Who thinks ranking SNL cast members is a good idea?

As if the cast members on Saturday Night Live didn't already feel like they live in a constant pressure cooker already, wondering from week to week and day to day if they're ready for late-night network television and validated by Lorne Michaels to continue their comedy careers…now there are multiple people ranking them statistically and otherwise.

Splitsider launched what it calls an "SNL Horse Race Roundup," because performing comedy on TV is a horse race and the end goal is to be on the show more than your fellow castmates. What's that? You didn't get a lot of screen time last Saturday? Start worrying extra hard now, because your time is being tracked and compared to everyone else on the show.

Best Week Ever, which continues as a blog, if not an actual Vh1 show (so please stop pestering Paul F. Tompkins with questions about it because it's not his fault), has launched its own quantitative analysis and power rankings of the SNL cast. It assigns number values to each cast member based on his or her appearances as well as performances in sketches. Guess what, Fred Armisen and Bill Hader? You're winning so far! Isn't that great news you can take back to 30 Rock with you today?

Good grief.

It's one thing to assign arbitrary rankings to the fictional characters of, say, Mad Men. But that's a scripted series, taped well in advance, and it doesn't matter. Matthew Weiner doesn't even care. Probably. It's just good fun. SNL, on the other hand, is a very real thing with real people that appears live on the TV, with last-minute changes that alter and sometimes kill sketches at the very last moment due to time constraints. I'm sure the cast — already perhaps avoiding the Internet to read recaps such as my own so they don't have to worry about criticism — is over the moon knowing that they're now being subjected to power rankings.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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6 thoughts on “Who thinks ranking SNL cast members is a good idea?

  1. Why do I have the feeling this is gonna get vaguely racist pretty quickly?
    But jokes aside, this makes no sense. Granted, I wish I had a job sitting around timing how long Jason Sudeikis is on screen, but that doesn’t make it worthwhile data. I’ve worked for both Nielsen and The Census so I know worthless data when I see it…

  2. Jeez, what a curmudgeon you are. I don’t think Splitsider, BWE or anyone puts any merit into these rankings. Much like the Mad Men rankings you mentioned, these are in good fun. Of course the SNL cast are real people and not fictional characters, but anybody actually gauging skill and talent based off these statistics are taking it too seriously. This is all just interesting — and innocent — postulating.

  3. I agree with Ryan. I don’t think anyone is really putting too much weight on these “rankings”. If the cast are actually reading comedy blogs and checking these so called stats, they needn’t worry….I’m sure the Comic’s Comic knows better than most that screen time on SNL does not equal job security. Poster child: Jenny Slate.

  4. Hi Sean — I wrote the BWE post that you referred to above, and have been ranking SNL shows/episodes/seasons ever since the 2002 season in various outlets (my personal blog, Vulture, and now BWE). While I am quite confident that no one on the show’s staff puts any merit in the rankings I have posted on the site, the fact of the matter is that the public at large — and in particular, our readership at BWE — loves to discuss SNL. I thought this would be a fun way to engage people like me who enjoy obsessing over the minutae of this comedic institution. I have my own personal favorite performers on the show, but with my ratings/rankings, I am trying to remove my own personal subjectivity as much as possible and, instead, am attempting to assign value based on tangible elements of the product that Lorne puts out with every new episode (did Performer A appear in a sketch, what role did they play in that sketch and how did the audience respond). Clearly, not many people know what’s going on in Lorne’s head and why he makes the decisions that he does, but since he’s not talking, I thought this might be an interesting way to see who’s in his good graces and who’s in his doghouse at any given point in time. I hope you keep reading, as I’m certainly going to continue reading your thoughtful recaps. Thanks for the feedback.

  5. It’s entirely possible that the combination of my advancing age and my exposure to extreme heat recently has catapulted me closer to becoming a curmudgeon.
    That said, I’m a fan of Uncle Grambo and devoured his previous post-season SNL wrap-up on Vulture that was chock full o’ stats. And it’s the very fact that Lorne keeps his cards so close to the vest — frustrating generations of cast members, as well as viewers — that makes the dissection of on-air screen time an indicator of who’s hot and who’s not in his mind. I guess I merely wonder how much good comes of publicizing that in the form of stats week to week. As a sports fan, I know firsthand the love of poring over statistics and debating them with fellow sports fans. Is SNL a sport, though? And why is it acceptable to do this with SNL, a show that makes and breaks comedy careers, but seldom or never seen with other shows or broadcasts that have as much impact on their on-air players? Maybe I’m overthinking it. Especially when, as a journalist, I imagine coming up with power rankings for journalists. I know Mediaite has done just that. But what if someone were to do that with a single important media institution, such as, say the New York Times? Counting up bylines, where the reporter’s stories landed, how many column inches he or she got each day/week? If this already exists, I’m probably too much of a curmudgeon to look it up.
    I definitely know that ranking comedians is always a dicey proposition, because judging what’s funny and who’s funnier is such a subjective, personal opinion. Whenever people ask me for my favorites, or for whom I think is the best out there, I always throw the question back at them: By what measurement do you mean? There are many great comedians who are great in vastly different ways. And as I noted about SNL, there are things that happen because it’s a live broadcast that cannot possibly be measured by these rankings — most notably when a sketch gets shortened or cut entirely at the last-minute due to time.
    At any rate, I’ll still be looking forward to Uncle Grambo’s posts about SNL and everything else.

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