As the Wiig/Hader/Samberg era passed the torch to a less established new cast, Saturday Night Live went through it’s toughest transition since the early 90s. Luckily they seem to be coming out of the fog thanks to the talent of Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, Taran Killam, and others. Now the movie roles are coming and characters are rising above mere recurring status, inching toward household names.
Soon, we’ll be discussing a new class and listening to the same questions about whether the show is out-dated and why people still watch and obsess over a broadcast sketch comedy show with an allegedly receding edge. The cycle never ends.
For this final “SNL: Where Are They Now?” I’m taking a look at the 22 people who could best be described as belonging to this current decade. We know where most of them literally are, but where are they on the show? What side-projects are they working on? And what’s happened to the ones who left? After reading, be sure to check out the 70s cast, the 80s cast, the 90s cast, and the 2000s cast.
Vanessa Bayer (2010-Current)
Bayer is — along with Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, Sasheer Zamata, and Leslie Jones — part of an amazing group of female comics currently leading SNL. But with that much talent, it can sometimes be hard to stand out. There are often episodes where Bayer feels like she’s on the sidelines and others where she takes over thanks to a solid stable of original characters.
Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney (2013-Current)
SNL hired the remaining part of Good Neighbor — Bennett and Mooney’s pre-SNL comedy team — when Nick Rutherford came aboard as a writer on the show this year, but Bennett and Mooney’s videos haven’t risen past their niche holding cell in the way that Lonely Island’s did with Digital Shorts. I imagine that that is a crippling standard to live up to.
As singular cast members, Bennett is becoming a classic utility guy/#1 douchebag type. As for Mooney, he’s SNL‘s resident on-screen weirdo, but he clearly has levels. I honestly didn’t see it at first, but Bruce Chandling may actually be a genius bit of experimental comedy for the way that it seems to cut into this hack comedian’s deeper sadness.
Away from SNL, Mooney co-starred in the Hello Ladies send-off film reprising his role from the series and he has a part in Michael Showalter’s upcoming film Hello, My Name is Doris.
Bennett co-starred in the indie-comedy Intramural (with Kate McKinnon) last year and I’m sure he’ll hook on with something this year during summer break.
Paul Brittain (2010-2012)
Brittain split in the middle of his second season and was far from a force on the show, though “Sex” Ed Vincent was pretty great. After-SNL, Brittain had a recurring role on The Trophy Wife and he’s starring in a documentary style sasquatch indie comedy called Nigel and Oscar vs. The Sasquatch. He plays Nigel, not the sasquatch.
Aidy Bryant (2012-Current)
Bryant has been the breakout talent so far this season after a really terrific second year — an upswing prompted by the appeal of Tonker Bell, her work with Cecily Strong in “Girlfriends Talk Show,” Adele, the Your Girl music videos, and a bunch of one-off characters. As she’s risen in the show’s on-screen hierarchy, her swagger level has as well.
Movie roles will come, Lil Baby Aidy. They will come soon.
Pete Davidson (2014-Current)
Pete Davidson made a great first impression with an Update desk bit about the economic practicalities of going down on dudes for money and he’s had a few more noteworthy moments as a 21-year-old rookie. I don’t know if he’s clinched a job for next season yet, but there’s a lot of talent there and a knack to hit big when he connects, so yeah, probably not getting fired anytime soon.
Leslie Jones (2014-Current)
Leslie Jones has been a celebrated addition to the cast who has already built up quite a collection of memorable moments for a featured player halfway through their first year. With a role in the Ghostbusters reboot and the notices she’s received in her brief time on SNL, is Jones long for the show? Remember, Leslie Jones took the long way to get here (more than 20 years working in stand up).
Taran Killam (2010-Current)
A Mad TV alum, Killam brings a ton of versatility to the table as one of the show’s senior cast members. If this was a regular week and not the anniversary special, I’d expect to see Killam try on a Brian Williams impression since playing TV journalists and whatever Piers Morgan is would be filed under “his jam.”
Outside of SNL, Killam has co-starred in Heat and 12 Years a Slave, he’s done voice work on The Awesomes, and he has Casual Encounters and Brother in Laws coming up in the future. So he’s a bit busy.
Kate McKinnon (2012-Current)
Formerly of The Big Gay Sketch Show, McKinnon rose to prominence quickly on Saturday Night Live and delivered a thoroughly dominant third season that resulted in an Emmy nomination. This year, she’s taken about 1/8th of a step back as others like Bryant have stepped up, but McKinnon is still one of the surest bets to get a laugh whenever she’s on screen thanks to her physical comedy skills, her near peerless Update characters, and her Justin Bieber impression; which has a demonstrated ability to make headlines.
As you surely know, McKinnon is set to co-star in Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot and from there, the sky may be the limit. At this point, it’s too early to predict who will be the face of the decade for SNL, but McKinnon’s got a running start on becoming both an SNL legend and a huge star.
