‘Saturday Night Live’ Made Julia Louis-Drefyus ‘Fundamentally Unhappy’

‘Saturday Night Live’ Made Julia Louis-Drefyus ‘Fundamentally Unhappy’

Between Seinfeld, The New Adventures of Old Christine, and Veep, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has had what one might call a spongeworthy career. One of her only stumbles was a dream job for most comic actors — a three-year stint on Saturday Night Live. In fact, those miserable years almost made JLD reconsider her acting career. Would she continue in show business? Only, she vowed, if it could be fun. 

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Her Saturday Night Live run was not an experience she’d want to revisit, “maybe because I was so fundamentally unhappy for those three years,” she told The Guardian. There were a lot of factors that made her 1982-1985 gig miserable — being the youngest female comic in a notorious boys club (“I was extremely young,” she says. “I hadn’t graduated college and I was very naive about how things work in real show business”), working during the lost years when the show was run by Dick Ebersol, and getting lost in a rotating cast dominated first by Eddie Murphy, then Billy Crystal and Martin Short

She’d had a different experience performing in Chicago theaters like Second City and the Practical Theater Company. “I really enjoyed doing work with my friends that was thrilling and collaborative and ensemble-y. And so I knew from having fun, right?”

OK, OK, SNL wasn’t “the most wretched experience of my life,” but Louis-Dreyfus demanded more. “It was very challenging. I knew I couldn’t keep that going. And if this was what it meant to be in show business, I wanted nothing to do with it. I had this feeling: if I can’t find the fun again, I can walk away from this.”

There was at least one good thing that came out of her SNL experience — connecting with another malcontent in Larry David. “Larry was just miserable there. And he almost came to blows with Dick Ebersol. I forget what, I’m sure it had to do with a sketch. I think Dick told him that something he’d written wasn’t funny, and Larry went berserk,” Louis-Dreyfus remembers in oral history Live from New York. “That’s one of the reasons I liked Larry so much—because he lost his temper.” 

According to SNL writer Andrew Kurtzman, “Neither us nor Julia Louis-Dreyfus ever figured out really what to do with her on TV, but Larry did. We were all there. She was the same person. But what Larry saw was that peculiar force of hers.” 

So David brought her in for Seinfeld, the show made them all millions, yada yada yada. “Doing Seinfeld was, of course, just the opposite experience (from SNL),” she says. “It was pure joy from beginning to end. I thought, “No one will ever get this, because we’re having too much fun.”

As for Ebersol, the man who cast Julia Louis-Dreyfus on SNL in the first place? “Dick Ebersol was always wielding a baseball bat … it was really very Al Capone-y,” she remembers. “And he always wanted me to straighten my hair. He was always trying to get me to straighten my hair. Well—he’s in sports now.”

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