15 'Saturday Night Live' Cast Members' Stories Of Being Fired
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There have been a multitude of Saturday Night Live cast members and Weekend Update anchors. These folks fulfilled the dream of making the grade, and were actually hired (so they were much luckier than some), but whether they were victims of budget cuts or they were type-cast as “the next Eddie Murphy,” here's how these 15 cast members got the axe.
23 years before Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. was part of one godawful SNL season from 1985 to 1986. It wasn’t his fault! There was just a massive re-tooling of the show, and the then 20 year-old was one of several performers not asked to return. Lorne Michaels said, “There's a lot of talent there, but for many of them this was the wrong forum, and the cast simply never jelled." After Seinfeld and Veep, it’s impossible to imagine her not having success on TV. Her stint on the show was from 1982 to 1985, and in a Sirius XM interview, she recalled being "pretty miserable" in a "very dog-eat-dog" environment. Her third season was that infamous 1985-86 season, and she was one of many who were not asked to return. Unjust! She also called the show “very sexist” back then.
Robert Downey Jr.
23 years before Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. was part of one godawful SNL season from 1985 to 1986.
It wasn’t his fault! There was just a massive re-tooling of the show, and the then 20 year-old was one of several performers not asked to return.
Lorne Michaels said, “There's a lot of talent there, but for many of them this was the wrong forum, and the cast simply never jelled."
After Seinfeld and Veep, it’s impossible to imagine her not having success on TV.
Her stint on the show was from 1982 to 1985, and in a Sirius XM interview, she recalled being "pretty miserable" in a "very dog-eat-dog" environment. Her third season was that infamous 1985-86 season, and she was one of many who were not asked to return. Unjust!
She also called the show “very sexist” back then.
Chris Rock was constantly compared to Eddie Murphy. But Rock was more of a storyteller and Eddie was known for his impersonations and characters.
In 1993, he told Lorne Michaels that he was frustrated by the stereotypical material he was being given, and that he was considering a move to In Living Color. He was fired, made the move, then In Living Color was cancelled 3 weeks later.
Now that she’s won multiple Emmys and Tonys, we can talk about her five-day stint as an SNL cast member.
A single segment on one episode in 1981 is all she got before the Writers Guild strike forced the season to end early. She was not asked back the following year. Come on, there’s no way her segment was that bad!
After 6 years at SNL, Killam was stung by his 2016 firing.
He 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.”
This interview suggests that it may be because he expressed interest in directing a film (that wouldn’t have even conflicted with the SNL schedule.)
1985-86 strikes again.
Joan Cusak shared the stage with Robert Downey Jr. and Julia Louis-Dreyfus during that one cursed season. Nathan Rabin of The AV Club said, "It didn't take long for a cultural consensus to emerge that the 1985-86 season of SNL was an almost unmitigated disaster.”
Hired together, fired together. Jay Pharoah lasted the same number of seasons as Tarran Killam before they were let go.
In an interview, he said, “You go where you're appreciated. They put people into boxes and whatever they want you to do, they expect you to do. And I'm fiery.”
More like “firedy”. Sorry.
Norm did love those O.J. jokes. But fired for it? Come on!
As the story goes, in 1998, Norm was fired for telling too many O.J. Simpson jokes. Writer James Downey (who was fired at the same time) said, "That was all due to then NBC exec. Don Ohlmeyer. Norm 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.”
After her one season, Michaela Watkins described her firing from SNL in 2009 as "a little rude".
"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. 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.”
But who’s gonna break character with Jimmy?!
When budget cuts hit SNL in 2006, some of the show's most established cast members (like Horatio Sanz) were abruptly asked to leave.
Lorne Michaels said, ”Things like this are never pleasant. I made the decision to stick with the 20 episodes and cut everything back.”
You’re hired. You’re fired. You’re hired. You’re fired.
Another 2006 budget-cut victim was Chris Parnell, but this was actually his second time being fired, as his first dismissal came in 2001.
In a 2014 interview with Marc Maron, he said, ”I was very surprised. I was pretty devastated. I’ve never been fired from any job." But after the 2006 firing, he said, "I was ready to go off. I had done my time.”
But he’s so funny! Give him a chance!
From 2004 to 2005, Riggle only lasted one season before getting fired. After this quote, it seems like he just got buried.
“I don't want to bash on it, because I'm always grateful that I got the dream-come-true to be on SNL. 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.”
Don’t worry, he’s fine. We had to do some extensive digging, but we found out that he ended up doing okay.
Back in 1995, Sandler and Chris Farley were let go at the same time. He said in a 2014 interview, "Yes, we were fired. 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.”
He sang a song about it in his 2019 opening monologue.
If you checked out that Sandler song we just mentioned, he sings a quote from Farley, “Sandman, they fired my a** too!”
Hard to say when firings like this are justified or not, but when it’s Chris Farley, it’s unjustified to not give him one big beautiful send-off episode. Not knowing that his last show was in fact his last show kinda sucks.
Another lone black cast member immediately compared to Eddie Murphy.
In 1986, Wayans improvised his role as a police officer on the air without consulting anyone. He admitted that it was fair to fire him, saying, "I knew I was going to get fired for it. Lorne did the right thing.”
The unjustified part is that he felt driven to act out in the first place. He explained, "They didn't let me do what I wanted to, which I came to learn was Lorne Michaels' way of protecting me from looking like I was trying to be the next Eddie Murphy. It was right after Eddie Murphy left the show and they weren't letting me do things that he would do. So, I went against the script. That was my frustration."
Top image: NBC