Needless to say, Robert Downey Jr. has been an amazing actor for a long time but his portrayal of Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe catapulted him into the stratosphere. Many know about his rise and fall and rise again, but what many don’t know is that RDJ found himself on a certain live episodic TV show. Unbeknownst to a lot of people, Robert Downey Jr. joined the cast of Saturday Night Live along with future SNL heavyweights Dennis Miller and Jon Lovitz, actors Joan Cusack, Anthony Michael Hall, and Randy Quaid and comedy legend Damon Wayans during a time when show’s producer Lorne Michaels was bringing in popular actors (as well as comedians) to try and make the show an even bigger hit. Though RDJ was a flop on SNL, he still joins the pantheon of celebrity guests and award-winning cast members that have graced our Saturday night’s with laughter for over four decades. The show’s sketches and their satirical news program “The Weekly Update” works as a virtual zeitgeist for the past 40 years of pop culture history.
SNL has been the showcase and springboard for countless comedy legends but the characters that they created and brought to life on the show will never be forgotten. After Adam Sandler’s hosting of this past weekend’s SNL episode and the revival of his memorable character, The Opera Man; I was inspired to give my top ten list most memorable character/characters/duo that was birthed on SNL. The character can be portrayed by a guest host or a cast member but we will exclude the very memorable portrayals of real people (political, historical, celebrities, etc) and will include these in a different list. This list will try to concentrate on original characters that originated on Saturday Night Live, much like Martin Short’s extremely popular Pat Sajak loving character “Ed Grimley” was created while he was performing in the comedy group Second City it gained popularity on SNL.
Since I do love a top 10, I give you (my) Top Cat’s Tuesday Top 10: SNL Characters –
Honorable Mentions: Samurai Futaba (John Belushi) and Mary Katherine Gallagher (Molly Shannon)
10. Mr. Robinson – Eddie Murphy, the heavyweight star of the show at that time, was knocking it out of the park with memorable sketches. Sketches showcasing impressions of James Brown, Buckwheat and his parody of the infamous PBS children’s show Mister Roger’s Neighborhood was a huge hit and even got a laugh from Fred Rogers himself who thought the parody was done in an affectionate manner. Eddie Murphy was the driving force that kept SNL alive during the time period when Lord Michaels was not with the show.
9. The Festrunk Brothers – Czechoslovakian emigrants Yortuk (Dan Aykroyd) and Georg Festrunk (Steve Martin) were ‘two wild and crazy guys’. and were always out on the prowl for ‘foxes’. Of course, their overly obnoxious pick-up lines never worked to pick up any ladies but their antics always made us laugh.
8. The Roxbury Guys aka the Butabi brothers – Another memorable set of brothers unsuccessfully out on the prowl to pick up women were Doug (Chris Kattan) and Steve Butabi (Will Ferrell). Complete with slicked hair and rayon suits, their trademark in unison head-bob to the music of Haddaway’s “What is Love” and obscene gyrating against innocent women definitely made them one of SNL’s most memorable characters and their failed attempts at love were some of the funniest sketches.
7. The Spartan Cheerleaders – Four over four years, we laughed at the elaborate but always meaningful cheers from the failed East Lake High School cheerleaders who showed up to support their school even when it wasn’t wanted. Craig (Will Ferrell) and Arianna (Cheri Oteri) have plenty of unwarranted school spirit which gives lots of laughs.
6. The Church Lady – Her God-given name may have been Enid Strict (yes you read it right) but we knew her as The Church Lady (Dana Carvey). An over the top, uptight, holier-than-thou, pious Christian talk show host always sarcastically responded to her guest’s answers with “(w)ell, isn’t that special?” and made sure her guests (and watchers) knew exactly where she stood on the topics of the day.
5. Coneheads – Husband Beldar (Dan Aykroyd), wife Prymaat (Jane Curtin) and daughter Connie (Laraine Newman) were anything but a normal emigrant family; because their consuming mass quantities (sometimes foods that humans would not be able to eat) and smoking full packs of cigarettes at the time would alarm anyone. The alien family from the planet Remulak found themselves stranded on Earth and when anyone that they encounter questions their behavior, their answer is “we are from France”. They seem to be worried more about them eating pencil shavings and passing out six-packs of beer as trick-or-treat candy than their giant cone-shaped heads!
