Part of 30 Rock’s charm was seeing which guest stars they could grab each season. The critically adored sitcom with oddly low viewership seemed to have the most random celebrities popping up in the strangest roles. There was Michael Keaton as a janitor, Steve Buscemi as a terrible private investigator, Julianne Moore as Jack’s Boston-based love interest and Paul McCartney as himself. Just because.
It’s hard to keep up with every celebrity that has appeared on the show, and every celebrity that made it big thereafter. There have been so many celebrities come in and out of the series that it’s easy to forget most cameos on the show. Good thing referencing 30 Rock is one of my top three hobbies. (Shut up. I know I need better hobbies.) I’ve done the work for you.
18. Donald Glover
Before he hit the mainstream on Community and through his Childish Gambino albums and mixtapes, Donald Glover was a writer on 30 Rock, who also popped up in a few episodes. He was a student during a graduation ceremony, a production assistant on TGS and most importantly, young Tracy Jordan during a live episode. His Tracy impression alone is what earned him a coveted spot on this list.
17. Rachel Dratch
Before Jenna Maroney was perfectly played by Jane Krakowski, the character was named Jenna DeCarlo and producers originally casted Rachel Dratch. The character was changed, the actresses swapped out and the whole recasting became a thing to discuss another time. Dratch popped up throughout the show in the most delightful places. She was a blue monster (don’t ask, it will take too long), a gritty cat wrangler, a cleaning lady, Liz’s doctor (not Spaceman) and more. Some characters were recurring, some were not, but they were all a delight.
16. Tituss Burgess
Before he was *TITUS* he was D’Fwan, Angie Jordan’s hairdresser and a key member of the Jordan entourage. Introduced in Angie Jordan’s Real Housewives-esque reality show, Queen of Jordan, D’Fwan talked back to Liz and Jack, mixed patterns like a pro and even had his own wine: D’Fwine. Tituss Burgess almost didn’t get the part of D’Fwan. He overslept and showed up to the audition 40 minutes late. Just think. No D’Fwan means no Titus Andromedon. Could we live in that kind of world?
15. Kellan Lutz
This guest star’s appearance isn’t so much about the star himself, but the long-running joke that finally came to fruition. For years, Lutz has been telling the writers that Kellan Lutz is his grandnephew, which nobody believed because, well, he’s Lutz. The gang believes him when Kellan Lutz agrees to do a spot on TGS, and eats marshmallows on his granduncle’s lap.
14. Denise Richards
Denise Richards’ willingness to play along is what makes this cameo so great. Liz publicly calls Tracy an idiot, so Tracy retaliates by gathering his fellow idiots to protest TGS in front of 30 Rockefeller Center. The strike — led by Tracy and Denise Richards – includes anti-vaxers, frat bros and other stereotypical idiot types. Liz makes light of the protest until she realizes that idiots make up TGS’ primary audience. They come to an agreement, which includes Richards’ music video playing on TGS, and makes for an incredible nine seconds of television. Bravo to Denise Richards and her sense of humor.
13. Brian Williams
Every once in a while, a wild Brian Williams will appear. TGS technically shares the same building with him, so why not? He heckled Jack’s paramour Avery Jessup in the newsroom, heckled Liz in the hall about an audition, heckled Jack about a TV show idea and showed up as a sexist news anchor during a live episode. Williams’ presence happened so frequently on the show that we forgot for a second that he was a once-disgraced nightly news anchor.
12. Whoopi Goldberg
On his quest to EGOT, Tracy meets with a real-life EGOTer, Whoopi Goldberg. Her first cameo was a season-one slot where Jenna appeared on The View, but her second appearance is the most memorable. Tracy gets writer’s block when he attempts to record the song that will get him the Grammy in EGOT and reaches out to Whoopi for help. Whoopi, surrounded by all her EGOT awards, gives Tracy the coaching he needs. A great appearance, but we also can’t forget Working Out with Whoopi.
11. Conan O’Brien
One of the show’s earliest cameos, Conan O’Brien sets the tone for all 30 Rock guest stars. In his episode, Tracy is scheduled to appear on the show, but due to his history on Conan’s show, it’s Liz’s job to make sure Tracy doesn’t try to stab Conan again. In between is good ol’ Conan being Conan and a confrontation where we find out that Liz and Conan used to be a thing. Juicy.
