There are not a great many recurring characters on Saturday Night Live originated by non-cast members. It takes a special combination of factors for that to happen, specifically a great guest host is who not only good enough to create a memorable character, but popular and enduring enough to host Saturday Night Live on multiple occasions. That’s more rare than you’d think over the 38 year span of SNL. Honestly, there are only a handful of hosting candidates even eligible, and expectedly, the list is dominated by — in my opinion — the two greatest hosts in SNL history: Justin Timberlake and Tom Hanks, the latter of whom I personally believe is the show’s best overall host, owing to the fact that, during his heyday, Tom Hanks was the perfect comedic voice for the show and a spectacular complement to the late 80’s/early 90’s cast. He was so omnipresent on the show, and so good that — like Steve Martin — some often assume that he is a one-time cast member.
He is also dominant on the list of the list below of the best recurring SNL characters originating with a non-cast member.
The Barry Gibb Talk Show (Watch Here)— One of two Justin Timberlake sketches on this list, the first time they brought out this bit was the first time I ever really loved Jimmy Fallon. What’s interesting about this sketch is that it’s recurred five times, but only in the first was Fallon a cast-member, so the other four times neither Barry nor Robin Gibb were played by existing cast members. The sketch has been excellent all five times, but nothing beats the first, when Timberlake couldn’t keep a straight face.
The Stand Ups (Watch) — Debuting in the 85-86 season, before Seinfeld, Tom Hanks basically does a perfect Jerry Seinfeld impression, satirizing the banality of his stand-up act at the time. Mocking the “What’s the Deal?” jokes was a thing long before the sitcom came around (I had forgotten how popular Jerry Seinfeld was before Seinfeld).
Girl Watchers (Watch Here) — I may be wrong, but I am fairly sure that Tom Hanks appeared with Jon Lovitz each time this sketch aired. Debuting during the 87-88 season, pretty much every guy in America quoted this sketch after getting rejected by a woman. I know I did, and I was only 12.
The Continental (Watch Here)— I had originally thought that “More Cowbell” may have been a Walken recurring sketch, but he actually only appeared on it the first time (it was a Ferrell sketch), though Walken debuted “The Continental” during the same episode. It’s a sketch that would never work with anyone except Walken. Interestingly, the voice-over at the beginning of the sketch is provided by Phil Hartman, and the same voice over has been used three times since Hartman’s death.
Mr. Short Term Memory (Watch Here) — Not only the best Hanks’ recurring character, but one of my all-time favorite SNL sketches (along with Massive Head Wound Harry), this is the sketch — debuting in 1988 — that I think made Tom Hanks an SNL sensation. It was also the perfect complement to the style of sketch that succeeded in the late 80s, like “Toonces, the Driving Cat” (which debuted during the same season).
The Festrunk Brothers (Watch Here) — Steve Martin’s half of the sketch, Yortuk, was so popular that he actually appeared on Martin’s 1979 record (Wild and Crazy Guy), which won the year’s Grammy for Best Comedy album. Given that the Festrunk Brothers reappeared last season, and debuted in 1977, I think that means this is the longest-running recurring character in SNL history. Aykroyd, God Bless him, looked every bit like a guy that’s been doing the sketch for 36 years.
Mascots (Watch Here) — This generation’s Tom Hanks, Justin Timberlake immediately positioned himself as one of the most popular hosts in this show’s history with his first appearance in “Omeletteville,” and there was no doubt that they’d bring the character back when Timberlake hosted again. In fact, I think Timberlake may be the only contemporary host that currently has recurring characters on SNL, save for Jonah Hill’s Adam Grossman. “Mascots” has recurred in each of Timberlake’s six hosting stints, and it’s always a crowd-pleasing hit.