Julia Louis-Dreyfus Knew ‘SNL’ Would Be A Disaster “In Like 15 ½ Seconds”

She hadn’t even graduated college when she landed on ‘SNL’
Julia Louis-Dreyfus Knew ‘SNL’ Would Be A Disaster “In Like 15 ½ Seconds”

Julia Louis-Dreyfus was hired for Saturday Night Live while still in college, she told Seth Meyers this week. The youngster was plucked from her Northwestern University improv troupe Mee-Ow, along with Gary Kroeger and future husband Brad Hall, and transplanted from campus to 30 Rock before she knew what hit her. But what began with optimism and hubris quickly turned into humiliation. “How long into it did you know it was a disaster?” wondered Meyers.

“Oh, like 15 1/2 seconds,” Louis-Dreyfus replied.

So many things went wrong. For starters, Louis-Dreyfus assumed SNL would be like her college experience, improvising with friends to create comedy. Er, no. “I thought it was going to be all loose and we would all be thinking up ideas on our feet and that’s how the show would work,” she told Meyers.

That’s not how the show works, they agreed.

Things got off on the wrong foot when producers invited the new cast members — essentially college students, remember — to perform some of their Chicago material on their first day. Hey, why not? “We'd been hired. They loved us,” she remembered. “We were a hit in Chicago, you know.”

But Eddie Murphy, Joe Piscopo and the show’s writers were unimpressed. “They had us arrive and sit in that area where you do the table read and act out some of our sketches,” she recalled with a wince. “It was so not well-received.”

It’s far from the first time JLD has expressed disillusionment about her SNL experience. “I thought it was going to be a congenial experience; my head was in the clouds,” she said in Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. “I wasn’t aware of the politicking one had to do, and I think there were a lot of drugs going on at the time. Everybody was doing a lot of coke and smoking dope. Everybody would stay up late. All the work was done between 11 o’clock at night and six o’clock in the morning; that’s when everybody was functioning. And that wasn’t, in my view, conducive to comedy.”

Bottom line, she told Andy Cohen in 2020, “I did not have tons of fun.” 

But the experience at least allowed her to get her career priorities in order. “I came out of that thinking, ‘This wasn’t as fun as I’ve had doing improv shows and Second City back in Chicago. I need to find that, and if I can’t find that, if it doesn’t exist, I’m not going to do this.’”

It sounds like she found it. “Doing Seinfeld was, of course, just the opposite experience,” she said in Live From New York. “It was pure joy from beginning to end. I thought, ‘No one will ever get this because we’re having too much fun.’” 


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