Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Gilda Radner dropped out of college to move to Toronto, where she became part of the Second City comedy troupe, performing with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. She joined the very first season of SNL and stayed on the show for five years, creating such iconic sketch characters as Roseanne Rosannadanna, Baba Wawa (a parody of Barbara Walters), and Emily Litella, who killed with the punch line “Never mind.” She married actor Gene Wilder in 1984 and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1986. Sadly, Radner died of the illness in 1989.
Laraine Newman is one of the most memorable of the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players, appearing on Saturday Night Live for five years. Born in Los Angeles, she began studying improv when she was just 15. She wanted to go to England to study acting but wasn’t accepted into any theater schools. Instead, she went to Paris to study mime with Marcel Marceau for a year. She was a founding member of The Groundlings and has had a long, prosperous acting career. Newman is most famous for playing the character Connie Conehead, which led to the movie Coneheads in 1993.
Known as the “Queen of Deadpan,” Jane Curtin is one of the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players, going all the way back to 1975. Raised in Massachusetts, she dropped out of Northeastern College to pursue comedy. While on SNL, she became famous for her Conehead character and also for playing a liberal newscaster pitted against Dan Aykroyd, who played a conservative. Curtin has a reputation for being very professional and grounded, and she disliked the drug culture that many of her SNL castmates were involved in. After leaving SNL, she’s had a long career in television with such shows as Kate & Allie and Third Rock From the Sun.
Though her time on SNL was brief, Christine Ebersole made up for it by appearing in numerous TV shows, like Valerie, and films, like The Wolf of Wall Street. In 2007, she won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her work in Grey Gardens.
Originally from Canada, Robin Duke was hired at Saturday Night Live as a writer and actress in place of Maureen O’Hara. Duke is known for playing Wendy Whiner. She went on to act in numerous TV shows and movies, including Groundhog Day. She is pictured here with a young Drew Barrymore.
Laurie Metcalf spent less than a year on SNL but found her groove on the hit sitcom Roseanne. Metcalf was nominated for two Golden Globes and won three Primetime Emmys for playing Roseanne’s sister, Jackie.
In her first season, Mary Gross became co-anchor of SNL‘s “Weekend Update.” She is most famous for playing the beloved character Alfalfa, opposite Eddie Murphy’s Buckwheat, in the recurring Little Rascals sketches. Her brother is Michael Gross, who starred in the sitcom Family Ties.
Originally from New Zealand, Pamela Stephenson became known for her spiky bleached-blonde hairstyle. After SNL, she continued acting until 1993, when she became a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Beverly Hills. She married actor Bill Connolly and now goes by the name Pamela Connolly.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus joined Saturday Night Live when she was only 21. During her third season, she met SNL writer Larry David, who would later cast her in Seinfeld, making her a household name. After SNL, she went on to do TheNew Adventures of Old Christine and HBO’s Veep. She is the proud winner of nine Primetime Emmys.
Nora Dunn had a very successful run at Saturday Night Live, where she created the character Babette, the melodramatic French hooker. She also impersonated Imelda Marcos and Liza Minnelli. Dunn has continued acting in TV and film nonstop since SNL.
Danitra Vance appeared on the show for only one season because the writers were unable to come up with good material for her. She was the butt of her own joke when she sang “I Play the Maids” in a Barry Manilow sketch. Vance died of breast cancer in 1994.
SNL creator Lorne Michaels first hired Joan Cusack instead of Jan Hooks in 1985, but the 1985-1986 season was another notoriously bad season and the show nearly got canceled. Hooks lasted on the show for five years and is known for impersonating Jody Foster and Nancy Reagan. Sadly, she died of cancer in 2014 at the age of 57.
The two-time Academy Award-nominated actress (Working Girl, In & Out) grew up in Evanston, Illinois, with her brother, John, and sister, Ann. Cusack joined SNL in 1985 but didn’t get much love from the show and got axed at the end of her first season. Her most memorable sketch character is Selina, a socially awkward teen who chases after the socially inept Biff. She has since appeared in 10 movies with her brother John.
Though mostly underused at SNL, Julia Sweeney became most popular for playing Pat, an androgynous office worker who nearly revealed their gender (but never did) in every sketch. Sweeney’s television credits include Frasier, Sex and the City and The Goode Family. She also appeared in the film Pulp Fiction.
After performing improv at Chicago’s Annoyance Theater, Beth Cahill joined the cast of The Real Live Brady Bunch in 1990, playing Marcia Brady. She joined SNL in 1991 and played characters such as Denise Swerski, Miss Southside of Chicago. Cahill was reportedly let go because Victoria Jackson was given all the dizzy blond roles and the writers couldn’t think of anything else for her to do. Cahill now splits her time between Los Angeles and Chicago and also has her own clothing line.
