12 People Who Failed Their ‘SNL’ Auditions But Hosted Anyway

12 People Who Failed Their ‘SNL’ Auditions But Hosted Anyway

There’s a long list of eventual comedy stars who auditioned for Saturday Night Live and didn’t get the job. So how sweet must it be when you get the call from Lorne Michaels to host? “Oh, I’m not good enough to be a featured player but now you want me to headline your little comedy show?” In your face, Lorne! Here are 12 comedy superstars who flunked the SNL job interview, but still landed the spotlight role on the show. 

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Aubrey Plaza

Aubrey Plaza auditioned for Saturday Night Live and never advanced far enough to perform for Lorne Michaels, she told Jimmy Fallon, “but I did a preliminary first-round showcase.” 

She showed off two characters that failed to get her to Round Two of auditions. The first was a Puerto Rican news reporter that tried to sex up every story, “even if they were horrific news,” she says. Her second was a “pill-popping housewife” who hosted a talk show called Celibri-Tails. “I would just name celebrities and name what kind of tail they would have if they had a tail,” she says. “Like I would say, ‘Lindsay Lohan would have a bushy squirrel’s tail.’ Or, like, ‘Bill Clinton would have a polar bear’s nub.'”

Kevin Hart

Pro tip: If you’re doing celebrity impressions as part of your SNL audition, choose famous people Lorne has actually heard of. “I did an impression of Avery Johnson, a person that nobody knew,” Hart told Conan O’Brien. (Johnson played point guard for the San Antonio Spurs, coached the Dallas Mavericks, and worked as a sports analyst.) 

“I said, ‘OK, I'm gonna do an impression of Avery Johnson’ and I remember Lorne Michaels looking at me and he was like … mm-hmm, okay. He didn't say he didn't know who that was but I could tell he definitely didn't know,” says Hart. “I just said, ‘I passed the ball to David Robinson.’ I swear on a stack of Bibles, that was the whole thing. And when I did it, I stepped back as if it was great.” 

John Goodman

Of all the failed auditioners, John Goodman has made up for it the most by hosting an incredible 13 times. But by his own admission, he tanked the try-out. "It's not that I had any material to show or anything good to do,” he told Jimmy Fallon. “I just knew they'd hire me 'cause I'm a nice guy." 

NARRATOR’S VOICE: They didn’t hire him.

But Goodman doesn’t blame the show’s producers. "It's the worst thing I've ever done in front of people in my life. I wrote something about 15 minutes before I went over there and, oh, god, it was awful."

Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey never auditioned for me personally,” Lorne Michaels says in Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. “There is an audition tape which we almost played on the twenty-fifth-anniversary show — if he had come that night, we would have. We have all the audition tapes.”

It’s at this point that the classy Michaels throws his underlings under the bus. “Carrey, I think, auditioned for Al Franken the year I was executive producer, and Tom Davis and Al were the producers along with Jim Downey.” 

Zach Galifianakis

Galifianakis’s audition didn’t earn him a spot on the show as a performer, but the material was quirky enough that he was hired as a writer. He lasted two weeks. 

His pitches "just bombed very badly," he told Rob Lowe on the host’s Literally! Podcast. One idea that died? Britney Spears hosted in 2000 and Galifianakis pitched a sketch about Spears’ belly button. It was “always exposed then and I thought she needed to protect it,"

so Galifianakis’s sketch would use a green screen to shrink Will Ferrell, who would act as a security guard for the famous navel. "It felt like a tumbleweed went right across the writers' room table, and a cricket riding it," Galifianakis said. "I'm not offended that no one liked it. It was probably bad."

Louis C.K.

Louis C.K. auditioned alongside a number of comedy heavy hitters, including Dave Attell, Laura Kightlinger, Sarah Silverman and Jay Mohr. All of them got a job — except Louis, he told Seth Meyers

“I had a good set, I did good!” he claims. “Which makes it harder to not get it, because if you bomb, you’re like, ‘Well, I had a bad night.’ But I had a great night, and they were like, ‘No — not the best version of you, we don’t want it anywhere near this place.'”

Geena Davis

When Dick Ebersol assembled his all-star cast back in Season 10 (it included Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest and Martin Short), two returning female cast members returned, Mary Gross and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Ebersol told Harry Shearer that he wanted to hire a third woman and “I want you guys to help choose her.” 

“We through this elaborate process of meeting people,” Shearer says in Live From New York.Geena Davis met with us in the lobby of the Century Plaza Hotel. And Geena had just been on a couple of sitcoms and it was all quite awkward and uncomfortable for everybody involved.”

Donald Glover

Donald Glover tried out for SNL twice — and got the stiff-arm both times. Glover heard through the grapevine that Amy Poehler said he wasn’t picked because his stand-up didn’t have a strong point of view.

But Glover has no regrets. “I dodged so many bullets,” he told GQ. “Me being on SNL would’ve killed me. I got friends who made it on SNL and, at the time, I was like, damn. But if I got on SNL, my career wouldn’t have happened.”

Lisa Kudrow

Groundlings performers Kathy Griffin, Julia Sweeney and Lisa Kudrow all auditioned for the show, but Sweeney was the only one who booked the job.

“Kathy may have been crying afterward,” Kudrow told Vanity Fair for its oral history of the Groundlings. “I remember being super disappointed. I was coming off the high from Laraine Newman recommending me to Lorne Michaels. Then they picked Julia Sweeney. I was pretty disappointed because I thought, ‘Maybe you’re one of those people for whom good things don’t happen.’”

Tiffany Haddish

Ali Wong told a story at the Tribeca Film Festival about being friends with Tiffany Haddish when both were up-and-coming comics. “I saw her … in New York when she had auditioned for SNL. Everyone around town said she killed it. She knew she killed it. And she was like, ‘If they don’t give it to me, it’s fucked up.'”

Haddish, who was on the same Tribeca panel, clarified her stance. “No, I said, ‘If they don’t give it to me, fuck them.’ I said next time I’ll be hosting and that’s that.” And here’s the proof.

Paul Reubens

Before Paul Reubens blew up with his Pee Wee Herman character, he auditioned for SNL. “I was starting to be in a lot of those ”up and coming” sections of magazines. It really seemed like I was going to be on SNL,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “It was a year Lorne Michaels did not produce. I walked in the room, (saw comic Gilbert Gottfried), and I said, ‘It’s not going to be both of us. We’re the same type of performer.’ I knew then I wasn’t going to get it.”

Reubens was eventually invited to host — not as himself, but as his alter-ego Pee Wee. 

Jennifer Coolidge

We’re including Jennifer Coolidge on this list as she was scheduled to host SNL this season before the writers’ strike postponed her inevitable debut. Season premiere of Season 49, anyone?

After Chloe Fineman pulled out a spot-on Coolidge impression, the White Lotus star took to Twitter … er, X … to applaud. 

In a follow-up tweet, Coolidge revealed that she’s tried — and failed — to land the show herself. "Congrats to the new cast members!! I know how hard it is to get on that show," she tweeted. "I tried my ass off to be one but you actually made it!! What a feat!" 

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