Parks and Recreation is one of the most popular workplace comedies in TV history. Fans still quote the show and social media is full of memes and GIFs inspired by the show. Despite the silliness of the show, it’s also full of heart and emotion, which compliment the comedy perfectly. The chemistry among the main characters helped ground all the craziness in some semblance of reality.
However, it’s the zany citizens of Pawnee that made the show a classic. All die hard Parks and Rec fans have a favorite, whether it’s Jean-Ralphio or Harris or Perd Hapley, there’s a crazy character for everyone. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to rank the 10 best Parks and Recreation guest stars.
As Donna's nice love interest Joe, Keegan Michael Key got to be the regular guy surrounded by oddballs, allowing him to be the straight man. In his first appearance, Donna describes him to Ron as her Tammy, so we have no idea what to expect.
Turns out he is the best elementary school teacher ever. For those who knew him from his over the top characters on Key and Peele, it was great to see him play a more subtle, but no less funny style of comedy. His reaction to hearing about “Treat Yo Self” for the first time is hilarious example of what others must think of these wacky group of friends.
For years we were hearing about Ron's terrible first wife Tammy I. Having met Tammy II, we couldn't imagine anyone worse, but then Patricia Clarkson showed up. She immediately took over Ron's life, dominated the entire parks department and stole the show.
She was cold, manipulating and the complete opposite of Tammy II. Even as Amy Poehler is delivering comedy gold while Leslie becomes drunker and drunker, Clarkson still manages to make her presence known. There were no wasted moments. She used every second she was on screen to make her character unforgettable and the episode great.
After meeting Jean-Ralphio and Mona Lisa Saperstein, we had to wonder what their parents were like. It turns out they had a great dad, who gave them everything, played by the awesome Henry Winkler. As the town’s ob/gyn, Dr. Saperstein was a fun doctor who was overly positive and optimistic.
We couldn’t imagine how a man this nice had raised two people who were self professed to be “the worst.” Then he betrayed Tom and put his store out of business, and we saw hints of where Jean-Ralphio and Mona Lisa got their scheming genes from. Winkler is a TV legend, so it was endlessly fun to see him join in on the absurdity of life in Pawnee.
For most of her time in city government, Leslie found herself at odds with Councilman Jeremy Jamm. Jamm was Pawnee’s leading orthodontist and a stubborn opponent to Leslie’s Pawnee Commons park project. His over the top antics to stop Leslie usually just made her stronger and made him look silly, but Jon Glaser never let Jamm seem like a caricature.
In Jamm’s eyes, he was the hero of his own story. As offensive as he was, Glaser didn’t let him become annoying or intentionally hurtful. Jamm is central to many of the series best episodes.
Parks and Rec is well known for its interesting group of journalists, but perhaps none embodies the spirit of Pawnee more than Joan Callamezzo. Mo Collins’ no holds barred performance as Joan was a highlight anytime she showed up. Joan thought of herself as a serious journalist with her “gotcha” moments, but also couldn’t help wanting to be a celebrity influencer. Nothing happens in town without Joan trying to put together an expose.
Collins was really able to shine in the physical comedy she had to play with the character. In several episodes Joan was blackout drunk, which meant all the comedy came from her co-stars dealing with Joan’s deadweight or ridiculous reactions.
When Jean-Ralphio tells Tom that his sister is “the worst” he’s not kidding. Jenny Slate takes every horrible trait Ben Schwartz has established and turns it up several notches. She has no filter and probably doesn’t even understand what a filter is.
She works for Tom and he dates her for awhile, making his life miserable. Slate uses a ridiculous voice, that she is able to change into a scary force when things don’t go her way. The actress is well known for her comedic skills, but we hadn’t seen her play a character like this before, and can’t imagine anyplace else other than Pawnee where Mona Lisa would fit.
Award winning actress Megan Mullally is most well known for playing Karen Walker on Will & Grace. When she showed up as Ron’s ex-wife Tammy II, it was about as far away from Karen as you could get. Tammy is a truly awful person, whose goal is usually just to ruin Ron’s life for fun.
Though Karen could also be described as a horrible person, there are people she genuinely cares about. Tammy cares about no one but herself. Mullally is the only one who could make a character like Tammy watchable, as she’s never been afraid to go way over the top for a laugh.
To measure how memorable Ben Schwartz’s portrayal was, just check how many Jean-Ralphio memes are floating around the internet. Jean-Ralphio Saperstein is Tom’s best friend and the most annoying person in town.
He often leads Tom into bad decisions like investing in the Snakehole Lounge and Entertainment 720. Despite these mistakes, he does seem to really care about Tom. Schwartz gives in to Jean-Ralphio’s shenanigans without making him a court jester. Yes, he’s ridiculous, but he’s in on the joke and doesn’t care if everyone is laughing. He and Jenny Slate together are another example of Parks and Rec’s perfect casting.
Paul Rudd is known for his comedy work on the big screen, so it was a nice surprise to see him play Leslie’s opponent for city council election, Bobby Newport. Rudd portrays Bobby as a spoiled, dim witted rich kid who has no understanding of how the real world works.
He’s not a bad guy, he’s just not very bright. His relief at losing to Leslie is so perfect, it’s the whole character wrapped up in one scene. Rudd’s total abandon into Bobby’s uncomplicated life is brilliant and one of his funniest.
Leslie’s campaign for city council gave the show some of its best episodes and characters. One of those was Kathryn Hahn’s Jen Barkley, a political adviser who becomes wrapped up in Leslie and Ben’s lives. Jen is unapologetically devoted to winning, and will do anything to make sure her candidate comes out on top.
In Parks and Rec, that means that the tactics she uses are often hilarious nonsense. Her reactions to Leslie and Ben’s house full of kids are worth the price of admission alone. Hahn is not trying to make you like her, you’re just supposed to laugh, and it works every time she’s on screen.