40 of the most memorable characters and sketches in 'Saturday Night Live' history

Will Heath/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesBill Hader as Stefon.
  • Over the soon-to-be 46 seasons of “Saturday Night Live,” thousands of sketches have been performed, but not all of them were winners.
  • We’ve picked the 40 most memorable sketches or characters in the show’s history.
  • The Blues Brothers and Wayne and Garth got movies out of their sketches, called “Blues Brothers” and “Wayne’s World” respectively.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Not every “SNL” sketch can become iconic, since there have been so many of them. That’s what makes these sketches so important: They have stuck around in the public consciousness for years, sometimes decades.

From Buckwheat to Opera Man to Gilly, here are the 40 most memorable sketches and characters in the show’s long and storied history. Keep scrolling to learn more.

“The Coneheads” was one of the very first iconic “SNL” sketches. The premise? A bunch of aliens with cone-shaped heads trying to live on Earth.

NBCThe Coneheads.

The Conehead family even received their own movie in 1993, called “Coneheads.” It starred the original performers, Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin.

Watch a Coneheads sketch here.

“I can see Russia from my house!” With that one sentence, this sketch starring Tina Fey as Sarah Palin and Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton cemented its place in comedy history.

Dana Edelson/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesTina Fey and Amy Poehler as Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton.

It’s easy to forget that Fey had left the cast of “SNL” three years prior to this 2008 sketch – her impersonation is just that inseparable from her “SNL” career. Fey went on to reprise the role multiple times over the season, and she won an Emmy for her work.

Watch “Sarah Palin and Hillary Address the Nation” here.

“Mister Robinson’s Neighbourhood” starred Eddie Murphy as a crude version of Mr. Rogers, teaching kids about what it was like to live in a rougher part of town.

Al Levine/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesEddie Murphy as Mr. Robinson during ‘Mister Robinson’s Neighbourhood.’

Mister Robinson was one of Murphy’s iconic characters that he reprised when he returned to host the show in December 2019.

Watch “Mister Robinson’s Neighbourhood: Ransom” here.

Kristen Wiig’s Gilly is a notoriously disobedient elementary school student who always says sorry by the end of the sketch.


Gilly became so popular that Wiig eventually had to “retire” the character, as she thought she was getting overused.

Watch “Gilly: Class with Rosario Dawson” here.

Looking for some tips on exploring New York City’s hottest clubs? Look no further than Stefon, played by Bill Hader.

Will Heath/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesBill Hader as Stefon in 2018.

Notorious for breaking on camera, Hader incorporated covering his face with his hands into the character so he could subtly laugh at the ridiculous things that Stefon would say – made worse by the fact that Hader’s friend and writer John Mulaney would switch up the lines last minute to make Hader crack up.

Watch “Stefon on Halloween’s Hottest Tips” here.

“Wayne’s World” appeared over 20 times throughout “SNL” history, with Mike Myers and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth hosting a public access TV show in their basement.

Alan Singer/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesMike Myers as Wayne Campbell and Dana Carvey as Garth Algar.

Wayne and Garth became so popular that the sketch spawned two movies, and brought many phrases into our cultural lexicon, including “Excellent,” “We’re not worthy,” “Schwing,” and “That’s what she said.”

Watch “Wayne’s World: Aerosmith” here.

“Lazy Sunday” was the first digital short ever on “SNL,” and essentially helped jump-start YouTube.

NBC‘Lazy Sunday.’

The sketch has a simple premise: Two guys walking around New York City having a lazy Sunday. Need we say more?

Watch “Lazy Sunday” here.

The Blues Brothers, played by Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi, are still popular today.

NBCU Photo Bank/Getty ImagesThe Blues Brothers.

The Blues Brothers also received their own movie in 1980, and a sequel 18 years later called “Blues Brothers 2000.”

On “SNL,” the sketch was just Aykroyd and Belushi getting on stage and performing blues music, while wearing their trademark suits and sunglasses. The movie was a bit more high concept, adding a criminal element.

Watch “Blues Brothers: Soul Man” here.

Another iconic musical sketch is “D— in a Box,” starring Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake.

Dana Edelson/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesAndy Samberg and Justin Timberlake.

The premise is pretty self-explanatory, and the song even has helpful lyrics on how exactly to put your d— in a box.

Watch the Emmy Award-winning “D— in a Box” here.

Nick the Lounge Singer, played by Bill Murray, will forever be legendary for giving the “Star Wars” theme lyrics.

Alan Singer/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesBill Murray as Nick The Lounge Singer.

