Skip to main content

The Best Tom Hanks Saturday Night Live Characters

Tom Hanks on Saturday Night Live
(Image credit: NBC)

NBC’s long-running, legendary sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live has been blessed with some amazing hosts over its nearly five decades - many of the latest hosts for Season 47 included. However, the absolute best SNL hosts are the ones who have graced the stage at Studio 8H enough times and with enough laugh-filled success that you might be even mistakenly assume they were actually part of the cast. Tom Hanks is one such person.

By the time the Academy Award winner (for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump) joined the Five-Timers Club (now a traditional joke that was originally his idea), he had already acquired his own collection of recurring Saturday Night Live characters - something only a handful of guest hosts, such as Steve Martin’s “Wild and Crazy Guy” or Justin Timberlake’s R&B crooner from “Dick In a Box,” have achieved. Later on, he would continue to breathe life into more characters that have become his most popular, likely with some help from the Internet. However, as we talk about some of Hanks’ most memorable SNL personas, let’s start with his earlier years.

Phil Hartman and Tom Hanks on Saturday Night Live

(Image credit: NBC)

Mr. Short-Term Memory

Remember that movie Memento - one of the best mystery movies, about a widower (Guy Pearce) unable to remember anything that happened to him just moments earlier? Well, imagine that same concept, but with a much lighter and funnier execution and you, essentially, would have this recurring sketch starring Tom Hanks as Jeff Morrow, otherwise known as Mr. Short-Term Memory.

Created by Conan O’Brien, this San Bernardino-based ad executive stricken with chronic amnesia after a pear fell on his head first appeared in Saturday Night Live’s 14th season, as seen on a blind date with a woman (Victoria Jackson) whose name, let alone presence, constantly slips his mind. In his second appearance, Jeff has to be repeatedly reminded that his friend, Bill (the late Phil Hartman) broke his leg and in his third and final sketch, so far, he drives a trivia game show host (Hartman again) nuts by ringing the buzzer, only to assume that he has not even been asked a question yet.

Tom Hanks and Jon Lovitz on Saturday Night Live

(Image credit: NBC)

Girl Watcher

Mr. Short-Term Memory is not the only sketch from the mind of Conan O’Brien that Tom Hanks’ energy helped make into a memorable and ever-quotable recurring sketch. In “Girl Watchers,” which first aired in 1988, the actor and then cast member Jon Lovitz play a couple of average guys who face constant, brutally silent rejection from attractive female bystanders.

It is a pretty simple and quite familiar concept, but the secret as to why these characters were funny enough to return in two more sketches - including one that takes place on a cruise ship - lies in the execution. Hanks and Lovitz’s characters both approach and accept rejection from their unrequited love interests in the same boldly confident tone of voice, even when they begin listing off increasingly self-deprecating remarks to explain why the ladies might not be interested in them in the first place. 

Mike Myers, Tom Hanks, and Aerosmith on Saturday Night Live

(Image credit: NBC)

Barry

Another classic and quotable SNL character whom Tom Hanks, unfortunately, only appeared as once in 1990, is Barry. If you don’t recognize him by name, fans should remember him as the cousin of Dana Carvey’s Garth, who also happens to be a roadie for Aerosmith, from what might be the most iconic edition of “Wayne’s World” ever - not counting the movies, of course.

Barry appears on the titular cable access program hosted by Mike Myers’ Wayne Campbell in his basement while the legendary, Boston-based rock band is upstairs sitting where Wayne “eats [his] Nut ’N Honey everyday.” Aerosmith eventually comes down for an interview and to perform a rendition of the “Wayne’s World” theme song after Barry demonstrates his sound check process, which involves testing the mics by literally saying the word “sibilance” - a quirk Hanks would reference when playing a hilariously absent-minded version of himself on a Celebrity Jeopardy! sketch from 2009.

Sasheer Zamata, Leslie Jones, and Tom Hanks on Saturday Night Live

(Image credit: NBC)

Doug

Speaking of Jeopardy!, in October 2016, Tom Hanks also starred in what might be Saturday Night Live’s funniest parody of the long-running game show, judging by how popular the clip became on the comedy series’ official YouTube channel. On the fourth edition of “Black Jeopardy!,” hosted by Kenan Thompson as Darnell Haynes, Hanks appears as a contestant named Doug - an elderly, Southern-accented white man wearing a MAGA hat. Immediately, Haynes, the Black, female contestants (Sasheer Zamaata and Leslie Jones), and the audience are quick to assume this guy is doomed to fail, until something amazing happens.

In a brilliant twist of social commentary, Doug kills it on the show, providing the questions with a charisma and perspective that not only matches his fellow contestants and the host, but earns him their respect. He even interjects with comments about his appreciation for Tyler Perry movies, knowing a guy in his neighborhood who does mechanical work for cheap, and other testimonies that refreshingly wipe away any pre-conceived cultural division. That is, until, a very polarizing topic is brought up during Final Jeopardy!

Tom Hanks as David S. Pumpkins on Saturday Night Live

(Image credit: NBC)

David S. Pumpkins

On the same night Tom Hanks appeared as Doug on "Black Jeopardy!" - which was also Season 42’s Halloween episode - he introduced a character whom, according to The Hollywood Reporter, he initially did not want to play. However, the world is thankful he eventually agreed to "scare the hell" out of us as the enduringly iconic weirdo, David S. Pumpkins, who appears in a haunted elevator attraction with his skeletal companions (Mikey Day and Bobby Moynihan) and displays quirks that are not as scary as they are mind-numblingly goofy and fascinatingly bizarre.

David S. Pumpkins (whose middle initial stands for Simon, by the way) was an instant, wholly unexpected hit, whom Hanks has reprised three more times. He randomly showed up in a music video parody in 2017, was the star of his own animated special on NBC that same year, and Hanks even tweeted that he would don the jack-o-lantern-patterned tux for Halloween just days after playing the character for the first time. Any questions?

My only question now is who could become the next David S. Pumpkins or, more accurately, who will be Tom Hanks’ next iconic Saturday Night Live character? Better yet, when can we expect the return of any of the hilarious personas above? Perhaps, October?

Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.