Three years ago today, we were subjected to Gilly for the first time – and we still haven’t quite recovered.
Since “SNL” premiered in 1975, the show has seen more than 800 recurring characters, according to the indispensable SNL Archives. Many have been hilarious and used sparingly (like Blue Öyster Cult cowbell player Gene Frenkle), but many more have been dreadful, overexposed, and increasingly nerve-grating through repetition. Because obviously unfunny characters become funnier the more they’re featured.
Here are 10 “SNL” recurring characters who should have stopped after an appearance or two (minimum four appearances), including the three-year-old Gilly. Finally, she actually has something to say “sorry” for.
Character: Church Lady
Played by: Dana Carvey
The Church Lady was funny at the beginning, like when “she” interviewed Tammy Faye and Jim Baker (Jan Hooks and Phil Hartman), but grew increasingly obnoxious after the fifth, tenth, fifteenth, twentieth, and, finally, twenty-first appearance, ranging from 1986-2011. (It’s a weird feeling when an ongoing “SNL” sketch is older than you are.) Special? Not quite.
Character: Billy Smith
Played by: Fred Armisen
Doesn’t it seem like the “joke” of most of Fred Armisen’s characters is that they’re not funny? Take Native American comic Billy Smith, for instance. Here’s a transcript from a 2003 episode:
Billy Smith: It sure is a pleasure to be here in New York. Is anybody here from out of town? How about you, where do you come from?
Jimmy Fallon: Uh…I’m from upstate.
Jimmy: I said, I’m from upstate New York.
Billy: I know! And I’m greatly sorry! Do you see? I am disparaging the place of your birth!
The intentional non-joke joke is rarely funny; it only works when the subject material is really dark, like when Lars Von Trier made his infamous “I’m a Nazi” joke. It also helps to have “FU*K” tattooed on your knuckles.
Character: Leon Phelps
Played by: Tim Meadows
There have been 11 movies based on nine “SNL” characters, from 1980’s The Blues Brothers to 2010’s MacGruber. Most of them, to put it gently, HAVE BEEN TERRIBLE. But only three have Rotten Tomatoes scores under 15%: It’s Pat, A Night at the Roxbury, and The Ladies Man, the worst of the trio. Why? The Pat movie itself isn’t funny, at all, but the IDEA of a Pat movie is fantastic, while Roxbury stars Will Ferrell, which at least gives it some credibility. The Ladies Man, as a character, is just BAD; Tim Meadows always seemed so desperate for a laugh, which took away the entire point of the supposedly “cool” character. Plus, that lisp!
Character: Opera Man
Played by: Adam Sandler
Canteen Boy/Cajun Boy/Herlihy Boy > Opera Man
Character: Christy Henderson
Played by: David Spade
I wanted to include David Spade’s Total Bastards Airline “Buh-Bye” guy, but he only appeared in two sketches. So, instead we have Christy from the Gap Girls series, which realllyyy hasn’t aged well.
Character(s): Marty and Bobbi Culp
Played: Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer
In his seven seasons on “SNL,” Will Ferrell played 27 original recurring characters. Most of them — including Frank Henderson, Jeffrey’s Supervisor, and Jacob Silj — were classics. But there were a few duds, too, like the Culps. Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer played two unhip music teachers who sang modern classics by DMX and Pink, and though they both do their best to make the material funny (and it kind of was at first), it’s hard to find THAT much humor in the duo singing Nine Days’ “Absolutely (Story of a Girl).” Over 20 appearances for a one-joke act was too much, particularly when it’s just a rehash of Bill Murray’s Nick the Lounge Singer character.
Played by: Chris Kattan
Mango, the exotic dancer you loved to hate, appeared on “SNL” 16 TIMES. By comparison, “The Blues Brothers” only had five sketches, while “Celebrity Jeopardy” had 14. That’s why I chose Kattan’s Mango over Mr. Peepers — he’s the epitome of an at-first vaguely amusing character getting run into the ground for reasons beyond comprehension. They needed to fill air-time? They needed to find someone who made Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow look humble(ish) by comparison. Who knows.
Played by: Fred Armisen
Fred Armisen is the only repeat offender on this list, but that’s what happens when you’re credited with 31 characters. Honestly, very few of them are any good, and Nicholas Fehn, Manuel Ortiz, or Gunther Kelly all could have been here instead. Fericito just bugs me the most because of that “womp-womp” thing he does EVERY DAMN TIME. Armisen should really just ditch playing a variety of “ethnic” roles on “SNL,” and instead solely focus on “Portlandia,” where he’s actually quite endearing.
Character(s): Wendy and Doug Whiner
Played by: Robin Duke and Joe Piscopo
As their name implies, they whined. A lot. In loud voices and stretched-out syllables. That’s it. They’re like if you took Paul Rudd’s character from Wet Hot American Summer, particularly the scene where he dramatically throws his body around while cleaning up his mess, but made him uncool, unfunny, and obnoxious, and did it TEN TIMES in two years.
Played by: Kristen Wiig
Looking for a good time on the Internet? Do a YouTube search for “Gilly Impression”: