With his everyman looks and highly professional announcer's voice, comedic actor Chris Parnell was often cast as a utility player on the venerable variety show "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ), until he and fellow cast member Andy Samberg took the world by storm with their hilarious rap parody, "Lazy Sunday" (2005). Up to that point, Parnell had delivered laughs in a number of recurring characters like Merv "The Perv" Watson while offering a wide array of celebrity impressions that included Eminem, George W. Bush, Tom Brokaw and Lance Bass. Of course, he naturally appeared in films with other "SNL" alum, including Tim Meadows' "Ladies Man" (2000) and Will Ferrell's "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" (2004). After eight years on "SNL," however, Parnell was fired by Lorne Michaels in 2006 due to budget cuts, becoming the first to ever be fired twice by the producer following a previous dismissal early in his career. He moved on to appear in a number of smaller films like "Hot Rod" (2007) and "Kabluey" (2008) while guest starring on a number of shows, most notably as a recurring player on "30 Rock" (NBC, 2006-2013). Although his highest-profile gig came as the voice of priggish secret agent Cyril Figgis in the spy comedy "Archer" (FX 2010- ), Parnell nonetheless remained a constant comedic presence on screen.
Born Feb. 5, 1967 and raised in Memphis, TN, Parnell was first exposed to the entertainment business through his father, who worked as a professional voiceover artist for local radio and television commercials and programs. At the same time, young Parnell developed a keen interest in "Saturday Night Live" (1975- ), often staying up late with his father to watch the show on a small black and white television set. While attending Germantown High School, he was already showing an interest in performing by auditioning for school plays and announcing football games. It was after one stage show in particular, where he and a classmate played 10 different comedic characters to great effect, that Parnell cemented his decision to pursue comedy and acting as a career. After graduation, Parnell attended North Carolina School of Arts in Winston-Salem, where he received a degree in performing arts, and soon hit the road to act with the Berkshire Theater in Massachusetts and the Alley Theater in Texas. Not realizing the rigors of the acting profession, Parnell returned to his hometown and landed a job at his old high school, where he taught acting, and film and video classes.
Despite the stability of his new life, the performing bug proved too strong for Parnell, who decided to take another stab at show business. After packing up and moving to Los Angeles, he worked days at a toy store and spent his nights attending classes at the famed Groundlings Comedy Theater, a proven testing ground for fledgling "SNL"-bound comics. Catching the eye of talent scouts on patrol, Parnell was asked to fly to New York to try out for his dream job at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Nailing the audition, he joined the "SNL" cast as a featured player in the fall of 1998. His first appearance was playing Bill Clinton prosecutor Kenneth Starr, and following a successful test run, he was promoted to cast member a year later. Over the summer of 2001, Parnell was mysteriously fired from the show, only to be re-hired in March of the following year. Scant mention was made for the reasons behind the brief parting of ways, although a few on-air gags made light of it - including a Parnell penned song which referred to producer Lorne Michaels liking him so much "he hired me twice."
Upon his return, Parnell created his first recurring character, "Merv the Perv," a tacky, overconfident flirt who hits on women with sleazy double-entendres. Over the next several seasons, Parnell played a number of unique characters, ranging from Sen. Joe Lieberman infamously hot tubbing with guest Al Gore, to barfly Wayne Bloater spewing corny jokes. Parnell also began showcasing his unlikely rap skills on Weekend Update, where he fantasized about relationships with guests Britney Spears, Kirsten Dunst and Jennifer Garner. His rap repertoire hit its crescendo, when on Dec. 17, 2005, the digital short "Lazy Sunday" aired live. On the surface, the short featured two ordinary guys describing a simple trip to the bakery followed by their glee at attending a matinee of the film, "The Chronicles of Narnia." What made it the water cooler topic du jour was how hysterically sold these guys really were on their baker's dozen cupcakes and Google maps - enough to hardcore rap about it on the streets of New York. "Sunday" soon turned up on the Internet, and after countless iTune downloads, became a cult classic into the next year.
Throughout his tenure on "SNL," Parnell popped up in several bit parts on both the big and small screen. In 1996, he played a sales clerk in the holiday comedy "Jingle All the Way," before appeared as a network executive in a 1997 episode of "Seinfeld" (NBC, 1989-1998). He also played bit parts on "Caroline in The City" (NBC, 1995-99), "Union Square" (NBC, 1997-98), "Suddenly Susan" (NBC, 1996-2000) and a 2001 episode of "Friends" (NBC, 1994-2004). Back on the big screen, he had a small part in fellow "SNL" alum Tim Meadow's film, "Ladies Man" (2000) and had a meatier feature role as newscaster Garth Holliday in Will Ferrell's comedy "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" (2004). He also had roles in the indie "I'm Reed Fish" (2007), Adam Samberg's film debut "Hot Rod" (2007), and "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" (2007). In 2006, Parnell had the distinction of being the first-ever "SNL" cast member to be fired twice by Lorne Michaels. Michaels let Parnell and two other cast members go due to budget cuts, much to the surprise of fans. For his part, Parnell harbored no ill feeling and accepted the decision, even claiming that he was considering leaving after his eight seasons anyway.
Despite the setback, Parnell continued making appearance on television and in film, voicing characters on the animated family series "Glenn Martin, DDS" (Nickelodeon, 2009-2011), while landing supporting roles in small features like "Kabluey" (2008) and "Harold" (2008). As he accumulated credits on shows such as "Eureka" (Syfy, 2006-2012), Parnell landed a recurring role as Dr. Leo Spaceman, a doctor of questionable ethics on the critical darling "30 Rock" (NBC, 2006-2013). He soon became a series regular on the animated "Archer" (FX, 2009- ), playing accountant turned field agent Cyril Figgis alongside his rival Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) and ex-girlfriend Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler). In addition, he co-starred in the short-lived live action comedy "Big Lake" (Comedy Central, 2010), which also starred fellow "SNL" alum Horatio Sanz, who was fired the same day as Parnell. On the big screen, Parnell ahd supporting roles in hits including "21 Jump Street" (2012), "Hotel Transylvania" 2012) and its 2015 sequel, "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" (2013) and the Tina Fey-Amy Poehler project "Sisters" (2015).
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Performed with the Berkshire Theatre in Stockbridge MA, and the Alley Theatre in Houston, TX
Moved back home and taught acting, film and video at his own Germantown High School
Had a small role as a Toy Store Sales Clerk in the Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy "Jingle All the Way"
Appeared in the comedy short "Deadtime"
Cast in the comedy "The Ladies Man," based on the "SNL" character made famous by Tim Meadows
Featured as a TV Emcee opposite Renée Zellweger in "Down with Love"
Gained widespread fame with the "SNL" digital short "Lazy Sunday," a 'hardcore' rap video performed with Andy Samberg about buying cupcakes and going to see "The Chronicles of Narnia"
Cast in Edward Burns' "Looking for Kitty"
Co-starred with Andy Samberg in the comedy "Hot Rod"
Co-starred in the independent comedy "Kabluey"
Cast on short-lived ABC comedy series "Miss Guided"
Narrated the Comedy Central series "Kröd Mändoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire"
Voiced character of Cyril Figgis on FX animated series "Archer"
Cast opposite Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in the big screen reboot of "21 Jump Street," based on the Fox police drama
Voiced the Fly in animated feature "Hotel Transylvania"