Saturday Night Live’s 25 Most Repeated Characters

Photo: NBC

There is nothing Saturday Night Live loves as much as a character it can bring back again and again, with the hopes that it may someday be the thing that greeting card lines and movies are made of. Vulture just scientifically calculated the most original and repetitive seasons of SNL, and it reveals that if you averaged out the sketches from all 36 complete seasons you would discover that about half of the life of the show has involved recurring characters. A big chunk of the recidivists didn’t last that long: The Gap Girls folded up their shirts and went home after seven outings, Gilly has only popped up five times, and Rob Schneider’s Orgasm Man? Two episodes and done. In fact, according to our stringent analysis of every SNL episode and sketch, there have only been 25 characters whose catchphrases and costumes have enraptured the audience (or at least Lorne Michaels) to the degree that they get more than a dozen appearances. (Methodology note: We did not include impressions*, as they would greatly skew the results. Darrell Hammond’s Bill Clinton, for example, popped up in a groan-inducing 77 episodes. We get it, Clinton likes women.) Time will tell if any of the current cast members’ characters will nudge their way onto this list, but Bill Hader might want to know that he’s just three Stefons away from cracking the list.

Related: A Vulture Study: Which SNL Season Reused the Most Characters?

* This post has been corrected to clarify that no impressions were included, whether of celebrities or of politicians.

