Five ‘SNL’ Cast Members Who Left the Show and Regretted It

Five ‘SNL’ Cast Members Who Left the Show and Regretted It

More than 160 cast members have taken the stage on Saturday Night Live, and most of them have subsequently made their exits. Many left of their own accord, while others were shown the door whether they were ready to leave or not. Most comics who leave proclaim it was time to move on, but a few wish they could have stuck around a little bit longer. 

Here are five SNL cast members who had second thoughts about their early exits… 

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Chevy Chase

Chase was Saturday Night Live’s original breakout star, which didn’t necessarily endear him to others. “We were a repertory company, and we knew that repertory companies do not feature one player. We thought we would all shine,” Jane Curtin has said. “When Chevy became the star, we felt hurt, we felt bad.”

It didn’t get any better when Chase jumped ship after a single season to pursue movie stardom. He found success there, but at SNL’s 40th anniversary show, he expressed regrets. “I left after the first year because I thought this isn’t going anywhere,” he once told Carson Daly. “But I missed it more for not being a part of the cast because I left after one year.”

It wasn’t the first time he’d expressed that sentiment. When Chase showed up for Lorne Michaels receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he told the crowd that leaving the show was a mistake and he still regretted it.

Ellen Cleghorne

Michaels fired a bunch of cast members in 1995, but Ellen Cleghorne wasn’t one of them. She quit anyway, thanks to fledgling network The WB picking up her new sitcom, Cleghorne. Makes sense, but when her show was canned after a single, low-rated season, she had second thoughts. 

“I mean I wish I would have stayed at Saturday Night Live,” she has said. “(The sitcom) was important at the time for me, but I did miss being on SNL.”

Jim Belushi

Belushi was his own worst enemy at SNL, becoming the first cast member to get fired, then rehired. “I was out of control. I was out of my mind. I was throwing a fire extinguisher at Dick Ebersol, a hissy fit,” he told Vulture in 2021. “SNL is the hardest thing I ever did, and that’s including divorce. I survived it, barely. I went back to him with my tail between my legs. I drop the ego, I got humble. I stopped drinking the rest of that season.”

When Michaels returned, Belushi was out of a job again — one that he likely would have kept with better behavior: “The only thing I regret is I didn’t have two more years to really kind of hit that full fruition of it.”

Will Forte

When Forte left Saturday Night Live in 2010 after eight seasons, he felt it was the “right time to go.” MacGruber was going to be a movie, he was getting older and he wanted to move back to California to be near family. 

But he soon regretted the decision. The year after he left was an “emotionally trying period,” and he was “devastated” to not be doing live sketch comedy on Saturday nights. Getting a chance to do dramatic work in films like the Oscar-nominated Nebraska helped convince him he’d made the right decision — eventually. 

Andy Kaufman

While Kaufman wasn’t officially a cast member, he was a regular presence on Saturday Night Live through its formative seasons, performing on 16 episodes and helping define the show’s counterculture comedy. According to Bob Zmuda, Kaufman’s longtime co-conspirator and occasionally unreliable narrator, Kaufman and new SNL producer Dick Ebersol came up with a funny bit for a 1982 show. An earlier episode gave viewers a chance to call a number that would determine if a lobster lived or died. (He lived!) The new gag: Viewers would decide if Kaufman would live or die — meaning whether or not he’d ever be allowed on the show again.

The joke: Viewers would likely vote him off, but then Kaufman would return in some alt-comedy way, perhaps as Tony Clifton or maybe as a guy sweeping up in the background of a sketch. 

Viewers indeed booted Kaufman, but according to Zmuda, Ebersol didn’t live up to his end of the bargain: “Everything is going as planned, but then a strange thing happens — Ebersol never calls Kaufman as promised. And any time Andy calls him, he refuses to take the call; i.e., Ebersol double-crosses Andy.”

Kaufman was furious, Zmuda says, even threatening to sue Ebersol and NBC since ticket sales for college shows dropped drastically without Kaufman’s SNL appearances as promotion. Kaufman indeed wanted to get kicked off — but only because he thought he’d get kicked right back on. 

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