The 10 Most (In)famous Recurring ‘Saturday Night Live’ Characters from Non-Cast Members
The long history of Saturday Night Live, from John Belushi’s Samurai to Bill Hader’s Stefon, is littered with recurring characters, audience favorites who return over several episodes to reinforce (or ruin) their popularity. More unusual, however, are the recurring characters played by funny people who aren’t in the cast. The degree of difficulty is high — the non-cast members have to be asked back to host several times. Then they have to create characters in those limited opportunities who demand repeat performances. But as the following sketches prove, the feat can be done.
Here are 10 repeat characters by people who don’t draw a regular check from SNL…
Steve Martin — Georg Festrunk (one of the Wild and Crazy Guys)
In the early days of SNL, you could mistake Steve Martin for a regular cast member — he hosted eight times over the first five seasons. That gave him plenty of opportunities to create recurring characters such as Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber, the hairdresser who also diagnosed illnesses due to “an imbalance of bodily humors, perhaps caused by a toad or a small dwarf living in her stomach.”
But Theodoric never had the catchphrase cachet of the Festrunk brothers, the swinging Czechs in search of big American breasts played by Martin and Dan Aykroyd. “We are two wild and crazy guys” became T-shirt fodder and a staple of 1978 high school variety shows.
Buck Henry — Uncle Roy
Somehow lost to history is the fact that Henry hosted even more than Martin in SNL’s early days, an astounding 10 times between 1976 and 1980. Like Martin, he created a character that showed up over multiple episodes but Uncle Roy, the babysitter who takes Polaroids of prepubescent girls, is the should-be-in-prison poster child for “characters aging badly.”
Almost as bad is Henry speaking years later to the Archive of American Television, defending the character because 1) the older man and young girls “really loved each other”; and 2) the sketches were written by women. Those who long for the days of gonzo National Lampoon-style humor should remember that it included “laughs” like this, with shock as the crucial ingredient.
Christopher Walken — The Continental
Speaking of aging badly. Walken’s Continental was a Pepé Le Pew cartoon come to life, chasing an unseen woman around a room (the scurrying camera was from her point-of-view) in the hopes of an amorous embrace. While the joke was on the Continental — he always got the cold shoulder, no matter how suave his seduction patter — he wasn’t exactly the kind of gentleman who took “no” for an answer. Walken even wanted to make a Continental movie. “The problem with the Continental is that he never leaves his house,” he says in Christopher Walken A to Z. “But it might be interesting to see the Continental go out and nothing works. He’s a social catastrophe. I think that would be interesting.”
George Wendt and Joe Mantegna — Bill Swerski’s Superfans
Mantegna was the original Bill Swerski in the sketch that launched “Da Bearssss” catchphrase, an adaptation of a stage skit written by Robert Smigel and Bob Odenkirk from their Chicago days. Smigel considered the sketch a one-off, but when George Wendt hosted a few months later, they brought back the Superfans with Wendt filling in as “Bill’s brudder, Bob.” Wendt kept coming back for nine total sketches predicting world dominance for da Bears, da Bulls and Mike Ditka.
John Goodman — Linda Tripp
The Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal of the 1990s was late-night comedy cannon fodder, little of which was especially fair or kind to Lewinsky. One could argue that Linda Tripp was more deserving as the brunt of jokes, but did she merit John Goodman in drag stuffing her face with Häagen-Dazs and Kentucky Fried Chicken? The real Linda Tripp was traumatized, as were her children. “Kids are so sensitive about their parents ... and my kids always thought I was pretty. And they were so completely shattered by John Goodman (he made 5 SNL appearances as Tripp) and the horrible press,” she told Larry King in 2001. The sketches were one reason she decided to get plastic surgery. “I just felt so badly for them. I just wanted to fix it.”
Justin Timberlake — The Dick in a Box Guys
I’m not 100 percent convinced that Timberlake is a comic genius, but you got to hand it to him — he created two recurring characters on SNL that hold up. First, there’s the breathless falsetto of Robin Gibb, sidekick to Jimmy Fallon’s Barry on The Barry Gibb Talk Show sketches. But his truly indelible impression is the crooner who partnered with Andy Samberg for Motherlover, 3-Way (The Golden Rule) and Dick in a Box.
The Lonely Island guys and Timberlake “grew up with that kind of 1990s R&B group sound when we were kids, so we had this idea about those groups and how to do a joke about guys who were still stuck in that era,” Timberlake says in Live from New York, The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. The result was a sketch that could have been about The Continental’s nephews, except that these guys were even more inept at romance (and eventually get arrested for their inappropriate seduction techniques).
Jonah Hill — Adam Grossman
Hill told Seth Meyers that Adam “I’m six!” Grossman was based on Bill Hader’s real-life experience. “In his hometown, he went to Benihana and saw a kid, but he didn’t know if it was a 40-year-old man or a 6-year-old kid,” says Hill. “Bill started doing it as like a mafia Tony Soprano guy and then I started doing him as a Catskills comedian. And then you, Bill and I stayed up all night writing it, and we were laughing, and it was one of the joyous memories of my life.”
Adam has been back for Japanese food four times and counting.
Alec Baldwin — Donald Trump
The iron man of recurring characters, Baldwin played Trump a jaw-dropping 46 times (which was probably about 44 times too many). That was bad news for Darrell Hammond, who had his own recurring Trump character. When Lorne Michaels decided to bring in Baldwin for the job, “I just started crying,” Hammond told the Washington Post. “In front of everyone. I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock, and I stayed in shock for a long time. Everything wiped out. The brand, me, what I do. Corporate appearances canceled. It was a hell of a shock, and all of it was apparent to me in one breath. That ends me.”
Tom Hanks — David S. Pumpkins
The SNL character that Hanks has reprised the most times (three) is actually Mr. Short-Term Memory, a one-joke premise that works thanks to Hanks’ total commitment to the bit.
But for cultural impact, we’ll go with David S. Pumpkins, a character who barely speaks but somehow inspired two sketches, an animated special and a thousand Halloween costumes on frat row. “I remember writing, ‘I’m David Pumpkins,’ and then Bobby (Moynihan) added the ‘S’ — ‘David S. Pumpkins,’” Mikey Day told Vulture.
“Why not?” says Moynihan. “At four o’clock in the morning, you don’t ask questions.”
John Mulaney — Uncle Meme
Mulaney’s sketch about an uncle getting turned into a meme by his nephew (Pete Davidson) not only inspired a follow-up sketch but a template so Twitter could play along. Let’s hear it for the #whitecollarvirgin.