Chris Parnell is an American actor, comedian, and voice artist. He first came to prominence as a cast member of the TV show ‘Saturday Night Live’ which he joined in 1998. He also lent his voice to Cyril Figgis on the animated spy spoof series, ‘Archer’ apart from his hilarious recurring role as Dr. Leo Spaceman on ‘30 Rock.’ He was with SNL for eight seasons and has the distinction of being fired from it twice! Even though he has carved a career for himself as a comedic character actor, Chris Parnell has been an underrated actor. However, it can’t be denied that he is highly versatile—he can portray a variety of characters ranging from the inept but confident Dr. Leo Spaceman to the insecure Cyril Figgis with the same élan. He indeed has the unique ability to bring to life a wide range of memorable characters of such differing personality traits. No doubt he has established himself as a vital addition to any cast! Along with his acting skills, he is also known for his skills as a rapper which the world witnessed in his raps about Britney Spears and Jennifer Garner.
Childhood & Early Life
Thomas Christopher Parnell was born on 5th February 1967 in Memphis, Tennessee, to a Southern Baptist family.
He graduated from Germantown High School where he studied drama and auditioned for plays. He performed in his school’s Poplar Pike Playhouse. In 1985, when he was a senior in Germantown, his classmates voted him ‘Most Talented.’ He received his BFA in Drama from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem.
After graduating, he performed with the Berkshire Theatre and the Alley Theatre. He then moved back home where he took up teaching acting and film at his old Germantown school.
To pursue his passion for acting, he quit his teaching job and moved to Los Angeles. There he landed a job at FAO Schwartz and eventually worked his way up to the post of Operations Manager. It was during this time that he also started taking classes at The Groundlings Main Company.
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Chris Parnell had been performing with The Groundlings for a few years when he was discovered by talent scouts looking for actors for the TV show ‘Saturday Night Live’. He flew out to New York to audition and joined soon after as a featured player.
On September 26, 1998, Chris Parnell joined ‘Saturday Night Live’ as a featured player. He moved up to being a repertory player in his second season. However, due to budget cuts, he was let go from SNL in 2001, having just completed his third season.
He was brought back to the show after cast members Will Ferell and Chris Kattan, and a writer convinced the show’s producer Lorne Michaels to hire him back midway in the next season. In 2006, due to budget cuts, he was fired from the show again, making him the only performer who has been fired twice! He has often returned for uncredited cameo appearances.
In the TV series ‘30 Rock,’ Chris Parnell played a recurring character ‘Dr Leo Spaceman’ (pronounced Spa-che-man) who was supposed to be an incredibly confident physician with very questionable ethics.
Chris Parnell plays the role of Garth Holliday, an overly sensitive stage producer, in the ‘Anchorman’ movies. Actually the role of Brick Tamland was written with Parnell in mind. However, the role eventually went to Steve Carell and Parnell was cast as Holliday.
On the children’s educational animated television series, ‘WordGirl,’ Chris Parnell was the narrator for 89 episodes. He also provided the voice of several characters in the series.
In the animated spy spoof ‘Archer’, Chris Parnell provides the voice for the number crunching bureaucrat, Cyril Figgis. The character, who had been tweaked to resemble Chris Parnell, is a somewhat pathetic and put-upon person.
In the series ‘Suburgatory’, Chris Parnell played the hen-pecked husband of long-time pal and fellow SNL alum, Ana Gasteyer. His wife controls every aspect of his life and in later episodes, he becomes a stay-at-home dad who defers to his domineering wife in most manners of their domestic life. However, he is quite adept at adapting to new situations.
Chris Parnell voiced the insecure Jerry Smith in the adult animated sitcom ‘Rick and Morty’. Jerry is a loser who has lost his job and seems to be barely hanging on. The actor voiced the character Fly in both the films ‘Hotel Transylvania’ and ‘Hotel Transylvania 2.’
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In ‘Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice’, Chris Parnell gave the voice of Mr Thistleton, a computer genius who maintains the “naughty or nice database.” He is cocky and egomaniacal, and at the same time a little insecure.
At present, Chris Parnell voices Mr. Peabody, “the smartest dog” in the world, who hosts a TV talk show with his human son, Sherman in ‘The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show’. Drawing from their experiences of the past, courtesy their time travelling capsule, the duo invites various guests from the past and shares their vast knowledge with the TV viewers.
Chris Parnell is best known for his eight seasons on ‘Saturday Night Live’ where he played a wide range of characters in sketches, parodies, and impersonations, most notably that of George W. Bush. He was never a high profile cast member but he was instrumental in providing the perfect foil that allowed other members to shine. He earned the nickname ‘The Ice Man’ for his ability to not break during a sketch.
He had performed a series of rap songs on the Weekend Update segment of SNL with Andy Samberg. The success of the segment prompted the duo to create the rap video ‘Lazy Sundays’. This video became a huge phenomenon and is regarded as one of the best SNL moments of the 2000s.
As an actor, Chris Parnell often portrays the kind of character who is unstable, needy, and insecure. Two fine examples of his characterization of these personalities are Jerry of ‘Rick and Morty,’ a sad man who cannot hold on to his job or his marriage, and Dr. Leo Spaceman of ‘30 Rock,’ a seemingly unhinged physician with dubious ethics.
Chris Parnell maintains extreme privacy when it comes to his personal life. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, a former actor, and their two children.
While at ‘Saturday Night Live,’ he frequently ended up doing more voiceovers than actual camera appearances!
He is an expert stage fighter. So he was often beaten up and killed during ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketches!
He has stated that he does not want to try stand-up comedy and is more comfortable performing roles that have been written for him.