SNL Top 50: Impressions
It appears as though I've caught
the millennium fever. At first I thought
it was herpes, but thankfully, it was a false alarm. One of the
effects of millennium fever is the compilation of useless lists
undoubtedly be debated over and will result in several nasty
e-mails sent my
way. Since it is the year 2000, as well as "SNL's"
25th year on the air, it's
time to look back at some of the great moments that have made
the show the
cultural phenomenon that it is today.
Impressions are fun. Everybody
has at least one impression that they can
do very well; I've been told that I do a pretty good Kelsey Grammar.
course, this is mostly because I have a deep voice and I'm going
bald, but I
digress. What separates your average drunk at the office Christmas
who does a great take-off of the boss from the "SNL"
actor is the actor's
ability to do several impressions, and several impressions of
list attempts to ... uh, list some of the great spoofs that have
made some of
our great celebrities look like blooming idiots (in the case
of some people,
not a hard task).
I hold no favorites in making
this list. Any impression in the show's
history will do, even a one-shot appearance from a guest host.
I rank the
impressions on their humor, and their accuracy. If there is a
that I haven't seen the older "SNL" shows as much as
I've seen the newer ones,
and that may be reflected in some of the selections. So now,
Bill Swerski's Super Fans, here is da list.
50. Matthew Perry does
"Celebrity Jeopardy," that bastion of good impressions,
particularly funny piece of work. Perry had a good time of mocking
habit of hesitating before speaking, including one bit where
he buzzed in,
then did several hesitations and ran out of time before answering.
Michael Keaton. Remember back when the Batman movies were, you
49. Cheri Oteri does Judge
The sketch is pretty repetitive (Judy always lets the loser defendant
free), but the impression is mighty funny. The real Judge Judy
even made a
guest appearance once, because she was such a fan of Cheri's
48. Mary Gross does Dr.
One of the better characters of Mary Gross, who I feel is one
of the more
underrated SNL actors. Gross frequently played the elderly sex
Weekend Update, and it was a tribute to Gross' skill that she
good banter with the Update anchor of the time, Brad Hall. Believe
folks, having good patter with Brad F'n Hall is a rare feat.
47. Tim Meadows does Ike
Ike was one of the few characters that got Tim air-time during
his first few
years with the show. A frequent Update correspondent, Ike would
subject into a misogynist rant directed towards women (actually,
any other kind of misogynist rant?). He would then apologize
behavior to the anchor, Kevin Nealon, who grudgingly accepted
An early vehicle that showed Tim's talent.
46. Tracy Morgan does
As a diehard Packers fan, I have the utmost respect for Reggie
football playing abilities. As for his off the field personality,
well...He's an ordained minister, and one of those ministers
that homosexuals and minorities are evil. Reggie is black himself,
think he'd know a thing or two about how prejudice is stupid,
but maybe he
was hit in the head one too many times on the field. Tracy Morgan
good Weekend Update spot about how Reggie isn't prejudiced; he
45. Ana Gasteyer does
I'm Canadian. Up here in Canada, we are just about sick to death
Dion. She can sing, I'll give her that, but she's so damn melodramatic.
Ana does a very good impression of just how egotistical Dion
about that damn song from Titanic. Thanks to Ana, soon
Americans will hate her too. AVERT YOUR EYES, SHE MAY CHANGE
44. Norm Macdonald does
This impression only appeared only once (to my knowledge), in
a sketch about
how Tarantino auditioned several 70's stars for Pulp Fiction
settling on John Travolta. This was an impression that came out
and only furthered Norm's cult-hero status among fans who thought
unfairly removed from the show.
43. John Goodman does
Goodman, an erstwhile SNL host, has become a virtual featured
the past couple of years playing Linda Tripp. Why Goodman for
Well...Linda Tripp (pre-plastic surgery) looked like a man. That's
nicest way to put it. The impression was based more on comedy
accuracy, but it was awfully funny.
42. Molly Shannon does
Despite her recent attempts to clean herself up, Courtney Love
is best known
as a riot girl from the early nineties. Molly Shannon does a
impression of such a bitchy character. I must admit that I could
be a bit
biased here, because while I'm no particular fan of Courtney
Love, she did
have Kurt Cobain shot, so she can't be all bad.
41. Will Ferrell does
Caray, the senile Chicago Cubs broadcaster, was known more for
than his play-by- play. SNL had the character host, of all things,
about space. This sketch even continued after Caray died, and
one of the
guests (Joan Allen) asked "Excuse me, didn't you die?"
