Saturday Night Live has been around for 43 years which is a long time when it comes to TV—how many shows do you know of that have had 43 seasons? The late-night sketch comedy show started in 1975 and it was only created because Johnny Carson wanted The Best of Carson reruns to start airing during the weekdays instead of the weekends so that he could take some time off. NBC had to scramble to find something to fill in the Saturday time slot and SNL was born. Before it actually became Saturday Night Live, it was actually called NBC's Saturday Night because Saturday Night Live was already being used for a show on ABC. When the ABC show flopped, NBC bought the rights to the name and started using Saturday Night Live in 1977.
Initially, SNL acquired a cult following but there were many people who were offended by certain sketches. Even though NBC would regularly receive angry letters and phone calls from older viewers about the programming, they decided to keep it on the air. 43 years later, it's still on the air and just as popular as ever. During these 43 years, there have been plenty of feuds, fights, drama, secrets, and many stories that went on behind-the-scenes of the show. Here are some of the more juicier behind-the-scenes moments!
18 This Host Walked Off Stage In The Middle Of A Sketch
Not every guest can handle being on live TV and there have been many slip-ups over the years. Live TV, in general, is always bound to have mistakes and there have been small technical mistakes that you may not have noticed and then some really big mistakes like when Ashlee Simpson started doing a jig onstage when the wrong song started playing. Fortunately, when it comes to the sketches, the cast members are professionals and they can do a pretty good job of covering up the mistake.
One such mistake has to do with a host who accidentally walked off stage when he wasn't supposed to. According to Radar Online, Nasim Pedrad told the story:
“I had a host accidentally leave our sketch before it was over. The host left early by a minute and a half without even realizing it..."
"...The sketch awkwardly faded to black in the middle of one of our lines, and the whole thing was a mess. My favorite part was the host sweetly came up to me during the goodbyes and was like, ‘Hey, we did it!’ And I did not have the heart to tell him that we certainly did not.” She did not reveal which host it was but according to some sleuths on Reddit, they determined that she was probably talking about the sketch where Bruce Willis played a centaur.
17 NBC Basically Owns The "SNL" Cast
Most of the SNL cast members don't last very long and considering how much they make, it's understandable. According to Pajiba, cast members make an annual salary of $60,000 and that increases each year (so far, Will Ferrel is the show's highest paid cast member after he was paid $350,000 in 2001). Also, the cast members can receive bonuses for the sketches they write that make it on the air. What most people don't know is that the cast members often have to write for themselves.
According to Salon, Rachel Dratch explained that if a cast member couldn't keep up, they were fired:
"Some people that were there for like a year or two ended up getting fired, and it wasn’t because they weren’t funny; they just never found how to write for the show."
SNL is not an easy environment to work in and NBC practically owns the cast members. According to Cheat Sheet, if a cast member is offered a sitcom by NBC, they're allowed to reject the first two offers but then they would be required to take the third offer.
16 The Cast Have Been Accused Of Stolen Sketches Many Times
SNL has been accused of plagiarism several times over the years—most recently with a sketch in 2015 called "Settl" about a dating app for "sad people." According to Medium, Ben Zweig wasn't happy when he saw that they "ripped off" the sketch he had written for Comedy Hack Day but he also managed to make a joke about it, writing that he would forgive SNL if they gave him a "handwritten apology on a napkin that Ryan Gosling has breathed on."
In 2014, SNL was accused of plagiarism again with a sketch called "River Sisters" in which Cecily Strong, Sasheer Zamata, and Sarah Silverman play Tina Turner impersonators. This sketch sounds a lot like a Groundlings sketch in which two comics play Tina Turner impersonators. According to Uproxx, Groundlings instructor Ian Gary went to Facebook to share his disappointment: “Over the years I have seen MANY, MANY sketches flat out stolen from my friends by Saturday Night Live. Nearly verbatim." Other allegedly plagiarized sketches include “Ladies Who Lunch”, “Open Fly Jeans”, and “Picture Perfect”.
15 The Story Behind Bill Hader's Stefon
This behind-the-scenes secret is not nearly as riveting as the rest but it is enlightening. Stefon, played by Bill Hader, has long been a fan favorite (he first appeared on the show ten years ago in 2008!) but not everyone knows the origin story of this classic character. Stefon was created by Hader and John Mulaney. According to CinemaBlend, the character first appeared in a sketch with Ben Affleck called "Movie Pitch with Stefon" but it was his appearance in a Weekend Update as a "City Correspondent" in 2010 that made him so popular. Hader continued to play the character until he left the show in 2013.
One of Stefon's famous characteristics is that he often puts his hands over his mouth—which was not initially scripted.
