The Saturday Night Live farewell is a mostly 2000s and forward tradition. Before then, not so much. Chevy Chase was the first to leave, and SNL cast mates were more angry than nostalgic. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd cut out a few seasons later with zero fanfare, while the rest of the cast skipped the following year. There was no goodbye sketch for Eddie Murphy, and Dana Carvey and Mike Myers both left mid-season by quietly sneaking out the back door. It wasn’t until 1994 that Phil Hartman, the man they dubbed “The Glue” for holding the show together for eight seasons, got an on-air send-off.
Since then, cast members’ final shows have been a mixed bag in the farewell department. Some stars are practically eulogized before they ride off into the sunset; other comics both anonymous (Jon Rudnitsky, Noel Wells) and essential (Andy freaking Samberg) are sent packing with no ceremony whatsoever. Poor Chris Parnell had to clean out his desk twice with no party either time.
But these days, now that the show has evolved from cutting-edge chaos agent to venerable show-biz institution, the Proper SNL Send-Off has become nearly expected. Here is our ranking of the most fitting SNL farewells of all time…
Mooney often played sad-sack losers on SNL, and that’s just how the show treated him on his final show after eight seasons. (For context, Mooney lasted twice as long as Belushi and Aykroyd.) Always a king of the Cut for Time sketch, Mooney had the misfortune of sharing a final show with Kate McKinnon, Pete Davidson and Aidy Bryant, each of whom got a spotlight sketch to wave goodbye. Sure, they were (arguably) bigger SNL stars than Mooney, but their recognition just made Mooney’s lack of attention more noticeable. The best he got was Bryant’s character praising his pony-tailed, polyamorous goof in a near-the-end-of-the-show sketch: “He’s like if a guy was magic, and we’ll love him forever.”
At least Mooney got better than his old Good Neighbor sketch-comedy partner Beck Bennett, who a season earlier made his last appearance in a bald cap as Vin Diesel with no idea that he wouldn’t be asked back.
Chris Farley, Adam Sandler and Jay Mohr
“Breaking into the Central Park Zoo Polar Bear Cage” wasn’t officially a “goodbye” sketch for Farley, Sandler and Mohr (it wasn’t a “good” sketch either), but it might as well have been. On the comics’ final show, they each threw themselves off the Good Ship SNL, only to suffer grisly deaths courtesy of a ravenous polar bear. We’re including this sketch as a farewell only because the metaphor seems so apt, with the unexpected off-season dismissal of Farley and Sandler nearly as brutal as the off-screen mauling they get here.
Again, like Mooney, Bryant had to share a final show with McKinnon and Davidson, leaving little room for a big goodbye. Still, Lorne Michaels gave our L’il Baby Aidy her flowers in the form of a Weekend Update desk piece where she could bid adieu with the help of Bowen Yang.
The sketch concluded with Bryant’s “best guys kissing me,” a sweet farewell after 10 memorable seasons.
Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Jason Sudeikis
This was a weird one. In the final episode for these three borderline SNL Hall of Famers, the night’s last sketch featured Armisen as Ian Rubbish, lead singer of the Bizarros, with Hader on bass and Sudeikis playing the drum kit alongside several famous musicians including Armisen’s Portlandia partner Carrie Brownstein, Aimee Mann and Michael Penn, the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr.
In the process, Rubbish announced that this would be the Bizarros’ last show for a while, although Hader was sure to confirm that they would still play music together from time to time. There were no words from Sudeikis, who became invisible once the guest musicians made their way to the stage. Armisen and Hader, on the other hand, got a chance to wave goodbye, letting the audience know, “It’s been a lovely day with you.”
Armisen and Hader were front and center during the goodbyes, too, with Sudeikis apparently not even on stage among the cast. After host Ben Affleck ended the show, there was a glimpse of the back of Sudeikis’ head as he hugged it out with the others, but he was conspicuous by his near-absence. Maybe Sudeikis wasn’t sure himself that he was on the way out, not confirming he wouldn’t return until a July Letterman appearance. A strange, mixed bag as SNL farewells go.
Love him or hate him, Fallon left the show the right way. First, there wasn’t a big buildup in the days and weeks leading up to his departure — no one knew until mid-show when he ended Weekend Update with, “This is my last show. Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow.” His final sketch was also the last of the season, a Grease parody about seniors leaving school and heading off for the summer. The sketch showed off all of the things Fallon did well — impersonations (in this case, Travolta), music and electric chemistry with Tina Fey. Watch those hands, Jimmy. No tears here, just a joyful celebration of Fallon’s run without sentiment. More of this, please!
Meyers had appeared in the third most episodes in the show’s history at the time of his departure, so it was appropriate that he got a hell of a going away party. Old friends came back to visit, including former Weekend Update partner Amy Poehler, who joined him for one last round of fake news. That was sweet, emotional even, but the real tears were saved for Hader’s return as Stefon, back to announce that he was marrying another man.
The long-running bit, goofing on Stefon’s attraction to the I-Have-a-Girlfriend! Meyers, packed a surprising emotional punch. Follow your heart, Seth. Who cares if Anderson Cooper gets hurt in the process?