4. The Bruce Dickinson – Bruce Dickinson is introduced as Record producer working with the rock band The Blue Oyster Cult during their 1976 recording session where they recorded their biggest hit, “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper”. Bruce Dickinson in this skit (excuse me The Bruce Dickinson) puts his pants on one leg at a time, but when he does get his pants on he ‘makes gold records’. (While the real Bruce Dickinson [not to be confused with Iron Maiden’s lead singer Bruce Dickinson] was a mid-level producer at Columbia Records when they reissued the album and put out the Blue Oyster Cult’s greatest hits compilation and was not present at all during the initial recording. Back to the sketch at hand: even though The Bruce Dickinson (Christopher Walken) think the band has ‘a dynamite sound’, he wants Gene Frenkle’s (Will Ferrell) cowbell to be more prominent on the track. So he dismisses what would be great takes to emphasize that he ‘needs more cowbell’. Though there is nothing about the skit that is AT ALL true to the actual recording of the classic track (including the fact that there is not even a band member named Gene Frenkle); the sketch itself created a character that is one of SNL’s greatest of all time.
3. Wayne’s World – “Wayne’s World! Wayne’s World! Party time! Excellent!” Okay, I may seem like a hypocrite because it is definitely pushing it with this one. Hypothetically Mike Myers didn’t create his character ‘Wayne’ on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. He originally created the Rock and Roll loving Wayne Campbell when he starred on the CBC Television show It’s Only Rock and Roll back in 1987, BUT the long-haired metalheads Wayne (again played by Mike Myers) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey) came together in 1989 and the real story began. That was when the backstory for their sketches that centered around Wayne and Garth’s local public-access television show produced out of Wayne’s parent’s basement in their hometown of Aurora, Illinois on Cable 10 Public Access channel (which also was the channel you would find Church Chat) began. So far there have been 21 Wayne’s World sketches as well as 2 feature-length movies of the now pop-culture icons. So….”Party on Wayne.” “Party on Garth.”
2. Blues Brothers – Harmonica player and singer Elwood Blues and his brother lead vocalist Jake ‘Joliet’ Blues front a band which was composed of some of the most well-known blues musicians of that time. In a musical sketch that came from Aykroyd and Belushi’s love of the blues; that original sketch spawned into somewhat of a pop culture phenomena. The band was actually a musical guest on SNL in 1978 while going on to produce two movies, multiple albums (their first album Briefcase Full of Blues reached #1 on the Billboard 200, had 2 top 40 hits and went double platinum)
1. Matt Foley – The ‘thrice-divorced’ eccentric yet extremely abrasive and disparaged motivational speaker Matt Foley (Chris Farley) motivates his audience to not end up like him. He describes himself as “35 year old, eating a steady diet of government cheese, and living in a van down by the river!” and wallows in a river of self pity. The original sketch in which Foley is brought in by a couple to motivate their teen children (played by David Spade and Christina Applegate) to turn away from their drug-fueled teenage lifestyle and ‘get back on the right track’. He did more than motivate them, he motivated us all. The original Matt Foley sketch was voted by Rolling Stones magazine as the greatest SNL sketch of all time and the Matt Foley character is definitely one of the most recognizable characters ever created. Though he had done a version of this motivational speaker in sketch comedy groups before joining the cast, the Matt Foley motivational speaker was definitely transformed and transmitted on SNL. So I guess “Whoop-dee-frickin-doo!” We’ll just neglect all the rules I talked about earlier. 😉
Robert Downey Jr by and attributed to Edgar Meritano – Publicada en wikipedia, author sent original by email, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4008669
Eddie Murphy in 1988 by and attributed to 2Serenity (Jennifer), CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6903175
Featured Image – Stefon attributed to Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36724374
Dana Carvey as the Church Lady attributed to Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6129849
Christopher Walken in the More Cowbell Sketch attributed to Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5358840
Blues Brothers attributed to Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=734296
Matt Foley attributed to Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44546442