Nick, a lounge singer, appeared 12 times across 10 years of “SNL,” and always with a different last name depending on his surroundings – he was “Nick Slammer” for a performance in prison, “Nick Rails” for a performance on a train, “Nick Winters” at a ski resort, etc.

Watch “Nick the Lounge Singer Sings ‘Star Wars’ Theme” here.

The best way to spot an “SNL” fan is to shout “more cowbell” into a crowd, and see who laughs.

Mary Ellen Matthews/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesChris Kattan as Buck Dharma, Will Ferrell as Gene Frenkle, and Chris Parnell as Eric Bloom during ‘Behind the Music’ sketch.

This sketch, which parodied MTV’s “Behind the Music,” has become one of the most famous – and perhaps overexposed – sketches in the show’s history. After seeing Will Ferrell’s tiny shirt, Jimmy Fallon constantly breaking, and Christopher Walken demanding more cowbell, we can’t hear “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” the same way again.

Watch “More Cowbell” here.

Mary Katherine Gallagher, played by Molly Shannon, is an extremely emotional and volatile caricature of a Catholic school girl. She reprised her role in the movie “Superstar.”

Mary Ellen Matthews/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesMolly Shannon as Mary Katherine Gallagher.

Mary Katherine’s most famous tic was, of course, sticking her hands under her armpits and smelling them whenever she got nervous. She was also prone to showing off her underwear, and falling a lot.

Watch “Mary Katherine Wants to Join a Gang” here.

“Black Jeopardy!” is a recurring sketch hosted by Kenan Thompson as Darnell Hayes, where the categories vary, except for one — White People.

Will Heath/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesKenan Thompson as Darnell Hayes during ‘Black Jeopardy.’

This isn’t the first “SNL” sketch to make fun of “Jeopardy!” – more on that later – but it has created some iconic moments in recent history, such as Tom Hanks appearing as a Trump supporter, and Chadwick Boseman in character as T’Challa, aka Black Panther.

Watch “Black Jeopardy with Tom Hanks” here.

“The Californians” is an extremely niche Los Angeles-based spoof of a soap opera, in which everyone can’t stop talking about highways.

Will Heath/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Images‘The Californians.’

The Californians were made up of Stuart (Fred Armisen), Karina (Kristen Wiig), Devin (Bill Hader), plus various other cast members and hosts that wanted to join in. All of the characters speak with a thick Valley Girl accent, making it hard to understand anything they say – especially when they’re upset, which is always.

Watch “The Californians: Stuart Has Cancer” here.

Dana Carvey’s smug and pious Church Lady hosted her own talk show, “Church Chat,” which she used as a way to call out the sinful guests.

Alan Singer/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesDana Carvey as Church Lady.

Church Lady is one of Carvey’s most beloved sketches, and appeared as recently as 2016, a full 30 years after her debut in 1996.

Watch “Church Chat: Satan” here.

Opera Man was a frequent guest on Weekend Update during Adam Sandler’s tenure on “SNL.” Sandler played an opera singer who sang the news.

Alan Singer/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesAdam Sandler as Opera Man.

Opera Man returned in 2019, when Sandler returned to Studio 8H for the first time in over 20 years, not a moment too soon.

Watch “Weekend Update: Opera Man and His Brother” here.

Perhaps the most iconic “SNL” sketch of all time, Chris Farley played Matt Foley, a motivational speaker who cautioned kids about living in a van down by the river.

NBCMatt Foley, motivational speaker.

While Farley played the character numerous other times, the “down by the river” sketch remains the gold standard of “SNL” comedy.

Watch “Matt Foley: Down by the River” here.

“The Delicious Dish” was a recurring NPR sketch, but the most famous segment included Alec Baldwin talking about his Schweddy Balls.

Mary Ellen Matthews/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images‘The Delicious Dish.’

How impactful was this sketch? Ben & Jerry’s named an entire ice cream flavour after it.

Watch “NPR’s Delicious Dish: Schweddy Balls” here.

Natalie Portman’s squeaky-clean image was challenged by these two sketches of her rapping about snorting heroin, having sex, and cheating on tests.

Rosalind O’Connor/NBC/Getty Images‘Natalie Raps 2.’

Portman has rapped twice on “SNL” – both sketches are equally iconic, and have spawned plenty of GIFs in their days. The sketch is so beloved that when she did it again, Andy Samberg cameoed, years after he had left the show.

Watch “Natalie Raps” here and “Natalie Raps 2” here.

The Vogelchecks were a particularly loving family — everyone greeted each other with long, tongue-filled kisses.

Dana Edelson/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesThe Vogelchecks.

