17 Stars Who Were Fired From "Saturday Night Live"
You might not realize these performers were asked to leave the long-running sketch comedy series.
For comic actors and comedians, landing a gig on Saturday Night Live is a dream job. The long-running sketch comedy series has been a cultural institution for decades, and the show's breakout performers have gone on to great things. But not everyone leaves the show on good terms. There have been plenty of notable dismissals over the years—from cast members who made a name for themselves on SNL to performers who only became famous long after they departed. Read on to discover the true stories behind these 17 stars who were fired from Saturday Night Live.
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Robert Downey Jr.
Long before the major career comeback that propelled him back to superstardom as Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. lasted one miserable season on Saturday Night Live from 1985 to 1986. As Rolling Stone noted about the cast that producer Lorne Michaels brought in for Season 11, "There's a lot of talent there, but for many of them this was the wrong forum and the cast simply never jelled." A 20-year-old Downey Jr. was one of several performers not asked back for Season 12.
Was Adam Sandler fired from SNL, or did he quit? A little of both, it turns out. While he's joked about being fired for years, in Oct. 2020, Sandler appeared on the podcast SmartLess to set the record straight. In 1995, his agents made it clear to him that it was time for him to move on—implying that he was about to be let go anyway. "So it was kind of a fake quit, trying to beat them to firing me," Sandler recalled.
Seinfeld and Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus does not have fond memories of her stint on Saturday Night Live from 1982 to 1985. At a SiriusXM Town Hall in 2017, she recalled being "pretty miserable" in the "very dog-eat-dog" environment of the show. After her third season on the show, Louis-Dreyfus was not asked to return, per The New Yorker, but she recently told Variety that, "In retrospect, it was a great learning experience."
"I was fired by NBC," Chris Rock sang on a 2019 episode of SNL hosted by Sandler. "I went on In Living Color, three weeks later they took it off TV." It wasn't the first time Rock has talked about getting the boot in 1993 after he told Lorne Michaels he was frustrated by the stereotypical material he was being given, and that he was considering a move to In Living Color, which had a majority Black cast.
Before she reached new heights of fame as a comedian and an actor, Sarah Silverman was a featured player on the 1993-1994 season of Saturday Night Live. By her own admission, she did not write "a single funny sketch" during her tenure at the show, and she was fired via fax, she told The Believer in 2005.
Like Chris Rock, Damon Wayans was unhappy with the material he was being given on SNL, but he took his frustration a step beyond complaining to Michaels. "They didn't let me do what I wanted to do on SNL, which I came to learn was Lorne Michaels' way of protecting me from looking like I was trying to be the next Eddie Murphy," Wayans told The Weekender in 2015. In protest, he turned a straight cop character he was playing into a stereotypical gay character during a live broadcast in 1986. "I knew I was going to be fired for it," he said. "Lorne did the right thing."
Laurie Metcalf has won multiple Emmys for her TV work and Tonys for her theatrical performances, but she's probably not proud of the five days she spent as a cast member on Saturday Night Live. "It seems like a dream because it was so long ago and it was a whirlwind five days I spent in New York," she told Vulture in 2019. She appeared in a single segment on one episode before the 1981 Writers Guild of America strike forced the season to end early, and she was not asked back the following year.
It was the f-word heard round the world, but no, Jenny Slate was not fired for accidentally cursing during a live broadcast, she clarified to InStyle in 2019. "That's not why I got fired. I just didn't belong there," she said of her stint on the 35th season. "I didn't do a good job, I didn't click. I have no idea how Lorne felt about me. All I know is, it didn't work for me, and I got fired."
Unlike many of the stars on this list who had shorter tenures, Taran Killam put in six years at SNL, which may be why he was so stung by his firing in 2016. When Uproxx asked why he was let go from the series, he answered candidly. "I don't know fully," Killam said. "I don't know the other side of it. You sign for seven years, so I had one more year. I had sort of had it in my head I would make this upcoming year my last year, but then heard they weren't going to pick up my contract. I was never given a reason why, really. I can assume until the cows come home."
Beloved actor Joan Cusack isn't exactly fondly remembered for her brief time on SNL—she shared the stage with Downey Jr. during their one ill-fated season. As The AV Club put it, "It didn't take long for a cultural consensus to emerge that the 1985-86 season of Saturday Night Live, the show's 11th, was an almost unmitigated disaster." Nearly all the cast members were cut before Season 12, including Cusack.
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When Sandler departed Saturday Night Live, his fellow breakout star Chris Farley did, too—and it wasn't by choice. "Yes, we were [fired]," Sandler told The Daily Beast in 2014, though he suggested that Farley also may have partly chose to leave after seeing the writing on the wall. "We kind of quit at the same time as being fired. It was the end of the run for us. The fact that me and him got fired? Who knows. We were on it for a few years, had our run, and everything happens for a reason. We kind of understood because we did our thing. It hurt a lot at the time because we were young and didn't know where we were going, but it all worked out."
After six seasons on SNL, Jay Pharoah was fired along with Killam and Jon Rudnitsky. In an interview with Hot97 the following year, Pharoah did not mince words about his time at the sketch comedy show. "You go where you're appreciated," he said. "They put people into boxes and whatever they want you to do, they expect you to do. And I'm fiery."
Was Norm Macdonald fired from his Weekend Update gig in 1998 for telling too many jokes about O.J. Simpson? That's the way the story goes, at least. In 2014, writer James Downey, who was let go at the same time, told Vulture, "That was all due to [NBC executive] Don Ohlmeyer. Norm Macdonald, the anchor for Weekend Update, and I were writing a lot of jokes about O.J. Simpson, and we had been doing so for more than three years. Don, being good friends with O.J., had just had enough."
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Another one-season wonder, Michaela Watkins described her firing from Saturday Night Live in 2009 as "a little rude" on The Daily Beast's The Last Laugh podcast in 2020. "I thought that this was my big break. I thought that it was going well. I thought we were all having a good time, but then they didn't renew my contract the next year," Watkins said. "Maybe I was delusional. I really wanted to go back. I would have been really happy if they'd had me for three seasons. I felt like that would have been a really nice time there, but they had me for one."
Budget cuts hit SNL in 2006, and that meant some of the show's most established cast members were abruptly asked to leave—including Horatio Sanz. "Things like this are never pleasant," Lorne Michaels told Variety. "I made the decision to stick with the 20 [episodes] and cut everything back."
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Also caught up in the 2006 budget cuts: Chris Parnell, who was actually fired for the second time. Parnell's first dismissal came in 2001. As he told Marc Maron in a 2014 interview, "I was very surprised. I was pretty devastated—I've never been fired from any job." After the 2006 firing, however, Parnell was much more zen, telling Maron, "I was ready to go off. I had done my time."
Rob Riggle lasted only one season on SNL—from 2004 to 2005—before getting fired and making a name for himself on The Daily Show. "I don't want to bash on it, because I'm always grateful that I got the dream-come-true to be on [Saturday Night Live]," he told The Daily Beast's The Last Laugh podcast in 2019. "But I wouldn't say it's not dysfunctional. I had a very special circumstance. The year I was hired, I was the only guy hired. The cast was massive. Fifteen people on the cast and I'm the only new guy. Well, you know Darrell Hammond's getting his, Tina Fey, Amy [Poehler] is getting hers, Maya Rudolph's getting hers, Will Forte, go down the list, they're all getting their time. I'm going in there and I'm drinking out of a firehose."
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