John Milhiser (2013-2014)
Milhiser was one and done after last season and he doesn’t have any new projects on the horizon as far as IMDB is concerned. He did pop up on an episode of Sklarbro Country back in October, and once upon a time he and the Serious Lunch group were actively posting comedy shorts on the Lorne Michaels owned Above Average YouTube channel. So maybe they will get back on that. Please and thank you.
Bobby Moynihan (2008-Current)
Despite the absence of Hader, Sudeikis, Samberg, and Armisen, Moynihan still seems pigeonholed as “the broad comedy guy.” Drunk Uncle is an example, as was Pushie from the JK Simmons episode, and Kirby too. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for it and he’s good at it, but you wonder if Moynihan might soon get restless.
Mike O’Brien (2013-2014)
O’Brien joined the SNL writer’s room in 2009 and the cast last season, only to get bounced back to working with the writers over the summer despite a moderately successful rookie year (Bird Bible). Hopefully O’Brien’s song isn’t going to end with SNL anytime soon though. He’s been on the show a few times with his short films this season — most recently with the slightly tweaked Jay-Z origin story and most notably with “Whites.” Granted, O’Brien’s tastes are a little weird and they may limit his ascent, but everything can’t be white bread and missionary sex, ya know?
Nasim Pedrad (2009-2014)
Pedrad was a ghost at times last season so it was no surprise that she left before the start of season 40. Her Kim Kardashian was spot on, but I miss Heshy the motivational speaker to the point of ache. Lil Blaster too.
Now that Mulaney is basically dead, it’ll be interesting to see where Pedrad goes next (ditto John Mulaney), especially since she might have been the best part of the show. I imagine it won’t be long before she hooks on with something else.
Jay Pharoah (2010-Current)
Pharoah hit his stride last season and this year has been more of the same. It really feels like he’s more than just an impressionist now, though that’s not to discount that major part of his job on the show. Specifically his Obama impression, which keeps getting better and better.
Pharoah had a role in Chris Rock’s Top Five and in Ride Along, and he’s playing a small part in Get a Job.
Tim Robinson (2012-2013)
Robinson went from featured player to writer last year when Mike O’Brien went the other way. Besides SNL, Robinson and O’Brien have worked together with Shelly Gossman to form the Chicago Rats comedy team that struck minor viral gold with the Above Average YouTube channel release of the Look Down series last spring.
Cecily Strong (2012-Current)
Despite her exit from the Weekend Update desk before the start of the season, Strong is still very much one of Saturday Night Live‘s star talents thanks to great desk characters like Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party and A One-Dimensional Female Character From A Male Driven Comedy, the ex-pornstar pitchwomen sketches, and the rest of her collection of characters. She’s also got major musical chops, which were on display in the adorable “Baby It’s Cold Outside” duet with Jimmy Fallon and in each of the Your Girls music videos.
Outside of SNL, Strong can soon be seen co-starring in The Bronze, which is about a pissed off gymnast and not the club where the Scoobies hung out on Buffy.
Kenan Thompson (2003-Current)
Thompson joined SNL after starring as a teenager on the Nickelodeon sketch comedy show All That, the sitcom Kenan and Kel, and Good Burger. Which is a bit odd since Lorne Michaels usually prefers cast members to have that fresh “new performer smell” for the audience. There are exceptions, though. Amy Poehler was one, and with competition for talent stiffer than ever before, it makes some sense for SNL to use “competitors” as some kind of farm system. It worked with Amy Poehler, McKinnon, and Killam. And many feel that it has been working for 12 seasons with Kenan. The thing is, though the writers clearly haven’t gotten bored with him and his skill-set, you have to wonder how much longer he’s going to want to stay. .
Noël Wells (2013-2014)
Wells had it and then seemed to lose steam last season. Which is too bad because she’s a really great impressionist and did good work when she got on screen. In 2013, Wells co-starred in the indie-comedy, Forev. Lately, she’s done voice work for Seth Meyers’ The Awesomes.
Brooks Wheelan (2013-2014)
Wheelan went from being a writer to a featured player before last season even started but he never found a place in the massive cast. He was actually the first cast member to get the hook last year and the first in the history of the show to announce it on social media. Despite the gut punch of losing that job Wheelan has actually handled his dismissal with a bit self-deprecating humor, which is better than be being publicly bitter about it. Whelan just released a stand-up album.
Sasheer Zamata (2014-Current)
Zamata came out strong last season with a lot of eyes on her and a lot of pressure, but it feels like she’s hit a little bit of a sophomore slump this season despite how wonderful her recent emoji Weekend Update bit was. That’s because the expectations on SNL are ridiculously unfair.
Despite the difficulty of what the cast, the writers, and the unheralded crew members try to assemble every week, we are all a part of an audience that is very hard to please. We want these cast members to create something (together and separately) that will make it feel as if there is an urgent need to see them on that legendary stage every week.
That’s why Sasheer Zamata, Kate McKinnon, and Bobby Moynihan are really there. That’s what all 141 cast members have been there for. Not just to walk on that stage, but to own it. Because after 40 years, and with the history and names that have come before, Studio 8H and Saturday Night Live is still the standard in comedy and we still want to marvel at those who succeed and those that come oh so close.