Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 35 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member each week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.
Some SNL cast members don’t find widespread success until after they leave the show, and that’s the case for Rob Riggle, who was a featured player from 2004-2005 and left without much of a lasting impact in terms of characters, sketches, or impressions. SNL never figured out what to do with this tall, vaguely menacing, but ultimately hilarious Superman/soldier hybrid who’s also a pilot and decorated Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps and served in Liberia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. Never one to back down from a challenge, Riggle didn’t let his lack of SNL success stop him; he went on to gain fame during his two-year stint as a Daily Show correspondent and now rocks a thriving career of stand-up, video, television, and film appearances.
After graduating college with his theater degree, Louisville, Kentucky-born Riggle (who already had his pilot’s license) joined the Marine Corps as a second lieutenant. Since becoming a pilot came with an eight-year commitment, Riggle elected to become a ground officer instead so he could have more time to pursue a career in comedy. He told Warming Glow about the decision earlier this year:
I said to myself — I even wrote it down in the back of this book I had at the time — “If I leave flight school, if I quit something for the first time in my life, then it’s gotta count for something.” And so I wrote down exactly what I was going to accomplish if I quit flight school, and the first thing I wrote was, “I’m gonna get on Saturday Night Live.” And almost ten years to the day — Almost! Ten years. To. The. Day — I got on Saturday Night Live.
After fulfilling his four-year ground officer contract, Riggle continued to work as a Marine from 1997-2000 in New York and spent his evenings pursuing both improv and stand-up comedy, namely at the Upright Citizens Brigade where he met future comedy partner Rob Huebel and helped form the long-running sketch team Respecto Montalban. Riggle and Huebel worked as a comedy duo on shows like Best Week Ever and A2Z, and were regular performers on Late Night with Conan O’Brien through the early 2000s.
Riggle and Huebel both auditioned for Saturday Night Live in the summer of 2004, and Riggle landed a spot as a featured player for the 30th season. While he was sometimes used as a supporting character in sketches, Riggle didn’t find much luck on SNL and was unable to establish any recurring characters. Leviticus, his street prophet character, appeared once on Weekend Update after previously getting cut in dress rehearsal. He also impersonated Howard Dean, Toby Keith, Larry The Cable Guy, Mark McGwire, and Rick Sanchez.
Riggle’s career opened up a year after he left SNL when he landed a spot as a correspondent on The Daily Show from 2006-2008, where he covered everything from the war in Afghanistan to the Beijing Olympics (“Rob Riggle: Chasing the Dragon”). While on the show, Riggle started working on a stand-up act and credits fellow Daily Show correspondent John Oliver with encouraging him to perform in New York; he’s toured comedy clubs across the country ever since. He also hosted Live at Gotham, starred in his own Comedy Central Presents special, and appeared in supporting roles in shows and movies including The Office, Arrested Development, Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story, The Hangover, and Gary Unmarried as well as bigger roles on Human Giant, Funny or Die Presents, and most recently NTSF:SD:SUV. Riggle’s upcoming projects include Home Game, The Lorax, and the film adaptation of 21 Jump Street alongside Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. He remains in the Marine Corps Reserves to this day and proves that it’s possible to be America-strong and irreverently hilarious at the same time. SNL may not have known what to do with him, but luckily for us — in more ways than one — Riggle’s never backed down.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.