Played by: John Belushi, everyone else No. of episodes: 13 Years: 1975–76, 1979 (Seasons 1–2, 4) Quote: “Your pollen or your wife, señor!” Description: It’s fitting that this insectoid swarm kicks off our list, as they were the first SNL characters ever to recur. Played unmemorably by every cast member, they attracted zero buzz in ten season one appearances and were soon exterminated.
Played by: Phil Hartman No. of episodes: 13 Years: 1987–91, 1993, 1996 (Seasons 13–18, 21) Quote: “Fire! Bad! Uhhhhhnnnnnn!” Description: Hartman’s monosyllabic lab zombie turned up a few times a year to wish viewers a happy holiday, usually alongside other monosyllabic characters such as Tonto (Jon Lovitz), Tarzan (Kevin Nealon), and Chris Farley (Chris Farley).
Played by: Bill Murray and Gilda Radner No. of episodes: 13 Years: 1978–80 (Seasons 3–5) Quote: “That’s so funny, I forgot to laugh.” Description: The awkward courtship of Todd DiLaMuca and Lisa Loopner involved unsolicited spittle and noogies. Just don’t confuse them with the irksome Whiners (ten episodes) from the Joe Piscopo era, please.
Played by: Rob Schneider No. of episodes: 13 Years: 1991–94 (Seasons 16–19) Quote: “Bra-a-ad. The Bradinator. The Bradmeister. Makin’ copies.” Description: The ultimate office nuisance obtusely narrated his co-workers’ trips to the copy machine — and prompted many viewers to do the same.
Played by: Julia Sweeney No. of episodes: 14 Years: 1990–94 (Seasons 16–19) Quote: “Sorry if I’m a little grumpy, I have really bad cramps — I rode my bike over here and my calf muscles are killing me!” Description: What’s that? It’s Pat, the vexingly androgynous office drone who spawned a 1994 film adaptation that grossed a laughable $60,822 at the box office.
Played by: Tim Kazurinsky No. of episodes: 14 Years: 1982–84 (Seasons 7–9) Quote: “Nogophobia is the fear of constipation, while gogophobia is the fear of diarrhea.” Description: Underappreciated Eddie Murphy–era cast member Kazurinsky’s bow-tie-wearing science dork used cue cards and a never-ending stream of terrible puns to explain made-up medical terminology.
Played by: Mike Myers No. of episodes: 14 Years: 1991–94, 1997 (Seasons 17–20, 22) Quote: “It’s like buttah.” Description: We’re getting all verklempt just reminiscing about this Streisand-obsessed yenta, so we’ll give you a topic: Linda Richman is neither rich nor a man. Discuss amongst yourselves, and then give a call to 555-4444; we’ll talk, no big whoop.
Played by: Mike Myers No. of episodes: 14 Years: 1989–93, 1997 (Seasons 14–19, 22) Quote: “Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance!” Description: If art-damaged Teutonic talk show host Dieter were a gas, he’d be inert. For the “Germany’s Most Disturbing Home Videos” installment alone (sample critique: “His agony was gorgeous. I need to be slapped”), we would very much like him to touch our monkey.
Played by: Chris Kattan No. of episodes: 15 Years: 1997–2002 (Seasons 23–27) Quote: “You can’t have-a the Mango!” Description: Who could resist the quizzical appeal of an exotic male dancer with a pink beret? Not Garth Brooks, not Ben Affleck, not even Ellen Degeneres — such was the oversaturated Mango.
Played by: Tim Meadows No. of episodes: 15 Years: 1997–2000 (Seasons 23–26) Quote: “I’ve got my Courvosier right here.” Description: The anachronistic smoove talker offered up old-school lovemaking advice to callers. Even that elderly couple who both disgusted him and made him horny. (His 2000 movie’s gross? $13.6 million! Take that, Pat!)
Played by: Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon No. of episodes: 15 Years: 1996–2002, 2010 (Seasons 22–27, 35) Quote: “Mmm … good times.” Description: If the “Schweddy Balls” sketch — in which Alec Baldwin’s Pete Schweddy discusses his edible balls with the two low-key hosts of NPR’s food-centric “The Delicious Dish” — isn’t the most lovingly referenced sketch from SNL’s past fifteen years, then we don’t know what is. (Besides “More cowbell!”we mean.) Has any other sketch had an ice cream named after it? Case rested.
Played by: John Belushi No. of episodes: 16 Years: 1975–79 (Seasons 1–4) Quote: “Hai-yah!!!” Description: A samurai in serious need of anger management classes dealt with customers (often frequent early years guest host Buck Henry) while plying various improbable trades, such as psychiatrist and optometrist. Every sketch ended with his sword doing some impressive damage to an inanimate object.
Played by: Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri No. of episodes: 17 Years: 1995–99 (Seasons 21–25) Quote: “U-G-L-Y. You ain’t got no alibi. You ugly! You ugly!” Description: Perky, old-seeming students cheering obnoxiously at various school competitions? Perfectly silly — the first six times (i.e., the number of appearances in Ferrell and Oteri’s debut season). Two years later, even the biggest SNL fan was actively rooting for a rope and a tree to hang Craig Buchanan and Arianna along with the referee.
Played by: Gilda Radner No. of episodes: 17 Years: 1977–80 (Seasons 3–5) Quote: “It’s always something.” Description: Known as much for her amorphous hairstyle as for going off on crude tangents about bodily functions, Ms. Roseannadanna testily replied to viewer mail on “Weekend Update.”
Played by: Nora Dunn No. of episodes: 18 Years: 1985–90 (Seasons 11–15) Quote: “Oh, heavens! I guess I dropped a fly in your soup! Well, she looks so much older, I hardly think it’s my faux pas.” Description: Yes, a comparatively obscure Nora Dunn character charts high on the list, thanks in part to eight appearances by her Vogue-obsessed talk show host during the creatively thin 1985–86 season. The shallow former model is unrelated to Derek Stevens, Dana Carvey’s songwriting character from the same era who memorably crooned about chopping broccoli.
