Saturday Night Live has been home to over a hundred cast members throughout the past 38 years. In our column Saturday Night’s Children, we present the history, talent, and best sketches of one SNL cast member every other week for your viewing, learning, and laughing pleasure.
Whether posing as a nerdy father, late night newsman, or sporting a perma-grin as the red jumpsuit-wearing dancer on “What’s Up with That?” during his SNL run from 2005-2013, Jason Sudeikis was the epitome of the silly jock with a heart of gold. He also played some of the most callous characters while being one of the most emotional behind-the-scenes performers, as seen during his tearful moment during Kristen Wiig’s graduation dance in May 2012 and shared goodbye with Bill Hader and Fred Armisen last year as part of Ian Rubbish and the Bizzaros. SNL is still searching for the right utility player/flexibly funny hybrid to fill his shoes, and considering his stint was nearly a decade long, the void will most likely remain for at least a little longer.
Born in Virginia and raised in Overland Park, Kansas, Sudeikis is the nephew of former Cheers regular (and two-time SNL host) George Wendt. His jock attitude makes sense in that his first extra-curricular love was playing basketball, but near the end of high school he also participated in his school’s weekly TV news show that ran on local cable (on which Paul Rudd also appeared a few years prior) and took improv classes at ComedySportz in Kansas City. While a college basketball scholarship didn’t didn’t pan out for him, Sudeikis found his focus shifting more and more toward performing, telling ESPN last year:
At that point, it’s like having someone you’ve dated all those years break up with you, but you’re in love with someone else. You don’t know if they love you back, but at least there’s that opportunity. I would say the discontent within my athletic life led to a powerful appreciation of what was ahead of me in this artistic [career] I fell into.
Thanks to the encouragement of his uncle and other improvisers while interning on a weeklong Second City show in Ireland, Sudeikis ultimately decided to move to Chicago, where he worked as a Banana Republic clerk by day and studied at the Annoyance Theatre, iO, and Second City by night and later joined the cast of Boom Chicago in Amsterdam (like fellow SNLer Seth Meyers). Following his time in Amsterdam, he was chosen to help open Second City Las Vegas, but he briefly lost interest in comedy and instead took up drumming and tried to join Blue Man Group. Thankfully, after sending in an SNL audition tape and flying in to New York for an in-person audition, he was hired by Lorne Michaels as a staff writer.
Considering season 29’s packed cast and writing staff, Sukeikis didn’t manage to break out much at first; only three of his sketches made it to air during his first year, as he explained in a lengthy Apiary interview back in 2007:
The first two right off the bat, this scene that I wrote for Jack Black and a scene for Justin Timberlake, doing a Punk’d thing, based on my audition. And this other scene for the Christina Aguilera show. But, I’m in there. I enjoy the re-writing process. You know, sitting at Tina’s table. Dennis McNicholas was the other head writer at that point. People would give you set ups and you come up with jokes. Talking in other people’s characters was kind of fun for me. It was kind of like performing. It was great. So the summer goes by and I’m told, “Hey, they want you to audition again.” I’m like, “Great!” So I come up with a completely different audition again.
Alongside his fellow Overland Park hometowner Rob Riggle, Sudeikis joined the cast the following season, appearing sporadically in bit parts before officially becoming a featured player in May. He found the perfect foil with the introduction of Kristen Wiig the following year, playing her date in her debut sketch “The Soaking Wet Killer” before the the two rose the ranks to recognition with their douchey gum-chewing couple the “A-Holes,” who made eight appearances together from 2005-2008. Thanks to his sport-loving roots, he made a great sports commentator opposite Will Forte’s Greg Stink, showed singing chops with Forte in their Bon Jovi opposite cover band Jon Bovi, and got absurd with promoter DJ Supersoak opposite Nasim Pedrad’s Lil Blaster, The Devil on Weekend Update, over-the-top N’awlins-style Judge Marshall T. Boudreaux in “Maine Justice,” and the tempted NASA job applicant in the now-legendary Forte sketch “Potato Chip.” He was an excellent straight man as the police officer in the “Scared Straight” sketches as well as disavowing faculty overseer Mark Kaufman in “J-Pop America Fun Time Now.” Sudeikis excelled on the show as a steady yet versatile player who could take on funny parts just as well as he allowed his fellow cast mates to shine playing off his gruff newscaster, host, boss, or other dadlike authority figure presence.
Aside from his character work, Sudeikis also took on nearly 80 celebrity impersonations ranging from political figures (Joe Biden, Rod Blagojevich, Todd Palin) to athletes (Dan Marino, Roger Clemens) to actors (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jimmy Stewart) to comedians (Ricky Gervais, Bruce Vilanch, Dane Cook) to television personalities (David Letterman, Robert Osborne, Simon Cowell, Glenn Beck, Wolf Blitzer), not to mention starring as the titular role in the third-ever Digital Short “Young Chuck Norris.” “There’s something very freeing about the way he performs,” Kristen Wiig told Rolling Stone in 2012. “You can tell that he’s in the moment, that he hasn’t rehearsed exactly how he’s going to say every word. When you watch him, you’re reminded that it’s a live show. And it’s very exciting to perform with him, because you don’t always know what you’re going to get.”
While Wiig left SNL in May 2012 to pursue her blossoming film career, Sudeikis, Hader, and Armisen – who rose the SNL ranks together in the mid-2000s – stuck around for another season, and the closest thing to a Sudeikis SNL goodbye was his role as part of fake band Ian Rubbish and the Bizzaros during their shared final episode, wherein he was, along with Wiig’s goodbye episode, visibly choked up while fulfilling his Blue Man Group dreams by playing the drums. Sudeikis might have left SNL without giving an official goodbye, but he jumped right into film, having already shown up in Will Ferrell-starring films Semi-Pro (2008) and The Campaign (2012), starring roles of his own in Hall Pass (2011) and Horrible Bosses (2011), and last year’s We’re the Millers. He’s also showed up in TV on Childrens Hospital, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Eastbound & Down, Portlandia, and as Lemon’s one-time boyfriend Floyd on 30 Rock and has lent his voice to Robot Chicken, The Cleveland Show, and as fictional right-wing radio host Richard Bastion in the 2008 video game Grand Theft Auto IV. With upcoming projects like sequels to Horrible Bosses and We’re the Millers, a Leslye Headland rom-com, and headlining an in-the-works Fletch reboot, it looks like Sudeikis’s comedy career will continue at full sail, and if you ever doubt his comedic gifts, all you have to do is look at last season’s SNL episodes to see the gaping hole he left behind.