The 5 All-Time Best ‘SNL’ Glue Guys

Every cast needs someone to hold it together
The 5 All-Time Best ‘SNL’ Glue Guys

Most Saturday Night Live casts feature a variety of comic archetypes — the Wild Things like Chris Farley and John Belushi; the Eccentrics like Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon; and the Impressionists like Jay Pharoah and James Austin Johnson. But none of it works without the Glue Guys — cast members who can carry a sketch on their own but make their bones playing the world-weary parent, the beleaguered boss or the bewildered customer in the world’s weirdest diner. Glue Guys create the reality that tethers sketches to our world, creating hilariously absurd comedy instead of random madness. 

Here are five of the greatest Glue Guys that SNL has ever produced — including the performer for whom they invented the term “Glue Guy”…

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Chris Parnell

Despite the indignity of being fired from the show only to be asked back months later, Parnell was a master of playing the clueless straight guy. Consider how important Parnell’s overly serious interviewer is to making Natalie Portman’s outrageous raps work.

Redditors on r/LiveFromNewYork agree. “He’s a Glue Guy,” writes Illustrious_Feed_457. “They are the cast who make it all come together.”

“Every team needs a glue guy,” agrees GeneticParmesan. “Hes so underrated and would be an absolute lock on my dream cast.”

Bill Hader

General rule of thumb: If you’re the go-to for game show hosts, you’re probably a Glue Guy. Think Will Ferrell’s role in the Celebrity Jeopardy sketches — for once, Ferrell dials it back to a slow burn while Darrell Hammond’s Sean Connery and Norm Macdonald’s Burt Reynolds sing lead. But for my money, no one does the exasperated game show host better than Hader. 

Characters like Stefon and Anthony Peter Coleman will make Hader’s highlight reel, but he shone in roles like the put-upon dad in Jonah Hill’s Adam Grossman sketches. Raise a glass to silent mortification.

Kenan Thompson

For the performer with the record for most SNL seasons amid no signs of stopping, Thompson has surprisingly few signature characters to his name. There’s Diondre Cole from the “What’s Up With That?” sketches and… huh. What is up with that?

What’s up is that Thompson is the consummate Glue Guy, playing the host of Black Jeopardy and Celebrity Family Feud and countless befuddled everymen. He’s the audience stand-in, the guy who can’t believe the insanity going on around him. “Here’s a secret,” SNL writer Bryan Tucker told Slate. “If you’re a Saturday Night Live writer, and you want to get an extra laugh in your script, just add this line: KENAN REACTS. Sure, it’s sort of cheating. But we still do it sometimes. Because it works.”

Dan Aykroyd

The original Glue Guy. Aykroyd was the first cast’s Swiss Army knife, an expert at playing officious a-holes, commercial pitchmen and unsavory con men. Aykroyd barely speaks in this Nerds sketch featuring Bill Murray and Gilda Radner as the world’s most uncool teens, but he still manages huge laughs — even before he reveals his ass crack on national television.

While Gilda Radner and John Belushi took center stage after Chevy Chase, “the full force of Dan Aykroyd’s talent flowered in a whole series of characters,” according to Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live. What Norman Lear loved about Aykroyd was what he “loved in Carroll O’Connor and Bea Arthur — a madness that would allow them to go anyplace.” 

Phil Hartman

Hartman, a comic whose goal was to be the next Aykroyd, “was definitely a guy that was in everything,” former SNL writer David Mandel told Grantland. “And he could play anything. Yet you never got a sense that everybody knew exactly who he was.”

There was one thing about Hartman that everybody agreed on — his ability to make any sketch work. “His nickname was Glue because he held all the sketches together,” says castmate Kevin Nealon.

Hartman was the calm at the center of SNL’s most chaotic storms, the only one keeping a straight face when Chris Farley unleashed his manic motivational speaker. Farley deservedly got all the flowers for this sketch, but it doesn’t work without overly accommodating parent Hartman and his increasing horror about what he’s invited into his house.

“People like Phil make it safe for people to be crazier,” said Julia Sweeney, who studied under Hartman with the Groundlings. “They’re the gravitas. It’s not going to go completely off the rails if Phil’s in the sketch.”

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