10 SNL Stars Who’ve Shined In Theater
Appearing in a live, 90-minute comedy show every week is grueling work. It requires a performer who is quick on their feet and able to respond in the moment to whatever happens in a given scene. So it isn’t surprising that many Saturday Night Live cast members have also put in time in live theater.
Here are a few notable SNL stars who have tread the boards before and after their time in Studio 8H.
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Legendary SNL cast member/comedienne Gilda Radner got her first big acting break in a 1972 Toronto production of Godspell opposite fellow future stars Andrea Martin, Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Dave Thomas, Victor Garber and Paul Shaffer. (It was easily the funniest production of Godspell ever staged.)
Following her stint on SNL, the performer who gave us classic characters like Roseanne Roseannadanna returned to Broadway in 1979 for her one-woman show, Gilda Live, directed by Mike Nichols. She reteamed with Nichols a year later for the Broadway play Lunch Hour, playing opposite Law & Order‘s Sam Waterston in a show about swinging couples in the Hamptons. Hey, it was the early ’80s.
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Killam displayed a knack for playing irritable characters in period dress (like 1860s newspaper critic Jebidiah Atkinson) during his time on SNL. So slipping into the powdered wig and heavy crown of Hamilton‘s vain King George III came naturally for Killam, who told Stephen Colbert about utilizing his pre-SNL musical theater training for the role.
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Before munching on Alec Baldwin’s “Schweddy Balls” on SNL, Ana Gasteyer performed in musicals in high school and studied theater at Northwestern. Her training came in handy post-SNL when she took on the vocally-challenging role of Elphaba in both the Chicago and Broadway productions of Wicked. She also had acclaimed turns in Broadway shows (Threepenny Opera) and performs jazz standards in her touring cabaret show. Though we’re still holding out hope for a Cinder Calhoun tour.
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Though her time on SNL was brief, Michaela Watkins displayed her talent for spot-on character work in her impression of Arianna Huffington and her snarky blogger character Angie Tempura. In addition to performing with the Groundlings, Watkins got her start working in regional theater in Portland. All of that acting training paid off in excellent performances on shows like Casual, Transparent and Enlightened.
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A classically trained Shakespearean actor, Vance (who holds the honor of being SNL‘s first black female repertory player) made a name for herself with her one-woman shows at Off-Broadway theaters like La MaMa and BACA. But the 1985-1986 season of SNL was a time of transition for the long-running sketch show — Lorne Michaels had returned as executive producer after several low-rated seasons — and Vance’s smart, character-driven work failed to earn her much screentime. (Her most memorable moment came when she performed the song “I Play the Maids,” a scathing takedown of stereotypical roles offered to black female performers.)
Following SNL, Vance returned to theater and won an Obie for her role in the Zora Neale Hurston show Spunk and earned raves for her part in George Wolfe’s The Colored Museum at the Public Theater. Vance’s career was sadly cut short when she passed away from breast cancer in 1990.
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Movie star, funnyman and Oscar host favorite Billy Crystal was a “mahvelous” addition to the 1984-1985 season of SNL, where his smarmy talk show host character Fernando became a breakout sensation. At ease on any stage, Crystal won the 2005 Tony for his one-man ode to his father 700 Sundays, which returned to Broadway in 2013 for a brief run.
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A Juilliard-trained actor and playwright, Morris was originally hired as a writer for the first season of SNL before Lorne Michaels asked him to audition after seeing his performance in the film Cooley High. Roles in Broadway shows like Porgy and Bess and Hallelujah, Baby! prepared Morris for SNL, where he showed off his vocal training in his frequent musical performances and in the “News for the Hard of Hearing” bits on “Weekend Update.” You could say that the theater world was “berra berra” good to Morris.
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Known for her stage work and a brief but memorable role in Saturday Night Fever, Dillon joined the cast of SNL during the 1980-1981 season, an infamously troubled year when producer Jean Doumanian was running the show following Lorne Michaels’ departure. While her fellow cast members came from the world of stand-up and improv, Dillon was a Broadway vet, having starred opposite Angela Lansbury in a revival of Gypsy and in the musical My One and Only for which she earned a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress. Post-SNL, Dillon continued to work on stage in shows like Boeing-Boeing and Enchanted April.
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Prior to joining SNL for the ’91-92 season, Fallon earned a theater MFA at Catholic University and became a member of the Atlantic Theater Company. But as one of the few female cast members during the Adam Sandler/Chris Farley/Mike Myers/Dana Carvey/Phil Hartman boys club era of SNL, Fallon’s time on the show was short-lived. (That’s her in the middle in a “Delta, Delta Delta” sketch, one of the few to feature female cast members at the time.) But all that theater training paid off for Fallon post-SNL when she scored memorable roles in Forrest Gump, Seinfeld and more.
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Martin Short joined SNL for a single season (’84-85) and brought his memorably awkward Ed Grimley character from SCTV with him. A master of film, TV and stage, Short won a Tony in 1999 for his role in Neil Simon’s Little Me and played Leo Bloom to Jason Alexander’s Max Bialystock in The Producers. Ed Grimley, along with other characters like Jiminy Glick and songwriter Irving Cohen, was also a part of Short’s one-man Broadway show Fame Becomes Me.
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