Saturday Night Live Characters That I Miss

Monday, May 14, 2012

As much as I've tried to give the current cast of Saturday Night Live (SNL) a chance, I just don't find them as funny as the ensembles I grew up with in the 80s and 90s. One thing I've noticed in particular that seems sorely lacking lately with the show is the presence of recurring original characters that make me laugh. When's the last time a character on SNL became so ingrained with the general public that their lines were routinely repeated, or a movie was made around them? I'm not saying that every movie starring a SNL character was always a good idea (one exception was Wayne's World) but it does seem to say something about the creativity of the writers and actors. I never got the "Gilly" character created by Kristen Wiig, for example--and I'm guessing others didn't, either, since Wiig retired the character last year.

For me, nothing beats the casts of SNL past...and here's some of their characters that I would gladly stay up late for:

Fernando Lamas
How many times during the 80s did we tell someone, "You look mah-velous?" As Fernando Lamas, Billy Crystal soon became known for coining the 80s catchphrase (which really wasn't all that funny; it was only the accent that made us laugh.) Little did I know at the time that Fernando Lamas was actually a real person--the Argentine-born actor and father of Lorenzo Lamas. Crystal was inspired to impersonate Lamas after the actor appeared on The Tonight Show and told Johnny Carson that "it is better to look good than to feel good." Crystal's Fernando portrayal was an exaggeration of the real deal; his Fernando was a bachelor while the real Lamas had been married four times, the last and longest union being the one he shared with swimmer Esther Williams. What I remember even more than the "Fernando's Hideaway" skits on SNL was the catchy 1985 novelty song that Crystal recorded, called "You Look Marvelous." Crystal even tried to seduce a can of Diet Pepsi with Fernando's accent in a 1980s commercial:

Ed Grimley
Martin Short and one of his most famous on-air personas go way back to before he came a SNL regular, when he appeared on stage in Toronto's Second City comedy improv group. Originally, Grimley was an unnamed character whose developing personality traits morphed him into the spastic fellow with bad hair and a rabid love for Wheel of Fortune on SNL. I'll admit that most of the time, Grimley was just plain annoying; it was when he was thrust into stressful situations (i.e. getting a visit from the devil, witnessing Ed Asner murder someone in his apartment building, or waiting to meet his idol, Pat Sajak) that I found the sketches to be at their funniest. Grimley proved so popular that he continued to make appearances on Martin Short's post-SNL TV specials, and an animated version of the character starred in The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley. When Martin Short hosted SNL in 1996, he played the character once again, now presumed dead, in a skit called "Ed Grimley in Heaven."

The Anal Retentive Chef
You know the type of cook who generally throws recipes together with "a pinch of this and a dash of that?" Well, the Anal Retentive Chef (Phil Hartman) is not that type of cook. He'd work his panties in a huge wad if something was not prepared and presented exactly right. Sometimes I think Phil Hartman has been forgotten compared to other SNL alumnis who passed away before their time, and I was pleased to see that there's a Facebook page dedicated to the Anal Rententive Chef character.

Fred Garvin, Male Prostitute
As far as I know, Fred Garvin the Male Prostitute--as played by Dan Aykroyd--only made one appearance on SNL and that's a shame, because in my opinion this character was funnier than the annoying Beldar Conehead and Aykroyd's parody of Julia Child. Most likely it was because Fred, with his plaid jacket and Buddy Holly glasses--was as far removed from Richard Gere's American Gigolo character as you could get. During his one and only sketch, he attempts to seduce Margot Kidder as a gift from her grain and feed company--with corny jokes and sexy poses. Does he succeed? You'll have to watch the skit below to find out.

