In the comedy world, earning a spot on Saturday Night Live is equivalent to winning the golden ticket. History has proven that exposure from the iconic sketch comedy show can lead to fame, fortune, and a seat in the pantheon of great comics. As the series approaches its 47th season, we’re taking a look at the most successful SNL alum in history. Check out who has given us the most laughs on Saturday nights over the last four-plus decades, then find out how they capitalized on their popularity post-SNL.
20. Jason Sudeikis
Improv-trained Jason Sudeikis got his start on SNL as a writer in 2003, but he was promoted to feature player in 2005. Until 2013, he was known for his impressions of prominent politicians including George W, Bush, Joe Biden, and Mitt Romney.
Sudeikis has had a busy career both during and after his SNL tenure. His prolific filmography includes roles in TV (30 Rock), film (Horrible Bosses, We’re the Millers) and animated features (The Angry Birds Movie). But his best known project is in the current Apple TV+ comedy Ted Lasso. In 2021, he won a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Golden Globe Award for the starring role.
19. Maya Rudolph
Maya Rudolph was plucked from the popular improv troupe the Groundlings and added to the SNL cast in 2000 as a featured player. She stuck with the series until 2007, bringing laughs for exaggerated impressions of pop culture divas likeBeyonce, Donatella Versace, and Christina Aguilera. Following her departure, she’s had a successful career as a comedic film actress (Grown Ups, Bridesmaids) and voice actor (Big Hero 6, The Angry Birds Movie, Luca). She also loans her voice to popular series like Bless the Harts and Big Mouth—the latter of which earned her a 2020 Primetime Emmy Award.
Rudolph hasn’t forgotten her roots. She won a second Emmy in 2020 in the category of Outstanding Guest Actress In A Comedy Series for her portrayal of Vice President Kamala Harris on SNL. Judging by the reactions, the audience at 30 Rock was thrilled to see her back on the stage that kick-started her career.
18. Andy Samberg
Andy Samberg joined SNL in 2005, ushering in an era of the series that appealed to a younger, internet-savvy audience. His digital shorts (“Lazy Sunday”, “I’m on a Boat”, “Motherlover”) were viral sensations that transcended Saturday night television, attracting 7-figure views on YouTube. Samberg even scored a Creative Arts Emmy for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics for “Dick in a Box,” his hilarious duet with Justin Timberlake.
Since leaving the show in 2012, he hasn’t stopped delivering laughs. He starred as Detective Jake Peralta in the hit series Brooklyn Nine-Nine the very next year and won a Golden Globe for the role in 2014. His most recent film, Palm Springs, also earned Samberg a Golden Globe nomination in 2021 for Best Actor in Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.
17. Kristen Wiig
Kristen Wiig served as an official cast member on SNL from 2006 until 2012, and audiences loved her fearlessness of looking foolish. Some of her best characters include the awkward troublemaker Gilly and the obnoxious busybody known as Target Lady.
But Wiig’s big breakthrough was the 2011 comedy Bridesmaids, which she wrote and starred in. The film earned nominations for a Golden Globe Award (Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical) and Academy Award (Best Original Screenplay). She has since had parts in major projects like the Despicable Me series and Wonder Woman 1984. But comedy will always be her first love—her most recent film, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, was named one of the best films of 2021 by the Hollywood Reporter.
16. Amy Poehler
Amy Poehler can do impressions of countless public figures, from Britney Spears to Kim Jong-Il. But during her run on SNL from 2001 to 2008, she is perhaps best known as the co-anchor of Weekend Update. Her upbeat-but-snarky delivery of the week’s news earned her a 2008 Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.
A year after leaving SNL, Poehler struck gold with her NBC hit comedy Parks & Recreation. The series ran for seven seasons and boasts 14 Primetime Emmy Award nominations, a Golden Globe nomination for Best TV Series – Music or Comedy, and a Golden Globe win for Poehler (Best Actress — Television Series Musical or Comedy).
Poehler also found she has a knack for working behind the scenes. To date, she has directed two Netflix films: Wine Country (2019) and Moxie (2021). And her production company, Paper Kite Productions, is responsible for hit series including Broad City and Russian Doll.
15. Chevy Chase
Chevy Chase joined SNL in its first season back in 1975; he was also the first anchor of Weekend Update. But despite being hailed the “funniest man in America” by New York magazine, he left the following year in the middle of the second season. He immediately enjoyed a successful film career, starring in classic comedies like Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Three Amigos. Through it all, he joined the SNL Five-Timers Club by returning as a host on seven different occasions.