From upstate New York, Siobhan Fallon has appeared in many successful TV shows and movies like Forest Gump and Daddy Daycare. She even played Björk’s prison guard in the film Dancer in the Dark. Her time at SNL is just a blip on her career radar.
After growing up in Brooklyn, New York, and graduating from Hunter College, Ellen Cleghorne began performing stand-up in Manhattan. She had minor roles on In Living Color before becoming SNL’s second African-American female cast member, following Danitra Vance. Cleghorne also the first African-American female cast member to stay for more than one season. She is best known for playing Queen Shenequa, an Afrocentric reporter who wears traditional African clothing. She returned to SNL for its 40th anniversary special.
Originally from New Hampshire, Sarah Silverman performed in musical theater through high school and into college. She then dropped out of NYU to pursue stand-up comedy full time. When she was 22, she was hired by SNL but only appeared in a few sketches. She continued performing her raunchy style of comedy and soon had her own show, The Sarah Silverman Program, on Comedy Central. She later won a Primetime Emmy for her HBO special, Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles. Silverman is very politically active and has been outspoken about her battle with depression.
Laura Kightlinger is still acting and, in 2000, became a producer on the hit show Will and Grace. She currently works as a consulting producer on Two Broke Girls. Maybe her short time at SNL inspired her to expand her realm into producing since acting can be unpredictable.
Born in New Jersey, Janeane Garofalo was inspired to perform stand-up comedy after watching David Letterman host his late-night talk show. Unhappy with the roles she was getting on Saturday Night Live, she quit the show after six months and started doing movies and prime time TV.
Now best known as the voice of Mummy Pig in the animated series Peppa Pig, Morwenna Banks appeared in only four episodes of Saturday Night Live in 1995. Born in England, she had aspirations of being a dramatic actress but opted for writing and performing sketch comedy. She’s most famous for the “Little Girl” character she created for the British sketch comedy show Absolutely and which she reprised while at SNL.
From Pennsylvania, Cheri Oteri moved to Los Angeles when she was 28 and joined the Groundlings. She was hired by SNL in 1995 and is most famous for playing Arianna, a Spartan cheerleader, with Will Ferrell. Oteri left SNL in 2000 and has continued to perform in movies and TV.
Nancy Walls is a writer and actress known for writing and acting on the show Angie Tribecca. After performing in what’s known as the worst season in SNL history (1995-1996), she married Steve Carrell and now goes by the name Nancy Carrell.
Molly Shannon was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio. When she was just 4, a tragic car accident left her mother, one of her sisters and a cousin dead. Her father had been driving the car, and though he survived, he had to wear leg braces. After attending NYU, Shannon moved to Los Angeles and waited tables until she joined the cast of SNL in 1995. She’s best known for her character Katherine Gallagher, the awkward Catholic schoolgirl, who later had her own movie, Superstar.
Originally from Washington, D.C., the truly talented Ana Gasteyer is most famous for her impressions of Martha Stewart and Celine Dion. She also created the hilarious “Muffin Top” sketch she performed with Betty White.
Originally from Massachusetts, Rachel Dratch moved to Chicago to study improv after graduating from Dartmouth College in 1988. While studying improv at Second City and ImprovOlympic, she performed in the two-woman comedy act Dratch and Fey, with Tina Fey. Dratch spent seven seasons on SNL and became best known for the character Debbie Downer. After SNL, Fey cast her as the original Jenna in the pilot for 30 Rock, but Dratch didn’t test well with audiences and was replaced by Jane Krakowski.
Maya Rudolph appeared on SNL for seven years and is known for playing Christina Aguilera, Oprah Winfrey and Donatella Versace. She was born in Gainesville, Florida, to Dick Rudolph, a music producer, and Minnie Ripperton, a pop/soul singer with an angelic voice. After studying with The Groundlings and appearing in several movies, Rudolph went to New York to join the cast of SNL. She is in a relationship with film director Paul Thomas Anderson, and they have three children. Rudolph can next be seen in the film Life of the Party, set to release in 2018.
Tina Fey, the self-proclaimed high school super-nerd, studied drama at the University of Virginia before heading to Chicago, where she spent several years performing with Second City. She became a writer for SNL in 1995 and later made history by becoming the show’s first female head writer. Though not much of a character actress, Fey started co-hosting “Weekend Update” with Jimmy Fallon in 2000. Her most famous impersonation is of Sarah Palin. Since leaving the show in 2006, she’s starred in and created numerous movies and TV shows, including 30 Rock and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
An “army brat” from Tennessee, Leslie Jones and her family eventually moved to Los Angeles when she was a teen. Growing to a height of 6 feet, she attended Chapman College on a basketball scholarship before transferring to Colorado State University. Jones started performing stand-up comedy but had a difficult time getting professional acting jobs. She quit acting for three years but got up the courage to try again and finally began to work frequently in films and TV. Her one-hour comedy special, Problem Child, was broadcast on Showtime in 2010. She first joined SNL as a writer in 2013 and was added to the cast in 2014.
