The 10 Longest-Running SNL Cast Members

The cast members with the longest tenure may surprise even the most ardent fan of America’s TV centerpiece.

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The times, they are a-changin’, as Bob Dylan once said. That aphorism applies to TV — an evolving medium since its inception — more than ever, with people watching programs on their phones instead of the boob tube. Which makes it all the more impressive that Saturday Night Live (SNL) is still going strong.

The comedy variety show SNL kicked off its 48th season earlier this month. Top Gun: Maverick star Miles Teller and 67-year-old Irish acting legend Brendan Gleeson hosted the first two episodes, respectively. Megan Thee Stallion pulls double duty this Saturday, serving as both host and musical guest.

SNL creator Lorne Michaels told CBS Mornings in October 2020 that he hopes to see the show through to its 50th season. He alluded to retiring after that.

“I have a feeling that would be a good time to leave,” Michaels said.

But while Michaels’ run on SNL is unsurpassed, what about the notoriously cutthroat show’s talent? The cast members with the longest tenure may surprise even the most ardent fan of America’s TV centerpiece.

1. Kenan Thompson (20 seasons and going)

When Kenan Thompson joined the SNL cast in 2003, few placed bets on his becoming the longest-running cast member in the show’s history. But he is, by a long shot, and will continue to play record-setter as he sticks with the show. Also of note: Thompson was the first cast member born after SNL debuted in 1975, according to USA Today. Cementing his legacy, so to speak, Thompson got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in August of last year — right next to Michaels’, according to Streetz945ATL.com.

2. Darrell Hammond (14 seasons)

Thompson’s successor in terms of SNL longevity is Darrell Hammond. Sadly, time isn’t treating him too well, given Hammond’s strained send-off from the show. Hammond confessed that he was devastated when he found out that he would no longer be playing Donald Trump on SNL. To make matters worse, he didn’t even hear the news from Michaels, whose cold blood is as well-known as his eye for comedic talent.

3. Seth Meyers (13 seasons)

On the other hand, Seth Meyers is doing just fine, thank you very much. He was the last of the three SNL cast members to have notched more than 12 seasons on the show. It’s also worth mentioning that he served as head writer for the show from 2001 to 2014, a mind-bending stretch for a show with a high turnover rate. Most viewers most closely associate Meyers with his long-running role as host of Weekend Update. Given Meyers’ close affiliation with that segment, he was a shoe-in to host NBC’s Late Night, a duty that co-creator David Letterman performed to perfection. (Here’s a piece of trivia for ya: Letterman and Meyers are co-credited as creators of he current iteration of Late Night.)

4. Al Franken (11 seasons)

Like Meyers, Al Franken found more success after departing from SNL of his own accord in 1995. But the two SNL mainstays took radically different directions upon leaving the show. In 2009, Franken narrowly edged past rival Norm Coleman to snag a seat as one of Minnesota’s two U.S. Senators. Sexual controversies forced Franken’s resignation from the Senate in January 2018, after which he returned to the comedy world. Never say never — especially with SNL’s penchant for surprise moves — but it’s unlikely Franken will return to the program.

5. Fred Armisen (11 seasons)

Like just about anyone familiar with Fred Armisen, SNL recognized multifaceted and inventive comedian Fred Armisen in 2002. For proof that he left the program on good terms, look no further than his hosting of the show in May 2016 and many cameo appearances. Armisen is also one of the most critic-pleasing cast members in SNL history. He won two Peabody Awards, received a Grammy Award nomination in 2019, and was in the running for an Emmy Award on three occasions. Showing his range, Fred Armisen will play Uncle Fester in Netflix’s Addams Family spinoff Wednesday.

6. Kate McKinnon (11 seasons)

Like Armisen, the extraordinarily talented and master impressionist Kate McKinnon left SNL on a positive note. Making the rounds earlier this year to discuss her SNL departure, McKinnon raved about the program a couple of months ago. “Looking back on my decade at SNL, it was the greatest thing ever,” McKinnon said. “Every time we rehearsed it, there was laughter, and it just felt like soaring, just performing it. That’s because the writing was so good, and I was so excited for people to hear the turns of phrase that the guys had written, and they responded in a way that I hoped they would.”

7. Cecily Strong (11 seasons)

Cecily Strong boasts the same number of SNL seasons as McKinnon. But as she continues her run as a cast member on the show, Strong is going for even more time with the variety show. She has played everyone from Senator Dianne Feinstein to Melania Trump. Equally impressive, the Chicago native managed to keep the identity of her long-term partner relatively private — until she shed more light on it last week.

8. Colin Jost (10 seasons)

Similar to Meyers, Colin Jost helps anchor Weekend Update and wrote for SNL for many years. But unlike Strong, he hasn’t kept too tight of a lid on his private life — the opportunity to do so essentially vanished when he married Scarlett Johansson in 2020. Jost’s CV is also impressive given that he received stellar education and attended Manhattan’s Regis High school and later Harvard University.

9. Tim Meadows (10 seasons)

Tim Meadows is a perennial comedy underdog, often playing minor characters in film (Grown Ups, Trainwreck) and on TV (BoJack Horseman, Brooklyn Nine-Nine). But his impact on SNL is undeniable, given that he’s part of the “10 Season(s or More) Club.” Meadows is also overlooked because he joined SNL in 1990, the same year future comedy royalty Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, and Julia Sweeney joined the show.

10. Aidy Bryant (10 seasons)

Last year, Aidy Bryant hinted on the Saturday Night Live season finale that the season may be her last. That didn’t happen, but it was sort of a moot point, as she said goodbye to the show earlier this year. Michaels noted: “This will be a transition year. Change years are always difficult but always exciting. There are new people. There are four new people at least for now.”

Lastly, other SNL stars with 9 seasons under their belt include Michael Che, Kyle Mooney, Bobby Moynihan, Kevin Nealon, Jason Sudeikis, and Maya Rudolph.

For more insights into SNL, check out the podcast Fly on the Wall with Dana Carvey and David Spade.

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