Meet the ‘Saturday Night Live’ Nepo Babies
Nepotism in comedy works about as well as it does in baseball. If you’ve got the goods — Ken Griffey Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Fernando Tatis Jr. — you’ll change franchises and make millions. But if you can’t hit the curveball, Daddy’s clubhouse connections can only take you so far. Saturday Night Live has its share of family members who got their shot at stardom, but not many offspring have cashed in with massive comedy success. Check out these SNL families and see how far those nepo-ties have taken the kids.
As far as we know, the Elliotts are the only family with three generations of SNL history. First up was Bob Elliott, one-half of the legendary radio comedy team Bob and Ray. The duo showed up on an Elliott Gould episode in Season Four, but really got to shine in the SNL one-shot “Bob & Ray, Jane, Laraine & Gilda.” Filmed on SNL sets with SNL’s director Dave Wilson and written by Al Franken and other SNL writers, it was a defacto SNL prime-time special.
We’re not sure that special got Chris Elliott a gig on Saturday Night Live, but he did show up as a cast member a few years later, lasting for one unfortunate season. After his success on Letterman, he hated having to write his own material despite not being paid as a writer. “My kids watch reruns on Comedy Central, and they’ll come to me and say, ‘I just saw you half-naked doing this thing where you’re walking into an alien spaceship and you’re supposed to be naked,’” he says in SNL oral history Live From New York. “And I’m thinking, ‘Fuck, did I ever do that?’ I think it was just such a miserable experience that I have sort of blacked out a lot of these things. That whole year I was just embarrassed.”
But his dismay didn’t deter his daughter Abby Elliott, presumably one of those kids who watched their half-naked papa goofing on SNL. “I came in really young, 21, the youngest female,” she has said. “I was really wide-eyed and didn’t have any idea what I was getting into.” Abby had a better experience than Chris, lasting for four seasons before getting the boot. “I felt as if that was my family — and then it wasn’t.”
Even SNL superfans probably don’t know Tim Herlihy. But they might remember That Herlihy Boy, a Tim-inspired Adam Sandler character enthusiastically endorsed by Chris Farley.
Herlihy was Sandler’s college roommate at NYU (a whole different kind of nepotism) and was brought aboard SNL after collaborating with the Sandman on Billy Madison. Sandler/Herlihy creations like Canteen Boy weren’t exactly highbrow, but the films that Herlihy wrote with Sandler, including The Wedding Singer and Big Daddy, have grossed more than $3 billion.
Son Martin Herlihy is a member of Please Don’t Destroy, the Gen Z version of the Lonely Island funny video factory. And like Tim, Martin met his future comedy partners while enrolled as an undergrad at NYU. As unlikely as it seems, it was Ben Marshall who introduced the younger Herlihy to John Higgins. Despite the fact that both guys had fathers who wrote for Saturday Night Live, the two had never met. While we ponder that improbability over a hard seltzer, let’s move on to…
You likely know Steve Higgins from his stint as announcer/sidekick on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show, but the longtime SNL writer and producer was responsible for cooking up classic sketches like Celebrity Jeopardy with Norm Macdonald. He was also a master of sexually suggestive charades.
It’s hard to say Steve had nothing to do with getting John Higgins and Please Don’t Destroy onto Lorne’s radar. But fair is fair — the group had blown up on TikTok and YouTube on their own, and it’s unlikely Fallon’s announcer had the social media clout to make that happen. And Steve was hardly pushing his kid into comedy success. As John told the Hollywood Reporter, “My dad tried to actively dissuade me from doing show business.”
If anyone ever constructs an SNL Writers Hall of Fame, Jim Downey will likely be one of the first scribes inducted. He wrote for the show over 30 different seasons, making him the Kenan Thompson of the writing staff. He was particularly adept at political sketches, inventing the term “strategery” for George W. Bush (speaking of nepotism).
But Jim likely had little to do with the casting of nephew Robert Downey Jr., whose early acting success was more connected to his director father than his unknown uncle. Rolling Stone, probably unfairly, named Downey Jr. the worst SNL cast member of all time. But even Uncle Jim would agree that sketches like this just weren’t getting the job done.
The fact that you likely don’t know that Dan Aykroyd’s brother Peter Aykroyd was briefly an SNL cast member demonstrates the limits of nepotism.
We’d show you a clip of one of his sketches, but YouTube doesn’t have one. The one-time SNL writer sneaked his way into 16 episodes of Season Five before riding off into the sunset to co-write Dan’s movie, Nothing But Trouble.
While John Belushi’s younger brother became a minor movie star in his own right, it’s probably fair to say Jim Belushi wouldn’t have been cast on SNL were it not for his famous last name. Jim himself credits NBC exec Brandon Tartikoff for promoting him — after seeing Jim perform at a Second City benefit for the John Belushi Scholarship Fund. Would John have been proud of Rappin’ Jimmy B?
“John would have been happy that I made it onto Saturday Night Live,” Jim has explained, “but he actually wanted me to be a dramatic actor.” Jim convinced John he could do both, despite evidence to the contrary.
To be fair to Brian Doyle-Murray, brother Bill Murray was actually following in his comedy footsteps. Brian was performing with Chicago’s Second City by 1969, inspiring Bill to try his hand a few years later. Both got their TV start as writer/performers on Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell, the original competitor to NBC’s Saturday Night, so we can’t really say that Bill’s success landed Brian a job. The Murray brothers are the only siblings to both anchor Weekend Update, but the older brother was never the star that Bill became — in the movies or on SNL.