Played by: Molly Shannon No. of episodes: 19 Years: 1995–2000, 2009 (Seasons 21–25, 35) Quote: “Sometimes, when I get nervous, I stick my hands under my armpits and then I smell them — like this.” Description: The many appearances of Shannon’s weird, ambitious, pratfalling Catholic schoolgirl is a prime example of the rigid Xeroxing of a popular SNL character. No matter what situation she was put in on every appearance, the touchstones of the sketch never changed: She smelled her fingers, did many lunges and kicks, recited a monologue from a TV movie, and crashed into something. Every time. Shannon’s exuberance in being strange was entertaining, but the diminishing returns exemplified the danger of catchphrase comedy. (Her 1999 movie’s gross? $30.6 million. Take that, Ladies’ Man!)
Played by: Jon Lovitz No. of episodes: 19 Years: 1985–87, 1989, 1997 (Seasons 11–12, 14, 23) Quote: “Yeah, that’s the ticket.” Description: Don’t tell this to Mephistopheles (“Worship me!”), Master Thespian (“Acting!”), Annoying Man (“You don’t have to yell.”), or Frenchie (“Did I mention I’m French? … I’m Frenchie!”), but Flanagan is Lovitz’s SNL tour de force, and not even Morgan Fairchild would dispute that.
Played by: Al Franken No. of episodes: 20 Years: 1991–95, 2002 (Seasons 16–20, 28) Quote: “That’s just stinking thinking!” Description: Why Michael Jordan or anyone else would seek out counsel from an effeminate self-help addict given to wearing cardigans is a question for a trained therapist, which Stuart Smalley readily acknowledges he isn’t. Maybe it’s because he’s good enough, he’s smart enough, and doggone it, people like him — which totally should have been Franken’s senatorial campaign slogan. (1995’s Stuart Saves His Family gross: $912,082. Take that, no one!)
Played by: Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon No. of episodes: 20 Years: 1987–92, 1994, 1999 (Seasons 13–18, 20, 25) Quote: “…and we’re going to pump [clap] you up.” Description: Ah, the heady days when Arnold Schwarzenegger was just a movie star and the rest of us were girly men prone to wearing diapers around our flabby buttocks like little babies.
Played by: Dana Carvey No. of episodes: 20 Years: 1986–90, 1996, 2000, 2011 (Seasons 12–16, 22, 26, 36) Quote: “Now isn’t that special?” Description: As usual, Church Lady has made us all engorged and tingling in our bulbous nether regions down there — but we’re not sure who or what is making us express our ongoing irritation that Carvey’s sanctimonious priss was never given a Christian name. Hmmm … Who might it be? Could it be … SATAN!? [UPDATE: A reader points out that the Church Lady did have a Christian name, the too-easy Edith Strict. Okay, Satan’s off the hook on this one.]
Played by: Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer No. of episodes: 21 Years: 1996–2002 (Seasons 22–27) Quote: “Good afternoon! What a special mandatory celebration of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” Description: Like Bill Murray’s SNL character Nick the Lounge Singer (twelve episodes), super-square high school music department honchos the Culps — full names: Marty (Ferrell) and his wife, Bobbi Mohan-Culp (Gasteyer) — kicked things up a notch with emotive renditions of popular songs. Only Murray didn’t have the benefit of being able to mock Creed anthems. Photo: NBC Photo: Norman Ng
Played by: Mike Myers No. of episodes: 21 Years: 1989–94, 2011 (Seasons 14–19, 36) Quote: “Party on, Garth!” Description: The sarcastic, excitable pride of Aurora, Illinois, Wayne broadcast a cable-access show out of his parents’ basement. Together with his frothing pal Garth Algar (Dana Carvey, who appeared as the character in nineteen SNL episodes and in both “Wayne’s World” feature films — which had grosses of $121.7 million and $48.2 million!), the metalheads featured lists ranking stuff like worst Halloween candy and jokes about what a sphincter would say. Schwing! As if! Not!
Played by: Walter Williams (voice) No. of episodes: 22 Years: 1976–81 (Seasons 1–7) Quote: “Ohh, nooo!” Description: And so we come to our one and only non-human on the list — and, no, Mr. Bill isn’t a Victoria Jackson character. The cute little clay dude with the high, squeaky voice suffered no end of torture at the sadistic mitts of his “creator” Mr. Hands, with death by dismemberment being the usual result. Yet somehow Mr. Bill lives on (most recently in a 2011 ad for pistachios).
Played by: Don Novello No. of episodes: 24 Years: 1978–81, 1985–86, 1989, 1993, 1995 (Seasons 3–5, 7, 11, 14, 18, 21) Quote: “Once again, it’s been a-wonderful. Arrivederci, America!” Description: Novello, an SNL writer, was never a repetory player, but that didn’t stop his chain-smoking, Vatican-watching gossipmonger from dominating seasons four and five, mostly via sardonic, moderately blasphemous guest commentaries on “Weekend Update.” After Lorne Michaels returned to the SNL fold in season eleven, Novello reupped and Sarducci continued dousing the recurring-character competition with holy water, or whatever they were drinking in the writers’ room in those days.
Played by: Gilda Radner No. of episodes: 25 Years: 1975–79 (Seasons 1–4) Quote: “Never mind!” Description: What? You’ve never heard of Emily Nutella, the super-ubiquitous, hard-of-hearing elderly woman who used to rant about issues that she’d misheard on “Weekend Update” while also fiercely proclaiming her love for the delicious hazelnut spread Nutella. Wait, what’s that? Her name is Emily Litella? Never mind! [Sigh.] We loved Radner, but seeing such a forgettable character at the top of the heap makes us wish Michaels would intentionally let someone else break the record. A 24-episode Shy Ronnie arc, anyone?
Saturday Night Live’s 25 Most Repeated Characters