Moynihan is the only one whose time definitively seemed to be up. Though he was never one of the leading stars of the show, he’s unquestionably a first-ballot Saturday Night Live hall of famer. His nine years as a cast member is topped by only a handful of others (Meyers, Armisen, Darrell Hammond, Tim Meadows, and the eternal Kenan Thompson), and he originated a pantheon-level character along the way—Drunk Uncle, a Weekend Update mainstay who was fond of uttering vaguely offensive malapropisms as he burped on his sweater and offered his take on the latest news.
But Moynihan was much more than Drunk Uncle (who made a final appearance last weekend but had been semi-retired for a long time). In his early years on the show, he was an exciting, strange addition to the cast who delighted in playing boisterous and outlandish sketch characters. I was a huge fan of his obnoxious Uno Pizzeria waiter Mark Payne (“smells like pepper!”), the sobbing son of Hader’s Italian TV personality Vinny Vedecci, and the overzealous flirter Janet Peckinpaugh (who described herself as “a flesh cube”).
Later, Moynihan evolved into the show’s most reliable hand, a veteran who could effectively improvise if a sketch started out on the wrong foot (witness his ad-libbing as a cast member arrives late to “Space Pants”), and who discovered an adeptness for playing vacuous TV personalities (I think “Mornin’ Miami” is one of the best written, best performed sketches in SNL’s last decade). Beyond that, he was an obvious and devoted fan of the show who’s certain to return as a host someday soon.
But Moynihan, thanks to his long tenure, had feet in both the Wiig/Hader/Samberg era and the newer one defined by Kate McKinnon, Beck Bennett, and Leslie Jones. Bayer was probably one of the latter group’s most familiar faces. She was an quick hit in her first season with her Miley Cyrus impression (one that now seems hilariously outdated) and was always called on by SNL to play the uncool: the stuffy mom, the confused straight man, Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy. Bayer might have gotten a little boxed in by the end, but she was another reliable part of the firmament. Though she doesn’t have a sitcom job lined up as Moynihan does, she undoubtedly has a fruitful career ahead of her.
Zamata’s hiring came in the middle of the 2013-2014 season (SNL’s 39th). It was a rare panic hire for the show’s cool-headed producer Lorne Michaels, in response to frequent and growing criticism about the show’s lack of non-white actors, particularly black actresses (there was no one on staff to do a Michelle Obama impression, among many others). Zamata is primarily a stand-up comic (her new special, Pizza Mind on Seeso, is very funny), and stand-ups often struggle to meld with SNL’s long-refined approach to making sketch comedy.