A Brief History of 'SNL' Early Exits
When Saturday Night Live tried to rebuild its cast this past year, they truly pushed the limit by hiring eight new members to the team—six during the start of the show, and the very funny Sasheer Zamata and Colin Jost midway through. Unfortunately, three of them got pretty bad news this week: they were let go prior to the start of next season. Even worse, despite Nasim Pedrad calling it quits to star in the upcoming show Mulaney, the cast still doesn’t know if any more changes will be made before the start of the 40th season this September.
While it’s a bummer to say goodbye to Brooks Wheelan, Noël Wells, and John Milhiser before we truly got to know them, hopefully they know that being one-season wonders doesn’t mean that their comedic careers are completely doomed. Here are a few other big names who only stuck around for the blink of an eye.
Larry David (1984-1985)
It might be hard to believe, but your favorite Curb Your Enthusiasm lead, and the creator of Seinfeld was once a writer on Saturday Night Live who (occasionally) appeared in sketches. As a writer, he only managed to get one sketch on the air, during the dreaded end-spot of the show (which is where you’ll normally find the weirdest, most experimental sketches of the night. Personally, they’re usually my favorite.)
Larry famously quit one Friday night because his sketches kept getting cut from the live show. After discussing his outburst with his neighbor back at home (who, by the way, has the last name of Kramer), he figured that quitting was probably a bad call. On Monday, he showed up to work like nothing had happened, and was able to finish out his season.
Janeane Garofalo (1994-1995)
I’ve loved Janeane Garofalo ever since The Truth About Cats And Dogs, yet while I was watching SNL in the mid-’90s, I forgot she was a member of the cast. Janeane got a fair share of airtime, but quit the show after five months. Rumors circulated soon after as to why she chose to jump ship, but in 2012, she revealed that she actually had a pretty decent time on the show. She just didn’t think the comedy factor was as strong as it could be.
Ben Stiller (1989)
Janeane’s good buddy Ben was also on the show for a year, and lasted for two months. Reports say that Ben left due to “creative differences,” primarily based on the fact that Lorne Michaels wasn’t quite fond of the digital shorts that Ben tried to bring to the table. Hopefully he doesn’t hold a grudge against Andy Samberg, whose SNL career was focused almost entirely around pre-taped funny footage.
Ben was able to have a lot more control on his own sketch show, called The Ben Stiller Show. While it wasn’t on air for awhile, it quickly became a cult favorite. If you didn’t get to catch his show while it was on air, you might want to check out the DVD set to see what Lorne Michaels missed out on.
Robert Downey Jr. (1985-1986)
Yes, Iron Man was once a cast member of SNL. While Robert didn’t completely fail to master live TV, and had two recurring characters (a New Yorker and a Redneck, respectively) he was on the chopping block after Lorne decided to fire almost everyone on the cast except for a select few. It might have been a bad call, but since the show was almost cancelled that year, I can understand Lorne’s thought process while making the tough decision. Plus, Robert doesn’t seem to have any bad blood. He returned to host the show, along with musical guest Fiona Apple, ten years later in 1996.
Sarah Silverman (1993-1994)
Sarah was yet another funny, female, featured player who got the ax after just one season. Just last year, Sarah sat down with Huffington Post and candidly talked about her brief experience with the show.
“It wasn’t like I did something wrong,” Silverman said on HuffPost Live. “. . .I was that last year of the old guard and they started anew. And by the way, I wrote not a single funny sketch, so that might have something to do with it too.”
Gilbert Gottfried (1980-1981)
Unfortunately, Gilbert’s memories of the show weren’t too fond. After all, he was hired on during a time when the show had a major cast shift. Back in a 2006 interview with ComedyCouch, Gilbert claims that he “wasn’t renewed,” which is just a fancy way of saying he was fired—and that while he saw it as a blessing, he also feared that people would recognize him as a guy who ruined Saturday Night Live.
“It was weird because back then the idea of a new cast for Saturday Night Live was like sacrilege. And now they change the cast in between commercials. But back then, how dare you have a different cast? So they were attacking the show before it even got on the air,” he said in the interview. “There were articles being written everyday saying what a horrible idea this is. And granted, when the show did go on, the show did suck. But that’s another story.”
Obviously Gilbert’s career didn’t take too much of a hit after all was said and done.
Jenny Slate (2009-2010)
We were first introduced to Jenny in a pretty memorable way. She let an F-bomb slip during her first on-air sketch. On live television, and generally throughout life, that’s a bad mistake to make. Jenny finally discussed the blunder in detail on the podcast Bullseye with Jessie Thorn, and mentioned that her fellow cast members were totally supportive and understanding. Lorne, on the other hand, decided to put her on the backburner until the incident blew over. Eventually, she was let go at the end of the season.
“I was so used to being a stand-up comedian, and I had written that sketch. I never thought of it as something I could make a mistake at,” she said during the podcast.
Jenny’s career soared after the show. After gaining a bunch of notoriety for a short she made called “Marcel The Shell With Shoes On,” she went on to star in a few indie films (hello, Obvious Child!), as well as portray Jean-Ralphio’s crazy sister in Parks & Recreation.
In short: We’ll miss you, John, Noël and Brooks. We enjoyed what you gave us this season, even if it wasn’t much. Just remember that if SNL history has taught us anything, it’s that we’ll probably be seeing you in all of your hilarious glory in the future.
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