25 Behind-The-Scenes Facts You Never Knew About ‘SNL’
Creating a successful television show is a monumental achievement. First of all, you have to come up with a great idea and then pitch it to a network. Even if they like the idea and produce it, it may never make it to air. But let’s say you get it on the air and execute it perfectly. It still needs to be embraced by audiences so that the ratings stay consistently high so it isn’t cancelled. And while all this is going on, you have to work with hundreds of people to keep the show running smoothly.
It’s no wonder that most shows never make it past a first season. Yet, Saturday Night Live has been on the airways for over 40 years. Multiple generations have tuned in and laughed at the sketch shows absurdist premises and cutting edge political satire. For a show that’s been around this long, you’d think there would be no secrets left, but we’re here to show you otherwise. Here are 25 behind-the-scenes facts you never knew about SNL.
Saturday Night Live is one of the biggest franchises in pop culture history, but it wouldn’t have ever happened had Johnny Carson not wanted more vacation days.
In 1974, Johnny Carson requested that NBC stop airing The Tonight Show reruns on the weekend.
He wanted to save those reruns for the extra vacation days he was planning to take during weekdays. NBC wanted to fill those weekend slots, so they hired Lorne Michaels to develop a particular Saturday Night show that would air live.
"Live From New York..."
If you’ve ever seen the show, you know how it always opens. It begins with a cold open sketch, often lampooning a current event of the week.
Then, one of the characters breaks, looks into the camera and shouts, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”
It looks like a ton of fun, and we’ve all fantasized about getting to do it. But who did it first? That honor went to Chevy Chase, who got to bellow the signature line in the premiere episode.
As much as an honor as that was, Chase almost didn’t get it. Mainly because he almost wasn’t cast on the show at all.
Though he became one of the show’s breakout stars, Chevy Chase was originally hired as a writer—a job that came with a one-year contract.
This is how Chase got around having to sign a performer contract which was for much longer, and subsequently why he was able to leave the show just a few episodes into the second season.
These days, getting cast on the wildly popular sketch show is the first step towards super stardom.
Countless A-list actors got their start on Saturday Night Live, but just getting on doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to be rich and famous, especially with what they pay when you start out.
In the show’s first season, cast members earned $750 per week. That figure rose to $2,000 in season two and $4,000 by season four. Not too shabby, but it’s no Will Ferrell money.
Will Ferrell is a comedy legend who starred in some of the most quotable movies of all time.
He makes bank for each of his films, but he was making a ton of cash before he ever left his home on Saturday nights.
In 2001, Ferrell became the show’s highest paid cast member ever when he signed a contract for $350,000 per season. Considering how much of a staple his George W. Bush impression was, it was money well spent.
In 1995, Oscar-winning writer and director Adam McKay (of Anchorman and Step Brothers fame) unsuccessfully auditioned to become an SNL cast member.
Even though he was rejected, being turned down for the gig turned out to be probably the best thing that could have happened to him.
McKay was offered a writing gig instead, and eventually worked his way up to head writer for the latter half of his six years with the show. He made friends with Will Ferrell, and their collaborations made each other millions.
Jim Carrey Was Rejected Twice
Tons of celebrities have been rejected by SNL. One you might be surprised to hear about is a man who’d be perfect for it: Jim Carrey.
Carrey auditioned, but Charlie Rocket was hired instead. He tried again, but again got another “no.”
In the book Live from New York, Lorne Michaels says that, “Jim Carrey never auditioned for me personally.” Carrey did eventually make it onto the show however as a guest host in 1996 and again in 2011 and 2014..
Most know that Kenan Thompon was on the popular kids’ sketch show All That before making it onto SNL. What you may not know is that he was the first cast member who was born after the show premiered.
He was born on May 10, 1978. The show first aired on October 11, 1975.
Want to feel even older? Current cast member Pete Davidson was the first cast member born in the ’90s, being born on November 16, 1993. This show is way, way older than its cast members at this point.
Jeff Ross On Weekend Update
Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon wound up replacing Colin Quinn when he left as the anchor of “Weekend Update” in 2000.