Chase’s popularity waned in later years, but his career received a second life when he joined the cast of NBC’s Community in 2009. However, he left the show in 2013 after disputes with creator Dan Harmon and is now plotting his next move. His most recent project was a voice role in the animated film Panda vs. Aliens.
14. Jimmy Fallon
Jimmy Fallon joined SNL as a featured player in 1998 and became an immediate star. Audiences loved his celebrity impressions (Robert DeNiro, Barry Gibb) and characters like the obnoxious Boston teen Pat “Sully” Sullivan. But his most notable role was as co-anchor of Weekend Update. He sat at the news desk between 2000 and 2004, at which point he said goodbye to the series altogether.
As we all know, Fallon’s talent led to much greater things. From 2009 to 2013, he hosted Late Night with Jimmy Fallon; the following year, he graduated to hosting The Tonight Show. Today, he’s an indelible part of pop culture history.
13. Chris Rock
During his three-year tenure on SNL (1990-1993), Chris Rock was known for recurring characters like the militant talk show host Nat X and his fictional public access show I’m Chillin’. However, he shot to fame after leaving the series and returning to stand-up comedy in the latter half of the decade.
Rock has had major success in both film and television. He hosted HBO’s The Chris Rock Show between 1997 and 2000; it received seven Emmy Award nominations and one win in 1999 for Outstanding Writing for a Variety or Music Program. And from 2005 until 2009, he produced and narrated the semi-autobiographical series Everybody Hates Chris. Most recently, he received great reviews for his starring role in the fourth season of Fargo.
But stand-up is where he continues to shine. According to the Hollywood Reporter, he banked $40 million in a 2016 deal to create two Netflix specials.
12. David Spade
David Spade joined SNL as a writer in 1990. Once he was bumped to cast member status, he stayed with the program until 1996. You might remember him as one of the Gap Girls, or for any number of twerpy smart-ass characters he played so brilliantly.
After leaving the show, he found instant success by teaming up with Chris Farley for Tommy Boy and Black Sheep. Following Farley’s death, he joined the cast of the NBC sitcom Just Shoot Me! Spade also continued starring in movies (Joe Dirt, Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star) and performing stand-up throughout the 2000s.
More recently, Spade hosted the 2019 Comedy Central show Lights Out with David Spade. He also starred in the 2020 Netflix comedy The Wrong Missy.
11. Tracy Morgan
Tracy Morgan appeared on SNL between 1996 and 2003, and there’s no shortage of memorable characters he played during that time. Astronaut Jones, Brian Fellows, and Dominican Lou are just a few that left viewers in stitches.
But Morgan’s best known for playing Tracy Jordan on the NBC sitcom 30 Rock (2006-2013). Playing a caricature of his real life self, he earned a 2009 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. His most recent project is a starring role in the TBS comedy The Last O.G. (co-created by comedian Jordan Peele).
10. Tina Fey
Tina Fey was SNL’s first female head writer before she officially got on the other side of the camera in 2000. Although she appeared in a number of sketches, she was best known as Jimmy Fallon’s co-anchor on Weekend Update. She continued to co-host with Fallon’s replacement Amy Poehler until 2006, at which point she bid adieu to SNL to develop 30 Rock. Of course, she later returned as guest star to play Sarah Palin during the 2008 election.
30 Rock was a smash hit. In its seven seasons, it earned an astounding 103 Emmy Award nominations. Fey followed up with another success, creating and producing Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. And let’s not forget her contributions to film—she wrote 2004’s Mean Girls and has appeared in over twenty movies, including Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Sisters, and Wine Country.
9. Will Ferrell
Will Ferrell breathed new life into SNL during his seven years on the series. From 1995 to 2002, he brought sidesplitting laughs for his physical comedy and impressions to public figures (George W. Bush, James Lipton, Alex Trebek.)
Ferrell appeared in a number of comedies during his SNL years, but his film career exploded after leaving the show. Hits include Old School, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Elf, and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. He’s also had success behind the camera—Ferrell is the co-founder of Funny or Die, and served as a co-producer for the HBO comedy Eastbound & Down.
8. Bill Murray
Bill Murray joined SNL in 1977 following the departure of Chevy Chase, and remained until 1980. He managed to elicit laughs for his wacky characters (Nick the Lounge Singer) and co-anchoring gig on Weekend Update, but Murray was far more successful outside of the series. His filmography includes classic 1980s comedies including Caddyshack, Tootsie, and Ghostbusters.