The answer? "What's
40. Jan Hooks does Tammy
As a youngster, I originally saw this impression and thought
over-the-top. This was before I knew who Tammy Faye was, and
it was quite a
surprise to me to find out that a human being actually acted
BITCH CITY. I can see why Jim cheated on her. My favorite part
impression was how Jan would break into tears at the drop of
39. Dana Carvey does Jimmy
The first of six Carvey impressions on this list, which incidentally
him the most of any cast member. Go Dana. Jimmy Fallon also does
good Stewart, but Carvey's is superior because of the physical
he brought to the performance.
38. Jimmy Fallon does
Speaking of Jimmy Fallon, I suspect that when somebody writes
up this list
for SNL's 50th anniversary, he is going to be much more of a
is a classic Fallon impression, so the voice and mannerisms are
there is little or no physical resemblance. It was still pretty
37. Chris Farley does
Farley was known more for his characters, but every once in a
bust out some acting. This was one of the few impressions that
Farley to actually play a character, rather than just being big
(such as Meat Loaf, Carnie Phillips).
36. Ana Gasteyer does
One of the best current impressions on SNL. In addition to the
between herself and Stewart, Ana always plays ol' Martha like
repressed, bitter, violent bitch. So not only does she get points
physical accuracy in the impression, Ana also gets points for
35. Will Ferrell does
Janet Reno is probably the most famous attorney general the U.S.
had, and it's all thanks to SNL. Of course, Will Ferrell presents
her as a
butch sociopath, but hey: there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Janet Reno Dance Party sketch just by itself was enough to clinch
impression a spot on the list.
34. Darrell Hammond does
This impression, by coincidence, came from the came show as Janet
Dance Party. This, of course, was the classic 1997 show that
hosted, which in my opinion was one the best single Saturday
Night Lives in
history. Darrell did this impression as part of screen tests
for the new
Star Wars movie, and Dreyfuss was auditioning for the part of
friend Dave still uses the voice from this sketch to say "I
don't need this!
I'm Richard Dreyfuss!"
33. Dan Aykroyd does Julia
Another caricature impression, where it's pretty much just Dan
Aykroyd in a
dress and raising his voice an octave. Still, seeing him chop
finger and remain perfectly calm about it was pretty funny. Aykroyd
this character on his (short-lived) sitcom Soul Man.
32. Chevy Chase does Gerald
I had to debate a long time where to put this, or even to include
it at all.
You see, Chevy Chase did an impression of the slightly dense
president that looked and sounded nothing like Gerald Ford. The
"impression" consisted of Chevy saying stupid things
and falling down
several times. Despite the lack of accuracy, it was damn funny,
and ergo it
deserves to be on the list.
31. Jimmy Fallon does
Another good Fallon impression that relies more on mannerisms
and voice than
it does on physical resemblance. The best way to judge an impression
when the original is right there. During a Weekend Update bit,
Seinfeld and Fallon/Seinfeld had a debate, and it was hilarious.
30. Phil Hartman does
Phil Hartman, one of the great impressionists in SNL history,
talent to make the traditional talk show host role funny. Usually,
show skits, there is a laugh for the host, but the humor is mostly
generated by the guests. Hartman's impression of Phil, however,
was so good
that he could be funny just asking questions.
29. Rich Hall does Paul
Rich Hall, a talented cast member who got lost in the shuffle
Crystal, Christopher Guest, Martin Short, et al. during the 84-85
had a great Weekend Update bit as Paul Harvey, the radio host.
one particularly good bit where he suggested that the U.S. trade
missiles with the Russians. A good impression by an underrated
Does anyone know what happened to Rich Hall?
28. Jon Lovitz does Harvey
"I just want to be loved, is that so wrong?" Despite
that fact that this
line was said about, oh, five hundred times a sketch, the impersonation
still good enough to make a funny skit. If you didn't know (THEN
BETTER...sorry), Harvey Fierstein is the actor with the horribly
voice who plays largely homosexual roles, a bit of typecasting
actually is gay. Apparently, Fierstein didn't like this impression
first, but he and Lovitz made peace.
27. Dana Carvey does Dennis
Miller was doing Weekend Update, when he introduced a debate
He introduced his fellow debater as..."me." Then Carvey
showed up and did
almost a dead-on Dennis Miller. I was in hysterics when I saw
this, and so
was the audience. This is really the best way to judge an impression;
the subject is sitting right there.
