Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 36 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.
Much like Seth Meyers and Darrell Hammond, I’ve always classified Tim Meadows as his own breed of SNL cast member separate from all the impressionists and recurring character machines he worked with during his ten seasons on the show from 1991-2000. While he did have the lispy afro-sporting womanizer Leon Phelps who spawned his own Michaels-produced film The Ladies Man, Meadows’ stint on SNL is more of a testament to his consistency and low-key versatility that outlasted several cast shakeups than a favorite character or catchphrase. However minor his comedy career may seem, his record-breaking SNL tenure (which Hammond usurped in 2005) is only one facet of his over 20 years of understated comedy contributions.
Born in Michigan, Meadows studied television and radio broadcasting at Wayne State, did some improv, and, as all middle American improv geniuses must, went to Chicago to auditon for iO and Second City. SNL hired him as a featured player midseason alongside Adam Sandler, and the two first appeared on February 9, 1991 with host Kevin Bacon. Meadows was promoted to repertory status in 1993.
Considering fellow new featured player and only other male African-American cast member Chris Rock’s humor was more based in stand-up than improv, Meadows had no competition impersonating celebrities like OJ Simpson, Tiger Woods, Michael Jackson, Don King, Whoopi Goldberg, Sammy Davis Jr., and Sports Center host Stuart Scott in one of my favorite Meadows sketches, in which he plays the “BOO-ya!” catchphrase-using anchor shocked by Ray Romano as his new coanchor trying to trademark his own line “Sweet sassy molassy!” To make light of being the only African American impressionist, Meadows appeared in the 1994 cold open “Clinton Auditions,” in which he gives his Clinton impression alongside cast mates Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, David Spade, and Chris Elliot – “I’m not gonna get this, am I?” In Live from New York, Rock notes that despite their differences, he and Meadows were still relegated to different corners of the show: “With Tim Meadows being on the show, you know somewhere in your mind that if there’s two nonwhite, pretty good sketches, they probably won’t both get on. And they’ll never go back-to-back, even if they have nothing to do with each other.”
Meadows found his foil with the arrival of Tracy Morgan in 1996, and the two created recurring duos with sketches like “Russell & Tate” and “Pimp Chat” (with Meadows as Pimpin’ Kyle and Morgan as Bishop Don “Mack” Donald), but Meadows began to gain momentum as a solo performer when he first played “Perspectives” talk show host Lionel Osbourne in 1995: “Fulfilling WNBC’s community programming requirements, Perspectives.” The smooth-talking, Courvoisier-drinking sex advisor Leon Phelps came two years later, and Meadows went on to make a whopping 16 SNL appearances as The Ladies Man, rounding it off with a 2000 film that was neither a hit with critics or audiences, though it’s since gained more recognition in the cult comedy canon.
Despite his lack of SNL stardom, Meadows appeared on various shows and films during his time as a cast member like Coneheads, Wayne’s World 2 (as Sammy Davis Jr.), It’s Pat, and Strangers with Candy (as Percy Kittens). He left SNL before the premiere of The Ladies Man and went on to appear in The Benchwarmers, Semi-Pro, Grown Ups, Glory Daze, The Bill Engvall Show, The Office, and The Life & Times of Tim, and he had small but memorable roles in 2004’s Mean Girls as Principal “I did not leave the South Side for this!” Duvall and as Sam in 2007’s Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (“You don’t want no part of this shit!”). Meadows also rocks recurring comic reporter gigs on both The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and as Stephen’s favorite black Republican P.K. Winsome on The Colbert Report (sadly, he hasn’t appeared since 2010), and he was also featured in two recent Funny or Die videos (“Women’s Health Experts Speak Out” and “Herman Cain’s 1986 Sexual Harassment Training”). Meadows currently lives in Chicago and continues to perform improv regularly across the country, most recently with Joe Canale and Brad Morris under the name Uncle’s Brother.
Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.