However, they weren’t the only funny folks that were up for the coveted position behind the desk.
Comedian Jeff Ross (famous for slinging insults at the Comedy Central Roasts) was also in contention. But Fey had clout: three years’ experience as a writer for the show and one season as head writer got her the gig.
A year before she landed the part of April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation, Aubrey Plaza was passed over for a spot on SNL’s roster.
“I wanted to be on that show for as long as I could remember,” she told The Guardian in 2012. She started taking improv classes in high school and continued after she moved to New York.
She even landed an internship with the show in 2005. She was passed over when she finally auditioned three years later. However, she landed on her feet, quickly snagging a part in Judd Apatow’s Funny People after.
Gilbert Gottfried Beat Out Paul Reubens
Paul Reubens (AKA Pee-wee Herman) has a theory as to why Gilbert Gottfried got the SNL spot the two of them auditioned for in 1980.
He believes that Gottfried was favored for being friends with one of the producers. Reubens told the San Francisco Chronicle, “I was so bitter and angry.”
“I thought, ‘You better think about doing something to take this to the next level. So I borrowed some money and produced this show. I went from this Saturday Night Live reject to having 60 people working for me.”
That show? Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
In one of the show’s most infamous moments, Sinead O’Connor took the crew and the world by surprise by ripping up a picture of the Pope at the end of her musical performance.
To this day, many argue over whether or not it was right for her to do this or her supposed banning from the show.
What does Lorne think? He actually gives her credit, saying, “I think it was the bravest thing she could do. She’d been a nun. To her the church symbolized everything that was bad about growing up in Ireland the way she grew up in Ireland, and so she was making a strong political statement.”
The Festrunk Brothers
The Festrunk brothers, also known as “Two Wild and Crazy Guys,” were some of the earliest and most popular reoccurring characters on the show.
However, did you know that these brothers were actually originally supposed to be in entirely different sketches?
They were initially based on separate characters that Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd had developed individually. When Martin hosted SNL in the 1970s, the two morphed their characters into a set of brothers. When comedic minds like these join forces, magic and history happen.
You may only know Richard Belzer as the Law & Order franchise’s Sergeant John Munch, but he got his start as a stand-up comedian.
Belzer was SNL‘s warm-up comic in its first season, which led to a couple of appearances on the show, including a stint at the “Weekend Update” desk after Chevy Chase suffered a groin injury.
But that wasn’t enough, as Belzer swears Lorne Michaels promised him a permanent place in the cast that he never delivered. “Lorne betrayed me and lied to me—which he denies—but I give you my word he said, ‘I’ll work you into the show,’” Belzer told People Magazine in 1993.
During the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike SNL didn’t air. If you were watching at the time, you likely remember this.
But here’s a fun fact that only a few were privy to: during this strike, the cast still performed together.
The cast gathered at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and put on the show anyway, recruiting Michael Cera to host. Amy Poehler explained, “We’re like cranky trained monkeys if we don’t get to perform.” That was one lucky audience to get such a star studded affair in such an intimate venue!
In 1976, six years after they had disbanded, The Beatles were offered $230 million by promoter Sid Bernstein to reunite.
They declines. Shortly after, Lorne Michaels made a live plea to the group to reunite as musical guests on SNL, saying that NBC had authorized him to offer them “a certified check for $3,000.”
It was obviously a joke, but it almost worked. In David Sheff’s book All We Are Saying, Lennon shared, “Paul and I were together watching that show. He was visiting us at our place in the Dakota. We were watching it and almost went down to the studio, just as a gag. We nearly got into a cab, but we were actually too tired.”
Larry David Quit Then Pretended He Didn't
Larry David wrote for SNL in the 1980s, but always had trouble getting his sketches on the air.
Five minutes before the show went live one Saturday night, David went up to then-producer Dick Ebersol and said, “I’ve had it. I quit.”
Once he left, he realized he made a terrible mistake (Curb Your Enthusiasm theme plays), so he showed up to work on Monday as if nothing ever happened. He continued working there for the rest of the season, and that story was later used on a Seinfeld episode.