Hader would do this so that he could hide his laughter. Mulaney would regularly set Hader up to laugh by changing some jokes just before the live broadcast. This would make Hader break because he was reading the jokes for the first time and couldn't help but laugh—just like the rest of us.
14 Not Everyone Makes It Onto "SNL"
Comics all over the country aspire to be a part of the SNL cast but not everyone can make the cut. Even some of the funniest comics and comedy actors have auditioned for SNL but they were rejected. According to the Daily Mail, the list of rejected comics is surprisingly long: Jim Carrey, Steve Carell (who lost out to Will Ferrell), Stephen Colbert, Zach Galifianakis (who was hired on as a writer instead of a cast member), Aubrey Plaza, David Cross, John Goodman (who lost out to Joe Piscopo), Kevin Hart, Lisa Kudrow, Kathy Griffin (Kudrow and Griffin both lost out to Julia Sweeney), Geena Davis, and Donald Glover.
For the 40th anniversary episode, some of the auditions were aired. Pete Davidson the clips by saying: "Here's a look back at the auditions of some people Lorne hired - and a few he maybe should have." This segment included Stephen Colbert's 1992 audition, Jim Carrey auditioning in 1980, and Kevin Hart's failed 2013 audition. Hindsight is 20/20, seeing as a lot of these comedians who originally auditioned for SNL went on to bigger and better things. We're sure Lorne Michaels would go back in time for a few of them, especially Kevin Hart!
13 The Dreaded "Sneaker Upper" With Sarah Palin
In Tina Fey's book, Bossypants, she told many interesting behind-the-scenes secrets that might change the way you look at SNL. Fey wrote about her iconic stint on SNL playing Sarah Palin during the 2008 election.
Generally, when a cast member impersonates a real person, the person might show up alongside the impressionist so that they can seem like they're "in on the joke." This is called a "Sneaker Upper" and the cast dreads them—at least according to Fey.
Fey knew that a Sneaker Upper with the real Sarah Palin was imminent and she refused to share a screen with her at all because she didn't want it to seem like she was endorsing her—or make it seem like Palin was in on the joke. It's well known that Palin was never in on the joke, especially considering that Fey's impression of her practically destroyed her political career according to The Boston Globe.
Another thing some may not have realized is that Fey wasn't even a part of the SNL cast when she played Palin and she was already two seasons into 30 Rock but since the resemblance was so uncanny, she was a shoo-in. This premise was used by Fey in an episode of 30 Rock called "Governor Dunston."
12 Live For New York, It's The Eddie Murphy Show
In the entire history of the show, Eddie Murphy is the only cast member to ever host the show while he was still a cast member. He only hosted SNL because the actual guest, Nick Nolte, got too intoxicated the night before the show. The cast was not happy when, instead of saying "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night Live" after the cold open, Murphy announced, “Live for New York, it’s the Eddie Murphy Show.” According to Pajiba, the cast didn't care much for Murphy because of his arrogant attitude.
His arrogance was especially off-putting considering that in order to even be considered for the show, Murphy would call up Neil Levy, the SNL talent coordinator, every day for a week to tell him how much he needed the job according to Movie Pilot. Eventually, Levy gave him a job as an extra but he soon became a featured cast member. According to The Things, the best-liked cast members on the show were Chris Rock, Bob Odenkirk, Phil Hartman, Adam Sandler, Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner and the least-liked were Joe Piscopo, Janeane Garofalo, Nora Dunn, Chevy Chase, and Eddie Murphy.
11 Adam Sandler And Chris Farley, Quit Or Fired?
In the 1990s, Adam Sandler and Chris Farley were two of the biggest stars on SNL but, at the height of their popularity, they both left the show suddenly without giving a reason. At this point, Sandler and Farley had both starred in popular movies: Billy Madison and Tommy Boy respectively so it might have made sense that the two left to focus on their movie careers. But that was not the case.
In actuality, the two stars were fired from the show and, according to Vanity Fair, Sandler still says that he does not know exactly why he and Farley were let go in the first place.
Sandler also made it seem like it could have been his decision to leave SNL and he wasn't actually fired at all according to Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. Regardless, Sandler went on to make a name for himself (for better or for worse) in Hollywood but Farley was not so lucky. He managed to snag a few roles after leaving SNL but he passed away in 1997, leaving many SNL cast members and fans heartbroken.
10 Donald Glover Could Have Been Obama
When Barrack Obama first ran for president, it was clear that SNL would need someone to play him. The role eventually went to Fred Armisen but it was a controversial choice considering that Armisen is not black and had to wear dark makeup to make him look black. Maureen Ryan wrote an article for the Chicago Tribune back in 2008 which read: "I find 'SNL's' choice inexplicable. Obama's candidacy gives us solid proof of the progress that African-Americans have made in this country. I guess 'SNL' still has further to go on that front."