10. Tom Hanks
His cameo is brief, but incredible. Tom Hanks is sitting at home, doing Tom Hanks stuff like knitting in a rocking chair and watching trash TV. He gets a call from his pals Clooney and Pitt to inform him that Tracy Jordan is no longer on the A-list. He hangs up the phone, goes back to his knitting and that’s the end of that.
9. Octavia Spencer
Tracy gets a glimpse into Liz Lemon’s life when he hires Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer to play the lead in his Harriet Tubman movie. Except, Spencer is more out of control and demanding than Tracy and Tracy has to resort to channeling Liz Lemon to accommodate her. This includes fighting with Spencer over wearing a T-shirt promoting her gambling website while filming.
8. Al Gore
NBC Universal networks go “green” every year during Earth week, which is the perfect opportunity for 30 Rock to do a meta storyline.
And each time, they got environmentalist extraordinaire Al Gore to show up. His first appearance in “Greenzo” gave us the fantastic line “Quiet… A whale is in trouble!” His second appearance… well, we are just gonna pretend that one didn’t happen.
7. Jennifer Aniston
We don’t hear much about Liz and Jenna’s early years throughout the series, but when we do, the show delivers. Like when their old roommate Claire shows up and starts a toxic relationship with Jack. Jennifer Aniston – charismatic as ever – is the exhausting, party-all-night, man-eating Claire, who also happens to be a hat entrepreneur. Aniston’s appearance as Claire earned the Friends actress a rightful Emmy nomination in the guest-actress category.
6. Buzz Aldrin
When Liz finds out her mom’s true love was Buzz Aldrin – and not Liz’s father, Dick – she starts dreaming of what her life in an astronaut family could have been. Not able to let it go, Jack offers to introduce Liz to Buzz to learn more about what went wrong. Buzz admits that he would have been a terrible father and partner and then asks Liz if she would like to yell at the moon with him. Obviously, the answer is yes and Buzz gets some good zingers in like “I walked on your face!”
5. James Franco
Throughout his career, the incomparable James Franco has had his fair share of rumors surrounding his personal life. 30 Rock tackles those rumors head on by arranging a relationship between Franco and Jenna for the press. Franco, however, just can’t quit his body pillow girlfriend, Kimiko. He reveals his true self to Liz and Jenna, and after a wild night, Franco, Liz and Kimiko all end up in Liz’s bed.
4. Peter Dinklage
Liz has found a great guy. He’s handsome, witty and intelligent – checking all of Liz’s dating boxes. The problem is that they met because baby-crazy thought he was a child and patted him on the head. Two years before we knew him as Tyrion Lannister, Peter Dinklage stopped by 30 Rock as one of Liz’s most uncomfortable love interests. They tried, but when they decided to meet on the Brooklyn Bridge, Liz mistook him for a child again. Dinklage – perfect in his utter annoyance – hijacked Liz’s “shut it down” catchphrase is the most scathing way.
3. Bryan Cranston
Bryan Cranston took a break from antihero Walter White to play sweetheart southerner (and Kenneth’s stepdad) Ron. As much a master at comedic acting as he is dramatic, Cranston works his charm to earn Kenneth’s approval throughout the episode. It’s the first few bars of the weird song he wrote for Kenneth that really completes his appearance.
2. Carrie Fisher
There should be a rule that anything Carrie Fisher touched should be on a best-of list. In her episode, Fisher (who plays writer Rosemary Howard) teaches Liz that it’s not always a good idea to meet your idols. Liz excitedly offers Rosemary a job writing for TGS, which turns out to be a terrible idea when Rosemary comes prepared with some horribly offensive jokes. Carrie Fisher, of course, completely nails the role, complete with a well-played Star Wars reference.
In my biased opinion, Oprah on 30 Rock is not just the show’s best cameo, but the best cameo in sitcom history. Hear me out. On board a plane to Chicago, a distressed Liz takes the pills recommended to her by Jack before the flight takes off. Enter: OPRAH. Liz (understandably) loses her mind and spills all her problems to her seatmate. She comes back from the trip refreshed, confident and with “Oprah” in tow to fix all the problems happening at TGS. Except Liz’s seatmate is a middle-school girl she mistook for Oprah in her drug-induced ride. OPRAH NEVER HAPPENED.