Hailing from Massachusetts, Amy Poehler first started performing improv while attending Boston College. In 1993, she went to Chicago, where she studied at Second City and ImprovOlympic. In 1996, Poehler went to New York with the Upright Citizens Brigade and appeared with them for three seasons on Comedy Central. In 2001, she joined the cast of SNL and became Tina Fey’s co-anchor for “Weekend Update” when Jimmy Fallon left the show. Poehler is best known for her SNL character Kaitlyn, a child with ADHD who’s always running circles around a man named Rick (Horatio Sanz), and for impersonating Hillary Clinton. By 2009, however, she was starring in prime time TV’s Parks and Rec. Poehler married actor Will Arnett in 2003, and they had two children before divorcing in 2016. She will next be seen in the comedy film The House, which opens June 30.
Originally from New York, Kristen Wiig studied art at the University of Arizona before she took her first acting class. She moved to Los Angeles and studied improv with The Empty Stage and The Groundlings before coming to SNL in 2005 and staying until 2012. Her most famous characters are Gilly, Mindy Gracin and Dooneese, the girl with the tiny hands. Wiig co-wrote and starred in the film Bridesmaids and was nominated with her co-writer, Annie Mumolo, for an Academy Award.
Sometimes talent is in the genes. Abby Elliott is the daughter of former cast member Chris Elliott and the granddaughter of an SNL guest, Bob Elliott (the radio host). She studied sketch comedy and improv with The Groundlings in Los Angeles before joining SNL. Since leaving the show, Elliott has gone on to be a regular in shows like How I Met Your Mother and Odd Mom Out.
Both of these gals spent only one year at SNL but have gone on to become stars in their own right. You may recognize Casey Wilson from Gone Girl and last year’s Why Him?Michaela Watkins has appeared on shows such as Casual, Transparent and Angie Tribecca.
Jenny Slate’s career has flourished since she left SNL. She’s been a series regular on shows like Hello Ladies, Bored to Death and Parks and Rec. Her breakout role came in 2014 in the film Obvious Child, which won numerous awards at film festivals.
Born in Tehran, Iran, Nasim Pedrad and her family immigrated to the United States in 1984. After studying at UCLA, she performed with The Groundlings and other improv troupes before going to SNL in 2009 and staying for five years. Pedrad is the show’s first female Middle Eastern cast member and one of just a handful of cast members who were born outside the United States. She’s best known for impersonating Kim Kardashian, Aziz Ansari and Shakira.
While growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, Vanessa Bayer got her comedic start when she was diagnosed with leukemia at 15. To deal with the seriousness of the disease, she used comic relief: “I don’t know if it made me funnier, but it was so amazing, how it made everything be OK.” She became a Make a Wish kid when the charitable foundation sent her and her family to Hawaii. Bayer went on to perform improv with Chicago’s Second City and ImprovOlympic. Bayer joined the cast of SNL in 2010 and is most famous for Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy, who appears on “Weekend Update.”
Aidy Bryant was born in Phoenix, Arizona, and started doing local theater in middle school. After graduating from Columbia College in Chicago, Bryant toured with a musical improv group called Baby Wants Candy. She was then invited to join Second City before getting cast on SNL in 2012. Bryant is best known for impersonating Adele, Meghan Trainor and Rebel Wilson. She is also known for playing Tonker Bell, Tinker Bell’s crude half-sister whose dad is a house fly.
Originally from a Chicago suburb, Cecily Strong studied improv and sketch comedy at Second City and The Groundlings. She joined the SNL cast in 2012 and is best known for the character The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party. She’s also impersonated Melania Trump.
Kate McKinnon grew up in Long Island, New York, and studied piano, cello and guitar as a child. She attended Columbia University before appearing on Logo TV’s The Big Gay Sketch Show. McKinnon joined Saturday Night Live in 2012 and has delighted audiences as Hillary Clinton and Kellyanne Conway. She’s also known for playing Olya Povlatsky, a Russian woman who details the outrageous struggles she faces in her small village. She is SNL‘s first openly lesbian cast member.
Originally from Texas, Noël Wells has an incredibly strong sketch comedy background. It seems SNL was just her launching pad, because she has worked steadily since. She can currently be seen on the show Master of None with Aziz Ansari.
Raised in Indiana, Sasheer Zamata attended the University of Virginia, where she began performing improv. She then joined the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City. Zamata was hired on SNL in 2014, after the show came under criticism for not being ethnically diverse enough. She is best known for impersonating Rihanna and Michelle Obama.
The most recent actress to join SNL is Melissa Villaseñor (pictured center), who is originally from Whittier, California, and got her big break on America’s Got Talent in 2011. In her first sketch for Saturday Night Live, Villaseñor impersonated Sarah Silverman in 2016. She is the first Latina cast member in SNL history.