Chris Parnell Was Fired Twice
Chris Parnell was arguably the heart of the show for several seasons, so it’s heartbreaking to see this happened to him.
He was actually fired from the show twice: once in 2001, then again in 2006. According to Parnell, the first time was “devastating.”
It had to do with his lack of confidence. He was asked back the following season, though. The second time, the show was making a $10 million budget cut, so he was dropped along with Horatio Sanz and Rachel Dratch. He’s constantly in shows, commercials and movies, though, so he likely got his confidence back.
Nora Dunn And Andrew Dice Clay
When Andrew Dice Clay hosted the show in 1990, cast member Nora Dunn refused to appear.
She cited his misogynistic stand-up act as the reason. The way she went about this protest wound up costing her her spot on the show.
Lorne Michaels claims that she reached out to the press before telling him about the decision, angering him. She has since said, “Saturday Night Live is why I have a name, but it also has its own baggage.”
Eddie Murphy Was Desperate To Join
Considering how successful he was on the show and after he left, it’s hard to imagine Eddie Murphy had a hard time getting cast.
In an effort to be considered for the show, he called SNL talent coordinator Neil Levy every day for a week explaining how desperately he needed the job.
Levy finally decided to give Murphy a job as an extra, but let him audition as well. His audition went so well that he was given a contract on the spot.
In 2013, Don Pardo got laryngitis before the show. Darrell Hammond filled in with his best Pardo impression.
Pardo later claimed, “He did such a job that my sister-in-law in Newport, Rhode Island called up the following Sunday morning and said, ‘You were going back to your acting days! You sounded terrific!’”
After Pardo passed away in 2014, Hammond was named as his replacement and has announced ever since. And another Hammond fun fact: During his 14-year tenure before becoming announcer, he achieved the record for most times saying, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!” at a whopping 70 times.
Hans And Franz Movie
Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested the idea of a Hans and Franz movie to Kevin Nealon and Dana Carvey when he guest starred in a segment.
In 2012, Nealon talked with the Tampa Bay Times, saying, “Yes, we wrote a musical! Hans & Franz: The Girly Man Dilemma. I wrote it with Conan O’Brien, Robert Smigel and Dana Carvey. Arnold Schwarzenegger was co-producing with us, and he was going to star in it. We got it written, sold it to Sony. But I think Arnold got cold feet.”
In a 2010 interview with The A.V. Club, Smigel said that the problem was Last Action Hero, explaining, “That movie came out and it was a failure and I was told by his agent that Arnold decided [adopts Schwarzenegger voice], ‘I will never be myself in a movie again! It can’t be done, this is the proof. I can’t play myself in a movie, automatic failure.’”
Saturday Night Live: The Movie
There have been several movies made about characters that debuted on the show, but there was almost a movie about Saturday Night Live itself.
It was going to be a feature-length series of sketches, which seems a bit redundant. But in 1990, a script with that very premise written by Conan O’Brien, Robert Smigel and Al Franken.
But eventually someone realized this was a pointless endeavor and it was scrapped. Few people even knew of the script’s existence until it was unearthed in 2010.
SNL's Least Successful Movie
Despite there not being a Saturday Night Live: The Movie, the franchise produced several hit films.
It also wound up producing a lot of flops. In 1994, the film It’s Pat grossed a little over $60,000, making it the least successful film based on an SNL character.
What was the most successful film? That would be 1992’s Wayne’s World, which made over $183 million worldwide. This was especially satisfying not only to do producers, but to the star Mike Myers for a very specific reason…
Conan O'Brien Wasn't A Fan Of Wayne Campbell
When Mike Myers was just starting out, he approached a few of the show’s writers, including Conan O’Brien.
He asked what they thought about Wayne, the character he was developing. The group of writers informed him that he could do better.
Of course, Myers wrote the sketch anyway. O’Brien recalled thinking, “This poor kid is going to have to learn the hard way.” The sketch made it to air, but in the unpopular final slot. Obviously, it partied on right into our hearts.