26. Darrell Hammond does
A caricature impression, but a terribly funny one. Connery
is played as a
macho fool with a five- year-old's sense of humor, who spends
a lot of his
time insulting Alex Trebek (Will Ferrell). I'd like to thank
that first thought up the Celebrity Jeopardy idea.
25. Victoria Jackson
Roseanne, nasal bitch that she is, was the ideal impression for
Jackson. Not to imply that Victoria was a bitch; she just had
voice. Seeing her make out with Chris Farley (as Tom Arnold)
on Update was
23. (tie) Phil Hartman
does Burt Reynolds
Norm Macdonald does Burt Reynolds
Try as I did, I couldn't break the tie. Hartman's was more accurate,
Norm's was funnier. The common ground was that they both played
like an idiotic jerk, which seems to be the general consensus
22. David Duchovny does
Another Celebrity Jeopardy impression, and I would say one of
the best ones
there has ever been. I can't stress this enough; David Duchovny
Goldblum PERFECTLY. The voice, the look, the mannerisms...everything.
bit where he answered a question, and then proceeded to smirk
until his time
ran out almost caused me and the people I was watching the show
with to bust
our guts laughing. When he's not being dry as hell, Duchovny
is a funny,
21. Dana Carvey does Regis
Seeing Darrell Hammond as Regis in the "Who Wants To Be
sketches today makes me think of the king of the Regis impression,
Carvey. Nobody got the talk show host's outgoing yet mildly annoying
down as well as Carvey did.
20. Mick Jagger does Keith
Consider this set-up: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are supposed
to do a
Weekend Update debate about (I think) the British class system
Since Jagger himself is the musical guest, Joe Audience thinks
cameo. But then the camera pans over to see Mike Myers as Mick,
slouched in his chair as Keith Richards. Classic. Mick even worked
line "Mick, you ignorant slut," as is the rule in SNL
Keith Richards was watching at the time, and laughed so hard
choked to death...which is odd, because I thought he died around
19. Cheri Oteri does Mariah
Cheri Oteri usually makes her characters jumpy and quirky (like
Cheerleader, or the host on Morning Latte) but the Carey impression
totally different. The Mariah character is totally laid back
thinks she's all that. My favorite part of the impression is
time she leaves a room, she quickly strikes a pose before she
18. Al Franken does Henry
It's very simple: when Al Franken is not involved with the show,
SNL is not
as funny. As a long- time featured player, Franken did his share
impressions, but his best was the former Nixon chief of staff.
hard to do a Kissinger impressions, really, but what made Franken's
was that he never broke the character for anything.
17. Phil Hartman does
There were two Sinatras done on SNL, one by Joe Piscopo and one
Hartman. The Hartman impression tended to be a bit more of the
man that Sinatra became in the early '90's. The funniest example
was the sketch about Frank recording his album of duets, and
through the whole thing and insulted his guest singers. He punched
Bono, played by Adam Sandler, and called him a potatohead (because
16. Dana Carvey does Johnny
As I said before, the talk show host in a sketch just has to
show up for a
momentary laugh. Dana Carvey did more than that, as SNL did entire
Show sketches without any guests. It was just Dana and Phil Hartman
McMahon riffing back and forth. The impression could also be
when "Carsenio" debuted. All in all, a great impersonation.
15. Kevin Spacey does
From the aforementioned Star Wars audition sketch. It was Walter
auditioning for the role of...uh, Yoda or something (Why the
hell do I not
remember?). He gets a line wrong, and then crankily complains
George Lucas "What's this picture about, anyhow?" An
impersonation of Walter Matthau. Kevin Spacey should be asked
back to host
the show, because his first time was classic.
14. Bill Murray does Ted
Ted Kennedy almost sums up all of the Kennedy family. He is a
drunk, and he's managed to stay in political power for well over
years. I say "almost" sums up all of the Kennedys because
can dodge bullets and knows how to fly a plane. Bill Murray,
known for his impressions, does a very good spoof of the Massachusetts
13. Phil Hartman does
While not as good as Darrell Hammond, Hartman did a very good
Bill Clinton. Hartman, in his impression, tended to portray Clinton
man who was slightly better educated than your average country
points for accuracy.
