchor.
Murray also makes my list, but I really wondered if it was because of his post-SNL work, and not so much for his time on the show. I went back, and watched some sketches, and realized that Murray is a really, really great sketch comedian. With all the craziness that John Belushi or Dan Akyroyd brought, or the smugness of Chevy Chase, Murray was the guy next door. A Midwestern sensibility really shines through Murray, and maybe because I am from Michigan it speaks to me more than Belushi, Akyroyd and Chase. On this cast, Murray would be the Bobby Moynihan or Chris Parnell. Someone who is solid everytime they appear, maybe a little under the radar, but they seem to be completely fine with that.
While it has not always been the case, over the last 30 years the SNL cast always seemed to include a great impressionist. Hader and Darrell Hammond held down this role over the past 18 seasons, but neither make my cast. If you give me the eighth “George Coe” spot I would fill it with Hader, but for my impressionist I am going with Dana Carvey. From 1986-1993, Carvey brought to life George H. W. Bush, Casey Kasem, Ross Perot, Woody Allen, and Paul McCartney. His impressions may not have the polish of Hader’s, but this is a comedy show, so the polish does not necessarily need to be there. Carvey also has a nice repertoire of “original” characters that includes; Lyle the Effeminate Heterosexual, Grumpy Old Man, and his most famous character, Garth Algar. Unfortunately, Mike Myers does not make my cast, so Garth would most likely be shelved.
My final pick for my dream cast is Gilda Radner. Of all the original cast members, Radner is my favorite. Her portrayals of Lisa the nerd, Roseanne Roseannadanna, and Baba Wawa were always spot-on and funny. Radner projected a sweetness and innocence during her performances on SNL that is needed at times, and anyone who can hold their own with Belushi, Akyroyd and Murray is a much needed addition with the likes of Ferrell and Murphy on the cast.
The first head writer for SNL was Michael O’Donoghue, and he would be a solid pick if he didn’t seem to have been slightly insane. He refused to write for The Muppets when they appeared on the show, scared Catherine O’Hara so much she quit before she ever appeared, and essentially pissed everyone off. I also thought about Fey, Seth Meyers, or even Adam McKay, but my pick for head writer is Jim Downey. Downey joined SNL as a writer in 1976, and was the head writer from 1986 to 1995. I consider this stretch to be the greatest in SNL history, and the writing is as much a part of it as the cast. Writers like Robert Smigel, Conan O’Brien, Jack Handey and Bob Odenkirk were all present during this time. Fey might bring the double threat of head writer and Weekend Update anchor, but Downey’s crew wrote some of the greatest sketches ever. Downey may not be the sexy pick, but the man who stood with Norm MacDonald after he was fired is the man I want in the writer’s room.
So there they are: Will Ferrell, Phil Hartman, Eddie Murphy, Amy Poehler, Bill Murray, Dana Carvey, Gilda Radner and Jim Downey as head writer with Bill Hader in the “George Coe” spot. John Belushi and Chris Farley have too many issues for me to consider with the restrictions given by Wade, Kristen Wiig is in the top 10, and somewhere, someone has put Jeff Richards on their list.