Matt Foley
Chris Farley's hyperactive Matt Foley character never failed to crack me up. A motivational speaker, he was the most unlikely individual to hold this title as he regularly belittled his clients with sarcastic remarks and reminded them that he was "living in a van down by the river" while struggling to keep his pants in place on his overweight frame. Most of Foley's pep talks would end with him crashing into a piece of furniture, often injuring himself in the process. Yes, it was predictive physical comedy but it still made me laugh. My favorite Matt Foley sketch was the one where he warned two teenagers (played by David Spade and Christina Applegate) about the dangers of rolling doobies. Spade can't get through the skit without holding a hand in front of his face to hide his smile. Supposedly a movie featuring the Foley character was being planned when Farley passed away in 1997.

There are many more, such as Mike Myers' Dieter from Sprockets and Bill Murray's lounge singer Nick, but you get the point. Who are your favorite SNL characters that you miss?


  1. I've tried watching it but I can't get into it the last few years.

  2. It has been so many years since I've even seen SNL. I'm not sure I even know who is on there now. But I do remember fondly the SNL I first saw back in the '80s, with Joe Piscopo, Billy Crystal, Eddie Murphy, Julia Lois Dreyfus, Mary Gross, etc. I remember Brad Hall did a deadpan rendition of the news. Good times...

    Of course, I would also become acquainted in due course with the "classic" original cast of SNL in the '70s... John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtain, Bill Murray, etc.

    It seems as if the comedy was so much more "free wheeling" back then...

  3. I began watching SNL at the very beginning, back in 1975--my older brother was in junior high at the time, we'd huddle around the 13" black & white tv in his room and laugh our butts off, feeling like we were getting away with something! Anyway, there's been such a wealth of characters since then--to be honest, I kinda felt the mid-80s were "very conventional comedy" years, I always liked the edgier material--if I had to pick an all-time favorite though, it'd have to be Gilda Radner & Bill Murray as Lisa & Todd, "The Nerds"--they made me cry every time!

  4. I miss the "Killer Bees" Belushi and the rest did...the "Cheeburrrgurr, No Coke. Pepsi" restaurant skits from the 70's, and am I the only one who remembers the Land of Gorch and the Muppets being regular cast members? "I am the Mighty Favog. How many in yer party?"

  5. Matt Foley! How great was he?!? I love how in one skit, David Spade totally broke character and had to cover his face because he started cracking up.

    As for the current season.. it's all about the guest. It really depends on who's guest hosting the show.

    Guess those of us who saw Belushi.. Akroyd.. Chase.. Farley.. Crystal etc. are spoiled!

  6. @Teena in Toronto - same here. I've watched/recorded it when someone I like is hosting the show, but it just doesn't have the magic touch anymore.

    @lazlo, you grew up on the show the same time I did. Free wheeling is the right expression for it.

    @Doug, I looked up an old "Nerds" skit and Bill Murray was singing a song about chess to the tune of "Grease" (chess is the word...) Stupid but funny...

    @Stonemaven - I honestly don't remember the Muppets being on SNL! I'll have to dig up some clips.

    @Darrin - yep, check out the clip I posted for Matt Foley. It's the one with David Spade trying to hide the fact that he was ready to bust into laughter any second.

  7. Christopher Walken as The Continental...

  8. Rosanna Rosannadana
    Toonces The Driving Cat
    Mr. Bill
    Jan Brady
    Church Lady
    Mr.Robinson (and his neighborhood)
    Land Shark
    George Bush (the elder)
    Debbie Downer
    Spartan Cheerleaders
    Paul Baldwin (The original host of Coffee Talk, also played by Michael Myers, before he switched to Linda Richman)

  9. I can't remember names of the actresses but the 2 absolutely boring female public radio show gals always had me in stitches and the "Dysfunction Family Christmas Album" sketch is my all tme favorite.

  10. Bobby TrosclairMarch 30, 2014 6:27 PM

    I loved the Matt Foley character - he was originally in Farley's Second City sketches in Canada.

    Matt Foley was actually based on a real person - Farley's priest, Matt Foley, who later served as an Army chaplain in Afghanistan:


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