What makes it even more troubling is that Donald Glover, a perfectly capable and talented black comedic actor, could have played the role of Obama but he was turned down in favor of Armisen. Glover went on to write for 30 Rock which Tina Fey created and based on her experiences (both good and bad) at SNL. Of course, Glover has moved on to bigger and better things with his music career, his hit TV show Atlanta, and his stint in the new Star Wars movie—but he would have made a great Obama.
9 Lorne Michaels Called Louis CK "Undisciplined And Unprofessional"
We all know now that Louis C.K. has been in the media as of late. However, before all of that, the Louie star was at the height of his career and he was asked to host SNL for the second time.
For his second appearance, the comedian planned on doing a 12-minute monologue which is outrageously long considering most monologues are about 5 or 6 minutes. Lorne Michaels told him that he needed to cut it down.
In an interview with Judd Apatow, Louis C.K. said that he was so outraged by this: "My face turned red. I was angry. I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know. I thought it was pretty good. And [explicit] you.’ I was really mad. And then later this woman comes in and says, ‘Uh, we’re one minute under.’ And so I go, ‘Then I’m doing twelve.’" He then went on to say that Michaels told him to calm down and that he would be allowed to do a 7-minute monologue which no one else had been allowed to do. The comedian asked Michaels what would happen if he just did the monologue the way he wanted to do it and Michaels responded by saying: "Then we’ll know that you’re very undisciplined and unprofessional." In the end, C.K ended up shortening the monologue to fit Lorne Michaels needs.
8 Adrien Brody Was Never Invited Back To Host, Among Many Others
While some celebrities have appeared on the show multiple times over the years such as Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin but there are some celebrities who will never appear on the show ever again. According to TooFab, Adrien Brody is widely regarded as one of the worsts hosts in the show's existence after he decided to wear a dreadlock wig and speak in a stereotypical Jamaican accent before turning the show over to musical guest, Sean Paul.
According to Civilized, Martin Lawrence was banned from the show after he went on an offensive way and too explicit rant about female hygiene. Milton Berle and Steven Seagal were banned for being generally rude and unprofessional to the cast.
Louise Lasser was the first person to ever not be welcomed back to the show after she was supposed to host but ended up locking herself in her dressing room and only came out to do one sketch.
Musical guests have been banned as well including Elvis Costello who played "Radio, Radio", a song that was an attack on the media, Rage Against the Machine for hanging the American flag upside down, and Sinead O'Connor for tearing up a picture of Pope John-Paul II on air.
7 Jenny Slate Made A Big Mistake In Her First Ever Sketch
Before Jenny Slate became the indie darling she is today, she got her start on SNL. You might not remember her stint on SNL because she didn't appear in many episodes after she made a big mistake in her first sketch. Her very first sketch was one she wrote herself called “Biker Chick Chat” but it was in this sketch that she accidentally said an explicit word right on live TV. Right after she said the expletive, you can see her react to her mistake by puffing her cheeks. You can practically see the regret in her eyes.
After this event, she wasn't immediately fired from the show.
In fact, she was given some time to finish her run on the series but when the season ended, her contract was not renewed and she only found out that she was fired when she read about it online according to Last Night On. However, just because she made a big mistake doesn't mean that she ruined her career for good. She has since gone on to star in multiple indie movies such as Obvious Child and will appear in the 2018 superhero movie Venom.
6 Larry David Dreaded His Time Working On "SNL"
Since Larry David created and wrote for Seinfeld, one of the most successful TV shows of all time, you might think that he would have done well as a writer for SNL but that was not the case. David wrote for the show back in the 1980s but he wasn't very successful back then. According to Mental Floss,
he struggled to get his sketches on the air for years and he was so irritated by it that he went up to his producer and said, "I've had it. I quit."
Almost immediately, he realized how much money he would lose if he quit his job so he showed up to work on Monday, acting as if the outburst had never even happened and he worked there for the rest of the season. If this story sounds familiar, it's because it was used in an episode of Seinfeld in which George quits his job in a rage then tries to show up to work then following Monday—though it didn't go as well for him as it did for David. One good thing did come out of his work at SNL though: he met and bonded with Julia Louis Dreyfus who he later cast as Elaine on Seinfeld.
5 Saturday Night Live: The Movie
Believe it or not, there was actually an SNL movie that was in the works back in the late 80s. Considering that the length of a typical SNL episode is the length of a movie, making an actual feature film seems pretty silly. However, that didn't stop the SNL team (including Conan O’Brien, Robert Smigel, Al Franken, and Greg Daniels) from writing up a script with the title The Saturday Night Live Movie. According to Splitsider, the movie would have been a feature-length, string of comedy sketches on the theme of going to the movies. Doesn't sound so appealing, does it?