11. (tie) Joe Piscopo
does David Letterman
Norm Macdonald does David Letterman
It is hard to choose between these two, because they were done
times in Dave's career. Piscopo played him when he was still
a talk show
host, just a little off the wall. Norm's impersonation took advantage
Dave's habit of getting off on tangents about small things ("Got
It's hard to choose, so I'm waffling on this one.
10. Dan Aykroyd does Jimmy
Aykroyd, arguably the best cast member of them all, started SNL's
tradition of mocking the president. The voice was perfect (Aykroyd
southern accent again in Driving Miss Daisy), and the
also dead-on. A more realistic counterpart to Chevy Chase's zany
of Gerald Ford.
9. Terry Sweeney does
If you haven't suppressed all memories of the borderline wretched
season, this impression was one of the highlights. Terry Sweeney,
only real claim to fame is that he's the first openly gay SNL
should also be remembered for his hilarious take on the first
Hooks' Reagan was probably more accurate, but it wasn't nearly
7. (tie)Billy Crystal
does Muhammad Ali
Martin Short does Katherine Hepburn
Both from the hilarious "Kate & Ali" sketch, and
also both weren't SNL
originals (Crystal had been doing his Ali impression for years,
used his character before on SCTV). The accuracy is amazing;
the makeup helped, the mannerisms are what made these impressions
6. Phil Hartman does Ronald
Because of the frequent cast changes on SNL in the eighties,
seven different actors have portrayed Ronald Reagan. Everyone
Shearer, Piscopo, Randy Quaid and even Robin Williams took a
impersonating the prez, but Phil Hartman had the definitive take
My favorite sketch with this character was when it was revealed
was really an evil genius. Hartman switched back and forth from
public persona to his "real" persona (which included
Chinese). Just a great impression.
5. Dana Carvey does George
Fun fact: Dana Carvey has said "Live from New York, it's
more times than anyone else. That is largely due to the fact
that his Bush
character opened the show for most of his run. The Bush cliches
lips...no new taxes." "Dan Quayle; gaining acceptance."
"My son is a
brainless stoner." Well, maybe not that last one...) sounded
coming out of him. The impression was more a caricature from
the real Bush,
certainly a lot funnier, but that is only a small quibble.
4. Darrell Hammond does
Darrell Hammond, brought in as the "impression guy"
in the wake of Phil
Hartman, had big shoes to fill, but he did it. THE definitive
impression, and one that is funny each and every time because
of the little
details. The bent thumbs-up, the lip bite, the general use of
the phrase "I
feel your pain." My favorite part of the impression is when
laughing away at something, and then abruptly stops, bites his
lip and gets
the wise gleam in his eyes. Hilarious.
3. Joe Piscopo does Frank
A remarkably accurate Sinatra, from a remarkably underrated cast
rank Piscopo above Hartman for this impression because Piscopo
had the look
and was generally "smoother" as the Chairman. It also
didn't hurt that
Piscopo was able to sing eerily like Sinatra himself. I understand
Piscopo is still doing this impression at various functions.
I suppose that
the quality of the impression can be foretold by the fact that
Frank himself liked it, and since Frank didn't have Piscopo shot,
have been good.
2. Dana Carvey does Ross
A funny story: since Carvey was already playing Bush during the
race, SNL was going to have David Spade play Perot. Spade, however,
no impressionist, and Carvey had to take over. It's a good thing
because this impersonation turned out to be better than Bush.
into the role of the slightly daft Texan billionaire perfectly,
mannerisms and voice done perfectly.
1. Billy Crystal does
Sammy Davis Jr.
I was watching an SNL repeat on the Comedy Channel, when my mother
in. She said "Hey, it's Sammy Davis Jr.!" Close, Mom.
It was really the
most flawless impression I've ever seen on Saturday Night Live.
thing I can say about it is that for the longest time, I didn't
know who was
doing the impression. Only when I read Billy Crystal's book,
the truth (of course, watch this; it'll turn out Crystal was
kidding and it
was really Gary Kroeger or somebody). The mannerisms were perfect,
voice was perfect, and the SNL make-up team outdid themselves.
All in all,
Crystal's best impression on the show, which is saying something
Well, that concludes the list
that will be invariably useless, because I'm
sure to remember somebody as soon as I e-mail this off. Should
with any of my selections, SCREW YOU HIPPIE! I am, of course,
Feel free to comment on the selections at Jordan
Davidson's SNL Message
Board, or send me your opinions at email@example.com