Tina Fey was so triumphant as the host of Saturday Night Live‘s 39th season opener, jumping from a dead-on Girls parody to a seriously macabre Model T commercial, that I had no choice but to think about SNL‘s breakout female stars all day. And rank them. I’m sure you’ve had this instinct, no?
So here they are: the 11 greatest female SNL cast members ever. Apologies for not ranking Ellen Cleghorne, who wrote one of my favorite standup jokes of all time. (“My friend bought a dog. I told her, ‘Give me $500 and I’ll sh*t on your carpet.’”)
11. Jan Hooks
The ferocious Jan Hooks gave us arguably the most lachrymose impression of Tammy Faye Bakker ever (a true feat), along with kickass takes on Sinead O’Connor and Kathie Lee Gifford. As one half of the dynamic and fabulous-as-hell Sweeney Sisters, she served as the doyenne of SNL in the late ’80s. It also helps her ’80s cred that she’s a dead-ringer for Constance McCashin and Blair Brown, AND she eventually left SNL for a role on Designing Women. Which has been my dream since childhood.
10. Maya Rudolph
It’s safe to say the world’s perception of Donatella Versace was not the same after Maya was done with her. The Bridesmaids costar’s several insane impersonations were often riveting (namely her rhythmically, sonically right-on Whitney Houston), but I’ll always love her most as the nervous, hard-breathing teen star of Wake Up, Wakefield.
9. Rachel Dratch
From a cameo as “the new meat” in one of her very first sketches alongside a Fight Club-bing Jennifer Aniston to several outrageously funny Debbie Downer skits, Rachel Dratch was one of SNL’s premier experts in both bombastic and deadpan comedy. She thrilled us with Jimmy Fallon as the squawkier half of The Boston Teens and chilled us as Will Ferrell’s purring, bearskin rug-clutching lovah. Bonus: Her gonzo cameos on 30 Rock ruled — particularly her stint as Barbara Walters — and her memoir Girl Walks Into a Bar is more nonchalantly honest than Bossypants. I said it.
8. Ana Gasteyer
Every interview with Ana Gasteyer indicates she’s likely a genius, and that doesn’t surprise me a bit. As Martha Stewart, she unnerved you with the “gift” of her indecipherable Connecticut accent. As one half of the Delicious Dish NPR team (which was so much funnier before “Schweddy Balls” turned the duo into a frat joke), she packed so much easy-listening timbre into her pronunciation of ketchup. And as Celine Dion, she saved the world from the unbearable crush of “My Heart Will Go On” with abounding hubris.
7. Cheri Oteri
The world pretends the Spartan Cheerleader sketches were drastically overused — and maybe that’s partially true — but the character of Arianna is one of the richest, weirdest female characters ever. She was insecure, blown away by her own puberty, unerringly enthusiastic, deliriously communicative with her never-seen pal Alexis, and rabidly obsessed with the perfect cheer. Oteri’s Barbara Walters impression is flawless (“I was horseback riding with Saddam Hussein just last week…”), and I am a shrieking superfan of her Morning Latte talk show host character Cass Van Rye (“I cannot get pregnant because you see, my uterus, is collapsed and inside out.”) and her pill-addicted, clownishly maquillaged character Colette Riordan carried prescriptions like firearms. Always, always funny.
6. Jane Curtin
Jane Curtin was a menace at the Weekend Update anchor desk, and in the era of self-impressed blowhards like Chevy Chase and John Belushi, it was refreshing to see her no-nonsense, fiercely self-respecting poise get its proper turn. Even as a go-to straight woman, she was hilarious. Next to Dan Aykroyd as an interviewer during a Consumer Probe sketch, she interrogated a sleazy toymaker about his dubious wares. (“Johnny Space Commander mask, which retails for $6.95. It’s nothing more than a plastic bag and a rubber band.”) And if you didn’t see Jane Curtin call out the misogyny behind the scenes of SNL‘s first five seasons, get going now. Love. This. Woman.