Saturday Night’s Children: Horatio Sanz (1998-2006)

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.

While first impressions of Horatio Sanz might dismiss his style as too crass, laid-back, and goofy, time has been kind to the once-token larger-than-life Latino SNL cast member. Not only has Sanz shed 100 pounds since his time on the show, but revisiting his seasons in reruns or on Netflix shows a versatile improviser who brings robust, positive energy to everything from shy step-dads to gruff Turkish talk show hosts. He’s an all-star team player whose ready-to-crack presence alone contributes to some of the best sketches of his era, like as a saucy roaring co-host to Fred Armisen’s Venezuelan comedian Fericito or Chris Kattan’s Antonio Banderas (“No, too sexy, my friend, no!”), bawdy and jubilant mad party girl Carol, dufus pothead Gobi (“BAKED LAYS!”), or a pitch-perfect Elton John. Never one to hog the spotlight or fade away from it, Sanz has proven himself an ideal addition to any and every sketch he’s tossed into, and he helped SNL radiate the warm sparkle that was the show’s trademark quality during the early 2000s.

Sanz was born in Santiago, Chile and grew up on the west side of Chicago, Illinois. The youngest of three sons, he dropped out of Colombia College’s film and television school in Chicago to train in improv at The Second City and The Court Theater, where he worked as both a writer and performer. He also helped found the original Uptight Citizens Brigade in Chicago, and when Besser, Poehler, Roberts, and Walsh moved UCB to New York to begin filming their show for Comedy Central in 1996, Sanz remained back in Chicago but made occasional cameos on the show.

SNL hired Sanz as a featured player in 1998 alongside newcomers Jimmy Fallon and Chris Parnell. He instantly made a spash playing friendly, overly-excited sidekicks, nerdy straight-men authority figures, and grinning clown types like pothead Gobi in “Jarret’s Room,” vice principal Mr. Banglian in “Wake Up, Wakefield,” the “sassy slutty sexy skanky” Carol (“I’M CAROL!!!!!”), raunchy cartoonist Jasper Hahn, and his impersonation of movie critic and cheesy pun addict Gene Shalit. His supporting characters included the patient step-dad Rick in the “Kaitlin” sketches with Amy Poehler (“RICK RICK RICK!”), the Gobi-like Frankie Hilbert from “The Boston Teens” sketches, Manuel Pantalones on “Showbiz Grande Explosion,” and a range of impersonations that were just as blurt-out-loud and dopey, like Elton John, Ozzy Osbourne, Saddam Hussein, Aaron Neville, Bruce Vilanch, and Rosie O’Donnell, among others. He also co-anchored Weekend Update with Amy Poehler while Tina Fey was on maternity leave until October 2005.

Sanz preferred a more spontaneous style than some of his cast mates and has admitted to trying to make Fallon break on the show, like in the famous “Behind the Music” cowbell sketch as Blue Oyster Cult member Buck Dharma where he delivers the small but memorable line “He speaks for all of us” or on his many appearances on Weekend Update, like where he plays Jimmy Buffet so laid-back he almost slithers all over Fallon’s shoes. Sanz told The AV Club in 2008:

I think people are purists about what sketch comedy should be, and I think sometimes having too much fun can be a little annoying to some people. Especially my process and Jimmy’s process—it was never to be perfect on camera, it was to show we were having fun … but it wasn’t about “Let’s break so the audience will think it’s funny.” That was never the intention.

Sanz was not asked back after his eighth season in 2006 and left along with Finesse Mitchell and Chris Parnell. Since then he’s appeared in ABC’s The Motherland (as a “manny” named Horatio), Road Trip, Boat Trip, Big Lake on Comedy Central (with Parnell), and most recently as a producer, writer, and guest star on Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time. On top of being the first Latino cast member in SNL history, Sanz is also credited as the fourth cast member born outside of North America (after Tony Rosato, Pamela Stephenson, and Morwenna Banks) as well as High Times’ 2003 Stoner of the Year. Aside from performing on UCB’s ASSSSCAT, Sanz has most recently appeared in Year One, Step Brothers, 30 Rock (as Jenna Maroney’s stalker Maynard), and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (as “Colorblind Man” and “Troy Polamalu”). “I haven’t been approached with anything that’s led me to believe I won’t be back,” Sanz told the Chicago Sun-Times amid rumors in 2006 that he would not be asked back at SNL. “I definitely enjoy the job and would like to stick with it.” Hopefully in the coming weeks we’ll get another taste of SNL-era Horatio performing “I Wish It Was Christmas Today” with Jimmy Fallon, Chris Kattan, and Tracy Morgan — no Christmas is complete without it.

Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.

Saturday Night’s Children: Horatio Sanz (1998-2006)