Sometimes, all you need for a laugh is a bunch of kissing and some close family relations.

Watch “Kissing Family: Austin Brings his Girlfriend Home for Christmas” here.

Drunk Uncle is the most famous of Bobby Moynihan’s recurring characters.

Dana Edelson/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesDrunk Uncle and Seth Meyers.

The name says it all – Moynihan plays everyone’s favourite drunk and semi-inappropriate uncle. We all have one.

Watch “Drunk Uncle on Halloween” here.

Colonel Angus is notorious among “SNL” fans for its double entendre.

Dana Edelson/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesColonel Angus.

Colonel Angus, played by Christopher Walken, is returning home from the Civil War in this sketch, and everyone’s excited to see him. We can’t say more, for fear of ruining the jokes.

Watch “Colonel Angus Comes Home” here.

Tom Hanks’ David S. Pumpkins is the Halloween mascot we’ve all been missing.

Rosalind O’Connor/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesDavid S. Pumpkins.

Pumpkins has become so beloved that he received his own animated special in 2017. Any questions?

Watch “Haunted Elevator (ft. David S. Pumpkins)” here.

The Czech-born Festrunk brothers are just two wild and crazy guys.

NBC Television/Archive Photos/Getty ImagesComedians Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin posing as the ‘two wild and crazy guys.’

Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin played Yortuk and Georg Festrunk, respectively, two Czech brothers who were desperately looking for dates – or foxes, to use their word.

Watch “Two Wild & Crazy Guys: Computer Dates” here.

Eddie Murphy donned some white makeup in “White Like Me,” a daring sketch in which he dressed up as a white man to see how people treated him differently.

NBC‘White Like Me.’

Murphy began teaching the country about white privilege in 1984, decades before it became the talking point it is today.

Watch “White Like Me” here.

You might have forgotten that “The Chanukah Song” originated on “SNL.”

Alan Singer/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesAdam Sandler performs ‘The Chanukah Song.’

There have been many iterations of “The Chanukah Song,” including the one sang in “Eight Crazy Nights,” and a 2015 version. But the original debuted on an episode of “SNL,” made for kids who felt left out during the holiday season, reminding them of all the Jewish celebrities.

Watch “The Chanukah Song” here.

One of most enduring images in “SNL” history is that of Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley writhing around on stage at a Chippendales audition.

Al Levine/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Images‘Chippendales Audition.’

This originally aired in 1990, and it’s bittersweet to watch now, as both actors died before their time – we can only hope that they’re somewhere together dancing along to “Working for the Weekend.”

Watch “Chippendales Audition” here.

Is that “Hide and Seek” we hear? No, it’s just “Dear Sister,” the sketch that launched a thousand memes.

NBC‘Dear Sister.’

This absurd sketch was inspired by a scene from “The OC,” in which Marissa (Mischa Barton), shot the brother of her on-screen love interest, all set to “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap.

Of course, the Lonely Island took it to another level, writing a sketch in which everyone gets shot multiple times, and each gunshot restarts the song. “Mmm, whatcha say?” will never be the same.

Watch “The Shooting AKA Dear Sister” here.

While the sketch itself isn’t too memorable, the shock of seeing Barack Obama on “SNL” is.

Dana Edelson/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesThe Clintons and Obama.

You can hear the genuine shock in the audience when Obama takes off his … Obama mask … and reveals that it’s really him underneath. It remains to be seen what politicians will appear on “SNL” this year.

Watch “The Clintons’ Halloween Party” here.

Garth and Kat’s freewheeling singing about the holidays never gets old.

Dana Edelson/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesMichael Che, Kristen Wiig as Kat and Fred Armisen as Garth on December 20, 2014.

Wiig and Armisen are an unstoppable duo, proven most by their frequent collaboration as Garth & Kat, a duo that seemingly only sings improvised holiday songs. You simply never know where they’re going to go. It’s one of the only truly imrovised bits on the show, which Wiig told Moveline she appreciates.

“[Armisen] definitely starts and I just try to follow. We don’t rehearse. The first time we do it that week is literally at the dress rehearsal,” she said. “It’s the most fun I have because so much of the show is writing, working, deadlines, trying to figure things out, punching up your sketch, knowing you’re going to perform live. And that two and a half minutes of airtime is so freeing and fun.”

Watch “Garth and Kat Sing Hanukkah Songs” here.

Buckwheat is another one of Eddie Murphy’s iconic characters — he played an adult version of the character from “Little Rascals.”

NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesEddie Murphy as Buckwheat during the ‘Buh-Weet Sings’ skit on October 10, 1981.

