The Top 15 Julia Louis-Dreyfus ‘Saturday Night Live’ Sketches
Before there was Veep, even before there was Seinfeld, an impossibly young (21 years old!) Julia Louis-Dreyfus showed up on Saturday Night Live. Unfortunately for JLD, she was there for the Dick Ebersol years, a sketch wasteland except for occasional moments of Eddie Murphy brilliance. Despite being criminally underused on the show, Rolling Stone ranked her the 45th best cast member of all time back in 2015. “Like Chris Rock, she stood out from the pack even in this early phase — a virtuoso wiggler and eye-roller. In the early 1980s, she was SNL's answer to Martha Quinn.” (Quinn was an MTV VJ, for you kids out there.)
By her own account, Louis-Dreyfus had a much better experience as host than as cast member — but even back in her early 20s, she showed sparks of future stardom. Here are 15 sketches that hinted at the comedy juggernaut she was about to become…
Practical Cheerleading Squad
This one-joke sketch — cheerleaders shout practical advice instead of histrionic calls to score touchdowns — at least gave Louis-Dreyfus a chance to be front-and-center. She played it pretty straight, but the charisma was on full display.
Many of JLD’s SNL sketches called on her to play straight woman to the outrageous characters around her, like Martin Short under pounds of prosthetics as her overprotective dad. But she still found small moments to break free, like when she screamed “I don’t have a mother!” in the middle of an otherwise calm convo. Both she and Billy Crystal took the sketch to another level when his wig went askew, rolling with the blunder for the bit’s biggest laughs.
As you’re about to see below, JLD did an inexplicable number of Southern accents on SNL. She was amusing here as part of a trio of singing, truck-driving gals making a food stop on their way to deliver another load.
Louis-Dreyfus convincingly portrayed mounting horror as SNL fan mail got creepier and creepier. Like many sketches of this era, the payoff — Mary Gross romances Julia’s ex-con stalker — landed with a thud. And a little cringe as well.
Romeo, Juliet and the Friar
I’m including this Romeo and Juliet sketch for two reasons: One, host Don Rickles inspired some laughs for a change. And two, JLD actually got to act, playing a convincing Juliet. She wasn’t the only cast member who couldn’t keep a straight face as Rickles tore into the company of Shakespearean players. (For some reason, SNL partnered her with Gary Kroger as Romeo, a romantic pairing that will be repeated several times on this list. It’s especially odd because she was in an actual relationship with cast member Brad Hall, but the two rarely were cast as a couple.)
MTV News II
An impression! But it was more wig than character, as Louis-Dreyfus took on early MTV VJ Nina Blackwood. But at least the impression was better than the satire on display here — bands create music videos to make money and get famous? Take it easy, SNL! We wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
A Christmas Message
Another Southern accent as JLD’s semi-recurring character, April May June, spoofed televangelists for the holidays. It was a chance for her to fly solo, and there were some laughs when April May took Joseph to task for not finding a decent hotel room for pregnant Mary.
Calvin Klein Jeans Commercials
Louis-Dreyfus had the blessing/curse of being a young, attractive woman on SNL, meaning sometimes the joke was “I’m kinda hot!” These Calvin Klein parodies didn’t have a lot of teeth, but the worst part was that each one ends with JLD getting a pie to the face. That vaudeville gag was worn out and spectacularly unfunny when Milton Berle was doing it in the 1950s.
Wrong Number Breakup
Finally, a scene with Louis-Dreyfus and Hall together! She got some decent jokes as well. Her laundry list of reasons why she thought Hall was breaking up with her — eyebrows on her back, fingers for toes, triple nipples — was pretty funny! Too bad the sketch died with its “we need to end this somehow” wrong-number conclusion.
On Seinfeld, Louis-Dreyfus showed off a gift for physical comedy that SNL only hinted at. She got to go to town in this simulated catfight with Mary Gross designed to turn on male viewers, which come to think of it, was a Seinfeld plotline in the Raquel Welch episode. Any chance Larry David came up with this cold open?
Another chance for JLD to be front-and-center, this time as a young woman about to go on a date despite a horrific zit protruding from the middle of her face. It’s left to Jeff and Beau Bridges to teach her that true beauty comes from the inside.
April May June (and her Southern twang) was back again, and this time she got to really explode into a twitching, sanctimonious fury. The sketch wasn’t strong, but this was the one where a casual viewer might have remarked, “That kid’s got something.”
Gumby Christmas Special
Paired with Kroger once again, the two made for a convincing Donny and Marie. It wasn’t so much that they nail the Osmond mystique, but for once the writers came up with a gag that was both shocking and funny. The Washington Post called it “her most memorable turn” on SNL.
Part Liza Minnelli, part Rhoda Morgenstern, part Linda Richman from “Coffee Talk,” Louis-Dreyfus’ Rachel Shmilkstein (I’m guessing on the spelling here) might have been the best realized character of her SNL run. The sketch didn’t even hit the 90-second mark, but you felt like you know the character. It was a shame they never showed us what that two-women show looked like on stage — couldn’t be worse than the pies in the face.
“I did a couple of things that for some reason are still played in gay bars around the country — like ‘Spit-Take Talk Show.’ A bunch of my friends who’ve been in gay bars say they’ve seen that played a lot,” she explained in Live From New York, an SNL oral history. “I have no idea why. I guess it has a certain campiness to it.”
Give it up to JLD — these are Elaine Benes-worthy spit takes, and clearly the best she ever during her short tenure on SNL.