After 307 Emmy Award nominations and 86 wins, Saturday Night Live just pulled the curtain on its 47th season, saying goodbye to some of the show’s longest-running players: Kate McKinnon, Aidy Bryant, Pete Davidson, and Kyle Mooney. Jammed with a season-high cast of 21 actors, this past season’s turnover was a major blow, but not the only one the show has experienced in its 47 years.
Many of the actors SNL made stars, such as Eddie Murphy, Chevy Chase, and Tina Fey, had the luxury of choosing to take their final SNL bow to move on to greater success. However, not every departed cast member left SNL of their own accord – they were fired.
Robert Downey Jr.
The future Iron Man and Avenger was only 20 years old when he joined SNL’s 1985-1986’s season 11 following Lorne Michaels’ brief exit from the show. Michaels returned, casting actors who weren’t necessarily comedians. Downey Jr. was one of the new troupe, along with Joan Cusack, Anthony Michael Hall and Randy Quaid.
Considered one of the worst seasons in the show’s history, Downey Jr. was fired with most of Season 11’s brutal cast shakeup. He’s since gone on to become a twice-nominated Oscar contender (Chaplin, Tropic Thunder). After some devastating personal and career lows, Downey emerged as a comeback king, starring in one of the most successful franchise movies in cinematic history, Avengers: Endgame, cementing himself as one of the most beloved movie action heroes of all time.
Lorne Michaels also hired Joan Cusack, John Cusack’s older sister for the disaster known as season 11. Joan is considered one of the most solid character actors today; however, her single season from 1985-86 came to an abrupt end with the rest of that season’s cast.
Like Robert Downey Jr., Joan is a fantastic actress who got caught up in the wrong cast at the wrong time and after being released from SNL, her career soared. She’s been nominated for two Best Supporting Actress Oscars (Working Girl, In & Out), voiced Jessie in the Toy Story franchise, and received an Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series Emmy Award for her portrayal of Sheila Jackson in Shameless.
At 61 years old, Damon Wayans remains one of today’s most recognized comedians. Throughout his career, he has brought fans the hilarious (Major Payne), the action (The Last Boy Scout) and even the wholesome (My Wife & Kids). However, many have forgotten his 11-episode stint during SNL‘s 1985-86 season.
Weary of subjecting his comedic skills to sketches he deemed unfunny, Wayans went rogue and off-script during a live sketch on air. After his firing, Wayans shot to fame as a featured player in brother Keenen Ivory Wayans’ hit show, In Living Color. Ironically, one of Damon’s most popular characters on In Living Color – Blaine Edwards in the Men On… sketches, was loosely based on the sketch that got him fired from SNL.
Before auditioning for SNL, Laurie Metcalf was a theater mainstay. Cast in a pre-taped Weekend Update segment conducting a man on the street interview and a single segment that never made it to air, Laurie’s five-day stint became the shortest tenure in SNL history, in 1981.
After the Writer’s Guild of America Strike, Metcalf wasn’t asked to return to SNL. Metcalf later shot to stardom as Jackie Harris in Roseanne and has won a slew of accolades, including Tony Award wins for her work on Broadway, Emmy Awards, an Oscar nomination, and a host of other critic’s awards and nominations. Today, she’s a household name, in spite of her forgotten role on Saturday nights.
In 1990, Farley was introduced as an SNL cast member alongside Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Tim Meadows, David Spade, and Rob Schneider, collectively known as the “Bad Boys of SNL.” Farley’s expert timing and physical comedy made him a perfect fit for the show.
Farley’s hilarious, spot-on impersonations of famous celebrities, including Tom Arnold, Carnie Wilson and Meatloaf made him a permanent SNL fixture until 1995 when he was fired, alongside most of the other cast members. Following SNL, Farley starred in Tommy Boy and Black Sheep, proving himself to be a bankable star before his tragic death in 1997 at the age of 33.
The Weekend Update anchor joined SNL in 1993, performing dead-pan impressions of Larry King, David Letterman, and Burt Reynolds. A former writer for Roseanne and The Dennis Miller Show, Macdonald was originally hired as an SNL writer, before taking on the Weekend Update anchor spot until he was fired in 1998.
Macdonald’s time as an anchor was wrought with controversy, as nothing was off-limits for his biting commentary. Eventually, he was removed from the anchor’s desk due to declining ratings, although Macdonald claimed the switch was a political move. Afterward, he made a number of television and movie appearances – including the Dr. Doolittle trilogy and The Norm Show, before his death in 2021.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is one of the most award-winning actresses in television history. From television roles (The New Adventured of Old Christine) to film and animated features (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, A Bug’s Life), her impressive resume reaches far beyond her run as SNL regular from 1982 to 1985.
Dreyfus has said her time on SNL was miserable and at the end of her third season, she was asked not to return to the cast. Her brilliant comedic timing didn’t work out on SNL; however, her role as Elaine Benes on Seinfeld garnered her a slew of award nominations and wins, turning her into one of the most beloved character actresses in television history.
Over the last decade, Sarah Silverman has proven herself to be comedy gold, establishing herself as one of the most iconic comedians of today. However, the 22-year-old rising comic joined SNL in 1993. Without social media around to expose the masses to Silverman’s biting humor, she lasted a single season and was fired via fax.
Young and inexperienced, Silverman literally wasn’t ready for primetime. By her own admission, the sketches she penned weren’t funny, none of them made it to air, and she was quickly let go. Since her SNL dismissal, she’s unapologetically used humor to address scathing social issues and made a number of film appearances, but it’s her stand-up comedy and role as an author that has kept Sarah Silverman relevant.
Before rising to legendary Hollywood status, comedian Chris Rock spent three seasons on SNL (1990-1993). He auditioned for SNL with Adam Sandler, who was hired as a writer while Rock was immediately made cast member. On-screen, Rock was hilarious; however, behind the scenes, he wasn’t happy.
Like other Black cast members before him, Rock complained of the stereotypical roles he was thrown into, and sketches he didn’t consider funny. When his complaints weren’t heard, Rock grumbled that he was ready to leave for another sketch show – In Living Color. SNL execs called Rock’s bluff and fired him. He ended up on In Living Color after all, before the show was canceled three weeks later. Since then, Rock has enjoyed a phenomenal career in television and film, including three Emmy award-winning turns for his comedy specials.
Adam Sandler spent 1990-1995 on SNL, before being fired along with Chris Farley after five seasons. Although he had to fight for screen time instead of just writing, Sandler’s onscreen assets were eventually recognized, getting him promoted to series regular.
Low ratings prompted a cast shake-up, coupled with Sandler’s backstage antics that weren’t appreciated by NBC execs. However, he was going to quit before getting fired. SNL beat him to it, and bid him farewell. Being fired from the show didn’t hurt Sandler’s career, though, and he’s had a string of hit movies (Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, Hubie Halloween), his Happy Madison production company has enjoyed success for decades, and his new Netflix film, Hustle, proves he’s still a Hollywood power player.
Next: 10 Best TV Shows Starring SNL Alumni According To IMDb
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