The 8 Best Straight Men and Women on ‘Saturday Night Live’

Straight characters are the yin to the Bowen Yang
The 8 Best Straight Men and Women on ‘Saturday Night Live’

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Lorne Michaels was a straight man. Before launching Saturday Night in 1975, Michaels was part of the comedy duo Hart and Lorne, with Michaels playing the sober Carl Reiner role to Hart Pomerantz’s manic Mel Brooks persona.

That experience likely convinced Michaels of the importance of the straight man (or woman) in comedy sketches, the voice of reason who keeps SNL’s craziest characters anchored in reality. Every cast employs comics who embody the archetype and here are eight of the best to ever do the job…

Jane Curtin

In a show full of nonsense, Curtin embodied “no nonsense,” a lone beacon of sanity in the comedy wilderness. Her determined journalist persona proved to be the perfect counterpoint to wacky early characters like Dan Aykroyd’s oily Irwin Mainway and Gilda Radner’s daft Emily Litella.

Phil Hartman

They didn’t call the guy “The Glue” for nothing. While Hartman was capable of creating unhinged characters like Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer and the Anal-Retentive Chef, his most underrated talent was the ability to hold sketches together while maniacs like Chris Farley threatened to tear the place apart. 

Tim Meadows

When Meadows left the show, he’d logged more seasons than anyone up until that point. He built that legacy on his ability to play it straight while comics like Chris Rock brought the pain. 

Tina Fey

When Jimmy Fallon was a young, mischievous scamp on Weekend Update, it was up to take-no-prisoners Tina Fey to keep him in line. Fey borrowed a bit of Curtin’s “I don’t have time for your bullshit” attitude and updated it with a sarcastic sensibility that let us know she was in on the joke. She also knew how to set the table for comedy vets like Betty White to deliver big laughs.

Horatio Sanz

Sanz often committed the biggest straight-man sin: cracking up in the face of other comics’ jokes. But he never shined brighter than as Amy-Poehler-as-manic-Kaitlin’s bemused stepfather Rick, serving up the perfect combination of patience and exhaustion.

Chris Parnell

Whether playing the boss, the boyfriend, the father or the put-upon coworker, SNL could always count on Parnell (and here, Meadows) to keep a straight face while nutcases like Cheri Oteri made it weird. 

Jason Sudeikis

Sudeikis was an expert at playing white-guy authority figures — dads, politicians and attorneys. It takes one helluva straight man to transform Eli Manning into a sketch comedy star, but Sudeikis pulls it off like a quarterback hitting a receiver in mid-stride. 

Kenan Thompson

For what seems like the better part of three decades, Thompson has been a secret weapon for the show’s writers. Can’t think of a joke to move a scene forward? Type “KENAN REACTS” into the script and let the guy do his thing. While Thompson is capable of being the scene’s out-there character, he’s somehow even funnier when he provides the everyman reaction to the bizarro antics around him. 


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