Top 10 Best SNL Impressionists
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Best SNL Impressionists.
For this list, we’ll be looking at SNL cast members who were especially renowned for their impersonations of celebrities and other notable figures.
Which “Saturday Night Live” impression do you think is the most accurate? Let us know in the comments!
#10: Jay Pharoah
From his first impression of Iago from “Aladdin” at the age of six, Jay Pharoah has been known for his impressive imitations of celebrities and other notable figures. During his time at “Saturday Night Live” from 2010 to 2016, Pharoah was a reliable performer who could pull off impressions of Will Smith, Jay-Z, Johnny Depp, and many more with ease. He was so confident in his talents that he even bravely took on impressions of former “SNL” cast members like Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock. However, Pharoah was best known for his spot-on impression of President Barack Obama.
#9: Ana Gasteyer
Beginning her career as a member of The Groundlings sketch-comedy group, Gasteyer gained comedy experience that would land her a role at “SNL” in 1996. In addition to her memorable original characters, Gasteyer was also well known for her impressions of relevant figures like Martha Stewart, Céline Dion, and Hillary Clinton. Her Celine Dion impression was so popular that it was noticed by the singer herself, who invited Gasteyer to perform with her at one of her concerts in 1998. Until she left the show in 2002, Gasteyer was one of “SNL’s” strongest female impressionists.
#8: Will Ferrell
Although he’s very well known for his success in film and television, Will Ferrell first started to gain widespread attention in the public eye for his impressions during his time on “Saturday Night Live” from 1995 to 2002. Ferrell delivered incredibly accurate impressions of President George W. Bush, “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek, and “Inside the Actors Studio” host James Lipton, who has said himself he liked Ferrell’s impression. These impressions, along with his original characters, made Ferrell a very popular member of the “Saturday Night Live” cast and helped improve the show’s declining ratings. Since his time at “SNL,” Ferrell has also returned as a host five times, making him a member of the exclusive “Five-Timers Club”.
#7: Dana Carvey
He may be best known for his character of Garth in the “Wayne’s World” sketches and movies, but during his time at “SNL,” Carvey also proved his talents as a gifted impressionist. His most heavily featured impression was that of President George H. W. Bush, who was a regular character in “SNL’s” political sketches throughout his election and presidency. Carvey even managed to take on two impressions at once for one sketch leading up to the 1992 U.S. presidential election, in which he played both his usual President Bush as well as independent candidate Ross Perot.
#6: Dan Aykroyd
As one of the original cast members, Dan Aykroyd helped establish “SNL’s” reputation for comedic impressions. Some of his well-known impressions included Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, and Vincent Price, but his most popular impression would likely be his Julia Child impression. In the sketch titled “The French Chef,” Aykroyd gives an impression of the famous chef that, while not an exact imitation, is so funny that even Julia Child herself has admitted she plays the sketch at her parties. From his impressions to his original characters like the Coneheads and the Blues Brothers, Dan Aykroyd certainly contributed to “SNL’s” enduring legacy.
#5: Maya Rudolph
After joining the “SNL” cast in 2000, Rudolph’s musical talents and impressions quickly made her one of the most entertaining members of the cast. During her time on the show, she had a unique ability to alter her appearance so she could easily play both male and female characters from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, allowing her to impersonate a wide range of people. Some of her popular impressions included Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, Oprah, and Maya Angelou. Rudolph left the show in 2007, but frequently returns for guest appearances, including her recent portrayal of vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris throughout the 2020 election cycle.
#4: Kate McKinnon
One of the most entertaining aspects of an especially stressful presidential election in 2016 was Kate McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton impression. The impression was favored by Hillary Clinton, who appeared in a sketch alongside McKinnon’s Clinton. But this is by no means the extent of her impersonation abilities, as McKinnon has delivered spot-on impressions of dozens of celebrities, including Kellyanne Conway, Justin Bieber, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. McKinnon’s chameleon-like talents contributed to her Emmy wins for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 2016 and 2017.
#3: Phil Hartman
Playing more than 70 characters over his eight seasons at “Saturday Night Live” from 1986 to 1994, Hartman established his reputation as a gifted impressionist. Hartman imitated celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Ed McMahon, but his most celebrated impression was his Bill Clinton, which he reprised many times throughout his time on the show. “SNL” creator Lorne Michaels thought Hartman was one of the most underrated cast members and his peers generally saw him as the “glue” that held the show together. In 1998, Hartman died tragically, and many comedy legends gathered together to remember his uplifting work in the wake of such a sudden and devastating event. Hartman is still remembered today for his many entertaining impressions and his impact on the comedy world.
#2: Darrell Hammond
With 107 celebrity impressions under his belt, Hammond is undoubtedly one of the greatest impressionists in “SNL’s” history. His best-known was, like Phil Hartman, a Bill Clinton impression, but Hammond was also known during his time at “SNL” for impersonating Al Gore, Donald Trump, John Travolta, and many more. Hammond was a frequent participant in the regular “Celebrity Jeopardy!” sketches, which gave him the opportunity to regularly test out new and unique impressions. Hammond left the show in 2009 after a record-breaking 14-year tenure, but returned in 2014 as the show’s announcer, a role he still holds today. Hammond was, and still remains to be, an integral part of “SNL” and a massively talented comedian.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
SNL’s Longest Serving Cast Member with an Iconic Steve Harvey Impression
An Underrated Impressionist with Spot-On Kristen Wiig & Kathy Griffin Impressions
A Newer Cast Member Making a Name for Herself with Her Funny & Topical Impressions
Her Sarah Palin Impression Is Too Perfect & So Impressive
Delivered Excellent Impressions of Bill Cosby, Michael Jackson, & More
#1: Bill Hader
For this lifelong impressionist, “Saturday Night Live” was the perfect opportunity to showcase his skills as a performer. A cast member from 2005 to 2013, Hader was known for his reliably excellent impressions, ranging from Vincent Price, to Alan Alda, to Stephen King. Part of his comedic inspiration came from his admiration for Phil Hartman, and Hader hoped to be able to fill a similar role to Hartman during his time on the show as the “impressions guy.” While many impressionists can give a good idea of what character they’re trying to parody with their impersonations, Bill Hader has the ability to almost entirely transform into the celebrities and characters he was imitating with his truly impressive talents that still amaze us today.