Murray continued to star in great films during the 1990s (Groundhog Day, Rushmore), but he gained credibility as a dramatic actor during the following decade. In 2004, he won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. In 2020, he reunited with the director and earned yet another Golden Globe nomination (Best Supporting Actor) for the film On the Rocks. Later this year, he will reprise his role as Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
7. Dan Aykroyd
Dan Aykroyd was the youngest cast member on SNL during his four-year run (1975-1979). But his age didn’t keep him from delivering hilarious impressions of older figures like Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, and Julia Child. SNL is also where he first debuted the Coneheads, which later spawned a feature film.
Aykroyd’s post-SNL success include co-founding The Blues Brothers with John Belushi and co-writing Ghostbusters. Outside of film and TV, he co-founded the music venue House of Blues and founded the spirits company Crystal Head Vodka. Later this year, he’ll join Bill Murray in the latest Ghostbusters film.
6. Eddie Murphy
From 1980 to 1984, Eddie Murphy was known for parodies of Gumby, the Little Rascals’ Buckwheat, and Mr. Rogers (as Mr. Robinson) on SNL. But his talent was never meant to be limited to a weekly variety show. Murphy was a box office draw in the 1980s, starring in hits like 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop.
He was also a stand-up superstar. Delirious (1983) and Raw (1987)—comedy specials that would have had him canceled in today’s climate—were widely regarded as classics that made him a household name.
Murphy cleaned up his act starting in the late 1990s, making family-friendly films like the Nutty Professor and Dr. Dolittle. But he eventually found a middle ground and in 2019, he received a Golden Globe nomination for the film Dolemite Is My Name. His most recent film was 2021’s Coming 2 America, a sequel to his classic 1988 comedy Coming to America.
5. Mike Myers
Mike Myers appeared on SNL between 1989 and 1995, making a name for himself with recurring characters like Linda Richman, Simon, and Phillip the Hyper Hypo. But it was Wayne’s World, a sketch co-starring Dana Carvey, that made him a pop culture phenomenon.
Following the popularity of two Wayne’s World feature films, Myers topped himself with the Austin Powers film series. Major family-friendly projects include starring in The Cat in the Hat and serving as the voice of DreamWorks’ Shrek.
Myers has since kept a low profile, but in 2018, he had roles in Terminal and Bohemian Rhapsody.
4. Ben Stiller
Ben Stiller was a featured performer on SNL for all of four episodes before he left the show in 1989. But his short stay didn’t hurt his career. A few years later, he found success with The Ben Stiller Show on Fox. Although it only lasted one season, it won the 1993 Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program.
Stiller’s star continued to rise in the late 1990s and 2000s, thanks to films like There’s Something About Mary, Meet the Parents, and Zoolander. These days, Stiller prefers to work behind the camera; he serves as executive producer of the comedy Queenpins, starring Kristen Bell, Bebe Rexha, and Vince Vaughn.
3. Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Many viewers don’t remember Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ SNL years (1982-1985) because she was in the same company as larger-than-life comic Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, and Martin Short. But we certainly remember her post-SNL years when she played Elaine Benes on Seinfeld. Her next sitcom, The New Adventures of Old Christine, earned her a 2006 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
Most recently, we had a love/hate relationship with her character Selina Meyer on the HBO series Veep. The role led to a record-breaking six consecutive Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series between 2012 and 2017.
Up next for Louis-Dreyfus: a multi-year deal to executive produce and star in exclusive projects for Apple TV+.
2. Robert Downey Jr.
Don’t feel bad for Robert Downey Jr. Sure, he only lasted for one season of SNL in 1985, and his most famous skit, Suitcase Boy, is regarded as the worst idea in the show’s history. But he managed to recover from the humiliation—as well as a string of scandals in the 1990s—and enjoyed success as the star of Iron Man. Aside from his fame from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, his recent films include Dolittle (2020) and the upcoming comedy All-Star Weekend, directed by Jamie Foxx.
1. Adam Sandler
Adam Sandler, who starred on SNL from 1990 to 1995, was best known on the program for his awkward characters (Canteen Boy) and original music (“The Chanukah Song”). He stuck to comedies in his earlier post-SNL years, churning out hits like Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, and The Waterboy. But Sandler eventually earned acclaim for more serious roles in films like Punch-Drunk Love and Uncut Gems.
Today, he’s SNL’s biggest success story. Despite mixed reviews for his later comedies, Sandler continues to renew lucrative deals with Netflix. His latest four-film deal, signed in 2020, is rumored to be worth $275 million.