Cringe Sketches that ‘SNL’ Cast Members Now Regret
If you tuned into Saturday Night Live back in 2000, you might have found yourself stoked to see the return of old favorite Chris Rock. But wait a minute. You shake your head, rub the boozy haze out of your eyes and squint for a closer look: That’s not Rock at all! It’s… Jimmy Fallon?
Years later, Fallon would realize that maybe impersonating his pal in blackface wasn’t his best comedy idea. We’d like to think he came to this conclusion on his own, but it was only after the clip resurfaced in 2020, along with the hashtag #jimmyfallonisover, that Fallon offered up some heartfelt Twitter remorse.
But Fallon isn’t the only cast member to have second thoughts about a questionable old sketch. Here are more poorly conceived bits that SNL cast members later regretted…
Dana Carvey’s Johnny Carson Impression
Carvey had a singular take on a Johnny Carson impersonation, not mimicking the ubiquitous Rich Little version but aping what Carson said to Carvey whenever he appeared on The Tonight Show: “‘That’s funny stuff. You’re a funny young man. Will you come back and see us again sometime?’ I think Johnny said that to me every single time I was on his show.” It was a pattern of speech that Rob Smigel picked up on when the two developed a hybrid of Carson and the red-hot Arsenio Hall. Ladies and gentlemen, Carsenio! Woof, woof, woof!
Carson apparently thought it was a funny bit, especially since the spoof was aimed at Arsenio as much as the elder statesman. But at least one of the sketches, in Carvey’s opinion, “was kind of mean. It portrayed Johnny as senile and out-of-touch, and that one I just regret, because it wasn’t my intent.”
Tina Fey’s Charlottesville Weekend Update Bit
In 2017, the University of Virginia alum returned to SNL in the wake of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Fey’s comic take? It’s better to eat an entire sheet cake than to spend time protesting white nationalism.
To be fair, Fey’s intended comic argument was that we shouldn’t give our attention to people spreading hate. But the bit didn’t come off that way, at least not to some who felt like Tina was arguing against fighting back. “I’m on a plane, trying to write the thing,” Fey told David Letterman on an episode of My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. “You try your best, you try to have your eyes open, try to be so mindful, but it’s also a fast-moving train. I felt like a gymnast who did like a very solid routine and broke her ankle on the landing. Because it’s literally within the last two to three sentences of the piece that I chumped it. And I screwed up, and the implication was that I was telling people to give up and not be active and to not fight. That was not my intention, obviously.”
For what it’s worth, Letterman disagreed that Fey misfired, offering that her take was “perfect. … Here’s something to let the gas out of a situation that should not have happened.”
Fred Armisen’s Impersonation of Blind New York Governor David Paterson
On multiple Weekend Update appearances, Armisen got laughs from his bumbling portrayal of blind New York Governor David Paterson. Fair target for comedy except Armisen made Paterson’s disability the butt of the joke, with the sightless governor unable to find his place behind the Update desk, mistaking 30 Rock for Yankee Stadium and cluelessly wandering around the set.
Paterson was a good sport about it all, even appearing on SNL himself. But he warned that not everyone in his position had the ability to fight back, calling jokes about the disabled “sophomoric and stupid.” Armisen and Meyers later apologized, promising to be more respectful of the disabled.
Jenny Slate’s Inadvertent Eff-Bomb
In her first-ever live sketch, Slate went there. Playing alongside Kristen Wiig, she was supposed to deliver the line, “I frigging love you for that.” Instead, she let loose with the curse word of all curse words. The look on her face after the expletive leaves her mouth says it all.
Unlike Charles Rocket, Slate didn’t lose her gig over the flub. (Her dismissal, she told InStyle, was because she “didn’t do a good job.”) But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t regret the eff-bomb. In fact, she can’t even watch the clip. “That’d be like watching yourself fall down the aisle at your wedding! I feel like it happened to somebody else, and I want to tell her, ‘Oh, girl. I’m so sorry, but you need to move on.’”
Taran Killam’s Tacit Endorsement of Trump
It wasn’t like Killam went out and hit the campaign trail for 45. But nonetheless, he has regrets about the 2015 Trump-hosted show that acted as SNL’s (and by extension, the cast’s) quasi-endorsement of the presidential candidate.
“In retrospect, I personally have a hard time of having been involved in the endorsement of that,” Killam told Conan O’Brien. “It’s not necessarily a critique of the show, but boy, it’s really hard to have played a part in offering a platform for, promoting for someone who I find I’m constantly disappointed in.”
Killam was still feeling the pain when he later talked to NPR. “We could hear the protests during our table read,” he explained. “As we’re reading 40 mediocre sketches, we just hear, ‘No Trump! Donald Trump!’ I am embarrassed, upon reflection, just because of how everyone was right. Every person outside of that building protesting was absolutely right.”
Seth Rogen’s James Franco Joke
In 2014, 35-year-old Franco admitted to exchanging messages with a 17-year-girl with the intention of hooking up in a hotel room. Franco later claimed ignorance of who was receiving his messages and promised never to do it again. (And that is the subject of another story.)
That same year, Franco’s Freaks and Geeks co-star Rogen hosted SNL. For his monologue, Rogen read entries from his fake journal, including this cringey gem: “I decided to prank James Franco. I posed as a girl on Instagram, told him I was way young. He seemed unfazed. I have a date to meet him at the Ace Hotel.”
That joke prompted a slap from Rogen’s Knocked Up pal Charlyne Yi, who accused Rogen of enabling Franco’s disturbing behavior. Rogen couldn’t disagree. He’s no longer working with Franco, and had this to say about his monologue choice: “I do look back at a joke I made on Saturday Night Live in 2014, and I very much regret making that joke. It was a terrible joke, honestly.”
Bill Hader’s Midget References
Hoo boy, Hader has regrets. “I’ve talked to a lot of comedy people who now look back at things they did, myself included, where you go, ‘Oh, man, I would never do that now.’” One example? Stefon’s constant references to midgets. There’s enough for a compilation video:
But Hader’s embarrassment doesn’t stop there. “Also, any time I played different ethnicities,” Hader explained. “By virtue of being a sketch show, we had to do that. But I remember playing Chinese people, and, I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that I’m just like…”