Buckwheat is another character that returned when Murphy hosted “SNL” last year – this time, as a contestant on “The Masked Singer.”

Watch “Masked Singer” here.

Kate McKinnon’s Colleen Rafferty has travelled through time, met aliens, and met ghosts.

Will Heath/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesKate McKinnon, Ryan Gosling, and Cecily Strong.

Unfortunately for her though, she seems to have a much rougher time than her peers who have also gone through these experiences, and she usually ends up flashing everyone.

Watch “Close Encounter” here.

When Dan Aykroyd uttered his famous “Jane” phrase, it solidified the place of “Point/Counterpoint” in “SNL” history.

Fred Hermansky/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesDan Aykroyd.

This phrase has become so ingrained in our culture that it was referenced on an episode of “The Office.”

Watch the scene here.

“Word Association” starring Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase showed audiences how far “SNL” was willing to go for a laugh.

NBC‘Word Association.’

In the sketch, the two play the common word association game where one person says a word or phrase, and the other person responds with the first thing they can think of. It starts off harmlessly, until Chase begins saying racially charged terms, ending with the n-word – and Pryor’s response is something to behold.

Watch “Word Association” here.

“Celebrity Jeopardy!” sketches starring Will Ferrell as a beleaguered Alex Trebek and Darrell Hammond as a cheeky Sean Connery were always a classic.

Mary Ellen Matthews/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesWill Ferrell as Alex Trebek and Darrell Hammond as Sean Connery.

While the other cast of characters changed, depending on impersonations and hosts, Ferrell’s Trebek and Hammond’s Connery were constants, as was their adversarial relationship. Poor Alex.

Watch “Celebrity Jeopardy!: French Stewart, Burt Reynolds, & Sean Connery” here.

Before “Cheer,” the most famous cheerleaders were the Spartans, starring Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri.

Al Levine/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesWill Ferrell as Craig Buchanan, Cheri Oteri as Arianna, and Jim Carrey as Lochmiel during ‘Wrestling Tournament’ skit on May 18, 1996.

The cheerleaders would appear at various sporting events that didn’t necessarily require cheerleaders, like chess or wrestling. They’d pep it up the only way they knew how: screaming.

Watch “Spartan Cheerleaders at a Chess Tournament” here.

The film “A Night at the Roxbury” was based on this sketch starring Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan as two brothers who really loved “What Is Love?”

Al Levine/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesChris Kattan, Jim Carrey, and Will Ferrell as ‘The Roxbury Guys.’

The Roxbury Guys, as they were called, famously had a head-bobbing dance that everyone tried to replicate in the ’90s, but couldn’t, because normal people don’t have rubber necks like they seemed to.

Watch the original sketch here.

Roseanne Roseannadanna was Gilda Radner’s most famous character.

NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesGilda Radner as Roseanne Roseannadanna.

Roseannadanna was supposed to be a consumer affairs reporter, but she’d always go off topic or editorialize, and usually had to be reminded by the Weekend Update anchor to stay on topic, which she never did. Between her hair and her voice, Roseannadanna was an easily recognisable break-out star from the show’s early days.

Watch “Roseanne Rosannadanna on Smoking” here.

John Mulaney waited years for “Diner Lobster” to become a reality.

Will Heath/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesJohn Mulaney and Kenan Thompson during ‘Diner Lobster’ in Studio 8H on April 14, 2018.

“Diner Lobster,” which the Atlantic called “the best ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch in ages,” aired in 2018 when Mulaney, a former writer on the show and successful comedian, returned to host the show for the first time.

The sketch focuses on two diner patrons, played by Chris Redd and Pete Davidson, and their desire to order lobster at an NYC diner. Their waiter, John Mulaney, responds with disbelief, and the entire diner turns into one big “Les Misérables” tribute – we promise it makes sense. Plus Mulaney had co-written the sketch with Colin Jost in 2010, so it’s extremely satisfying that it finally made it to air.

Mulaney has followed this up with two more musical tributes to NYC staples, “Bodega Bathroom,” which borrows from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” and “Airport Sushi” which has nods to many famous musicals like “Annie” and “Phantom of the Opera.” But the original will always be our favourite.

Watch “Diner Lobster” here.

Debbie Downer is the most famous of Rachel Dratch’s characters and made everyone on stage break, including herself.

Dana Edelson/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty ImagesRachel Dratch as ‘Debbie Downer.’

Debbie Downer, as you can guess, found a way to bring down everyone’s fun, most famously at Disney World, though she appeared in other sketches too. We can almost hear the sad trombone noise now.

Watch “Debbie Downer: Disney World” here.

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