How Much Do ‘SNL’ Cast Members Make?

How Much Do ‘SNL’ Cast Members Make?

The Screen Actors Guild strike has shone a spotlight on the meager wages earned by 99 percent of the actors in its union. Does that explain why Saturday Night Live’s Kenan Thompson has so many side hustles? We’ve seen him in commercials for Autotrader, Thrifty Car Rental and Universal Parks and Resorts, in addition to the online series he did recently for Old Navy. With so many actors raising their hands about lousy wages, it made us wonder: Just how much cash do SNL comics make anyway?

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Over the years, the answer has been, “Not as much as you’d think.” Dan Aykroyd was paid so little that he reportedly had bunk beds in his shared apartment. On an episode of the Fly on the Wall podcast, Dana Carvey, David Spade and Ellen Cleghorne traded SNL paycheck stories. Carvey started, revealing he earned $4,500 an episode back in the late 1980s, which netted him about $2,000 a week after agent fees, taxes and so on. His gross $80,000 a year doesn’t sound like much for a comedy star, but that was major bank compared to the others. For Spade, his original check totaled $900 a week as a writer, bumped to $1,500 if he somehow found himself on the air. For Cleghorne, who joined the cast in 1991? A starting salary of $245 an episode. Even in the 1990s, that didn’t get the rent paid in New York. 

Is it any better today? Not surprisingly, Lorne Michaels and NBC aren’t releasing salary figures. But a Cosmopolitan investigation published last year revealed that first-year cast members make $7,000 a show. With an abbreviated Season 48 due to the writers’ strike, that means new cast members like Marcello Hernandez and Molly Kearney took in about $126,000 gross — not bad, but that money is going to get you a Toyota Rav4, not a Tesla. 

Second-year cast members get $8,000 an episode, which bumps up to $15,000 per by the time a performer gets to Season Five. That puts someone like Heidi Gardner in the $315,000 range.

So what about Kenan Thompson, the granddaddy of all SNL performers? Some industry reports place his number at $25,000 an episode, or about half a million a year. Woo hoo? While others guess more (Celebrity Net Worth is at odds with itself, reporting $525,000 annually in one article and literally guessing two to three million bucks in another), the number isn’t life-changing. It’s way more than the average American makes, for sure, but if the assumption is that Thompson is raking in huge dollars, you’d better check your math. Odds are, he is making millions, but needs that sweet Autotrader cash to make up the difference. 

Over the show’s history, it’s the movies where stars like Will Ferrell, Kristin Wiig and Mike Myers ultimately made their riches. But there’s only one upcoming non-animated feature on Thompson’s IMDb, and we’re guessing Good Burger 2 isn’t going to buy him a mansion. Keep those side hustles going, Kenan — sounds like that’s where the real cash is. 

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