Apparently, Lorne Michaels thought the idea wasn't great because when he came back to the show after he had left in the early 80s, he put an end to the project.
Most people had never even heard of the project at all until it was uncovered in 2010. Some of the sketches found in the script included a spoof of E.T., crime movie parody called “Tip Stealer", and a sketch that involved Dana Carrey playing a young George H.W. Bush.
4 Tina Fey Recalls The Weekend Update News Room Being Much Different Than The Regular Writers' Room
If you're a 30 Rock fan, you might remember the episode where Liz Lemon (played by Tina Fey) finds out that one of the writers uses jars to do the unthinkable. Unfortunately, this was actually inspired by Fey's own experience writing at SNL which she revealed in her book Bossypants:
“In the Weekend Update offices—which were like the smarter but meaner older brother of the regular writers’ offices— and there weren’t any cups..."
"...There was a jar. It was a jar of [unidentified liquid] with a lid on it, and, judging by its consistency, I suspect that the writers sometimes spat into it. Or that one of them was terribly ill. You could see it when you came in the door, backlit by the afternoon sun, and at first, I thought it was a test. If you saw the jar and dared to ignore it and continue into the room, you were welcomed. ‘Welcomed’ is too strong a word." This is just one of the many strange stories Fey wrote about her experience being one of the few female writers on the show. If you want to know more about the wild and crazy things that went at SNL in Tina's point of view, we highly recommend reading her novel.
3 John Belushi Wouldn't Participate Certain Sketches For Absurd Reasons
There are some less than positive stories to tell about John Belushi who actually admitted to disliking working with his female castmates. According to The Huffington Post, Jane Curtin revealed that Belushi wouldn't want to perform in any sketches that were written by the female writers. In fact, Curtin also revealed that many of the women were actually unable to contribute to the show because the men didn't want to work with them. Curtin said that Belushi was the worst offender and he said that "women are just fundamentally not funny." She went on to say that Belushi "felt as though it was his duty to sabotage pieces written by women.”
What many forget is that Gilda Radner was the first person to actually be hired by Lorne Michaels to appear on SNL and it was many of the women on the cast that made the SNL in the '70s so iconic. Even though some of the women that were in the cast at the same time as Belushi were incredibly talented and super funny, Curtin said that he still did everything he could to make sure that the female writers didn't get their sketches on the show. We're happy to report that there is nothing of this sort on the present day SNL cast.
2 Everyone Dreaded Working With Chevy Chase
The fact that Chevy Chase was widely disliked by his SNL cast members is no secret, according to Gawker, but you'll be surprised to find out all of the heinous things he did to enrage them. First of all, he notoriously left the show only six episodes into the second season and tried to make a name for himself in Hollywood. When he came back to host, he was totally unprofessional to all of the cast members, including Bill Murray who replaced him and, eventually, became much more successful.
According to Digital Spy Murray was so tired of Chase's behavior that he confronted him backstage and the two got into a fight which Murray later called "a Hollywood fight."
As if all of this wasn't bad enough, he was also known to be not-so-welcoming to many people and he was known to be very rude toward Terry Sweeney, the first openly gay SNL cast member. Chase pitched an idea for a sketch where they weighed him every week to see if he had a disease. He was forced to apologize according to Gawker. The final straw was when he hit Cheri Oteri on the back of the head, which he claimed was a joke. Nobody thought it was funny and he was banned from SNL for life.
1 The Real Story Behind The Sinead O'Connor Situation
There are few SNL moments that are more iconic than the moment in which Sinead O'Connor tore up a photo of the Pope John Paul II after her musical performance. O'Connor's career went downhill after this event but, looking back on it now, many believe that the outcome was completely unfair.
As outlandish as this moment was, people believed that she deserved more credit for taking a stand against what was happening in the world at the time. According to 'The Atlantic', an overlooked fact about the event was that O'Connor was singing Bob Marley's "War" but she replaced references to apartheid African regimes to what was going on in the Catholic Church. She took it upon herself to make a huge political statement, and it was known that the producers of SNL had no idea it was going to happen.
Not long after the incident, O'Connor explained the meaning behind the act to Time, saying: "It's not the man, obviously—it's the office and the symbol of the organization that he represents." Sixteen years later, many believe that what O'Connor did was raise awareness for this issue and should be praised for her political stance instead of shunned from Hollywood.
References: The Huffington Post, Radar Online, Reddit, Digital Spy, Gawker, Salon, Cheat Sheet, Medium, Uproxx, CinemaBlend, Daily Mail, The Atlantic, Time, The Boston Globe, Pajiba, Movie Pilot, Vanity Fair, Chicago Tribune, Vox, Gothamist, TooFab, Civilized, Last Night On, Splitsider