Well, this was a goofy mess. The season — and Hartman’s SNL career — concluded with a parody of “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music. Each cast member got a turn, with many of them reminding viewers what a lousy season everyone just endured. The whole thing was sloppy and awkward, with cringe turns from:
- Sandler and David Spade revisiting their Gap Girls characters and unable to sing their lyrics in unison;
- Mohr, Sarah Silverman and Norm Macdonald crooning a verse about how they’re never on the show;
- Rob Schneider as Makin’ Copies Guy and Julia Sweeney as Pat singing that the season sucked because these old favorites (?) didn’t appear;
- And Michael McKean dressed as Lenny from Laverne and Shirley because he wasn’t able to develop a successful SNL character.
But from disaster came poignancy as Chris Farley/Matt Foley, the lone comic left after the others dance away, expressed his fatigue and sat alone on the edge of the stage. Hartman joined him, turning the song into a lullaby and giving The Glue a final chance to say “so long, farewell.”
Strong’s farewell is a strange one, too. She ditched the show in mid-season after taking months off in recent years to star in stage productions. Frankly, she wasn’t expected back this year — is it true that she only wanted to break the record for longest-tenured female cast member? In any event, she officially called it quits in mid-December last year, leaking word of her departure only hours before the show. She got two goodbyes that night, first with Austin Butler serenading her with an Elv-ish rendition of Blue Christmas. Next, she took to the Weekend Update desk to say goodbye in character, this time as chain-smoking degenerate Cathy Anne.
The funky thing about Strong’s goodbye was that she seemed to have already delivered her swan song on the last episode of Season 46. She was once again on the Update desk, this time with her devastating impression of Jeanine Pirro. With a wine glass sloshing vino into Colin Jost’s eyes, Strong delivered a defiant cabaret version of “My Way,” finishing the song by submerging herself in a glass box of wine. No one has said goodbye more than Strong.
Davidson’s farewell is pretty simple, which rendered it surprisingly moving. He looked back on his SNL tenure, essentially growing up on late-night television. After all, he is the man of whom Lorne Michaels once said, “I don’t think you’re right for this show. Let’s screw this up together.” Truth was, Davidson went through some actual shit during his years on the show, and he seemed to sincerely appreciate everyone at Studio 8H having his back. His understated “thank you” was the opposite of Strong’s showy goodbye — it doesn’t make one better than the other, but we can at least appreciate that there’s more than one way to leave gracefully.
The final member of the great exodus of 2022, McKinnon chose to say her goodbyes at the top of the show rather than at its end.
For her final performance, McKinnon reprised one of her most iconic characters, hard-smoking alien abductee Colleen Rafferty. The sketch hit the same beats as its predecessors — a pantsless Rafferty gets abducted by a lower class of alien, coot-coot and prune chute exposed for the world to see, gray-eyed creatures lining up to bat around her knockers. The twist this time around? The aliens want an Earth creature to travel with them permanently, which means — Kate, er, Colleen — it’s time to go.
As she boarded the alien craft, a choked-up McKinnon said adios in character: “Earth, I love you. Thanks for letting me stay a while.”
Ferrell had established himself as the biggest comedy star on the planet, killing it on SNL while co-starring in the Austin Powers movies and Zoolander. So it’s not surprising that SNL would give him a big send-off. What was surprising was the Dad’s Retirement Party video they made to send him off, which for some reason was set to “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
The goodbye would be further down this list if not for the game-saving move by Tracy Morgan, ripping into Ferrell for stealing his Walkman and other crimes against humanity. In fact, Ferrell was a “cold, thieving, selfish, evil dude.” Ferrell was the kind of villain who gives out cigarettes to Morgan’s 8-year-old son when he’s not trying to get Chris Parnell fired. And he hates Black people.
Ferrell confronted him, admitting that he stole the Walkman and that he does indeed hate Black people. But it was all good when Morgan suggested they celebrate Ferrell’s departure at the strip club. Ferrell was in: “I like the way you think.”
No one before or since has had a send-off like Wiig, a performer Michaels called “one of the top three or four” SNL cast members of all time. Head writer Jost was tasked with the goodbye, and he decided on a straightforward concept: Host Mick Jagger would bid farewell to a graduating student with an impromptu dance. Sounds simple, but it got magical when Arcade Fire chimed in with the Stones classic, “She’s A Rainbow” (presumably the reason why an official clip isn’t on YouTube — the music rights must be astronomical).
Wiig’s goodbye was extraordinary for many reasons, but maybe the biggest was that Michaels himself took part. “I just liked the idea — if he was up for doing it — of Lorne dancing at the end because I just thought that might be a nice moment for them to have together,” Jost told Entertainment Weekly. “I never really asked him. I just put it in the script, and then I sort of just waited to see whether he would do it.” (He did.)
The whole thing almost got cut for time, Wiig told Howard Stern, but instead it made history. Getting goose bumps remembering it, she confessed, “It was one of the best moments of my life.”