Rachel M. Johnson is a lover of all things pop culture. She's been writing about music and entertainment online for over two years.
Saturday Night Live is an iconic sketch comedy television show that debuted in 1975, and helped launched the careers of many comedians, including Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Mike Meyers and Will Ferrell (to name just a few). Some of the most talented actors and comedians got their start on the show, only to be let go and fired. Let's take a look at the top 10 celebrities fired from Saturday Night Live.
1. Adam Sandler (1990-1995)
Adam Sandler was hired by Lorne Michaels to be a writer for Saturday Night Live in 1990, after he was discovered by comedian Dennis Miller during a stand-up performance. He became a featured player the following year and quickly became a staple for the show, with characters like Opera Man and songs like "The Thanksgiving Song" and "The Chanukah Song" propelling his popularity. Sandler and close friend Chris Farley were both fired from the show in 1995, having since told the Daily Beast, "Yes, we were [fired].We kind of quit at the same time as being fired. It was the end of the run for us."
The firing did not slow down Sandler's career, as he went on to star in many hit films like Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy, The Wedding Singer, Big Daddy and the Hotel Transylvania franchise. He recently starred alongside Jennifer Aniston in the Netflix film Murder Mystery, and will appear in the upcoming crime comedy-drama Uncut Gems.
2. Chris Rock (1990-1993)
Chris Rock became a cast member on Saturday Night Live in 1990, alongside fellow newcomers Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, David Spade and Rob Schneider; the comedians became known as the Bad Boys of SNL. Being a featured performer gave Rock a platform and exposure, and he was known for portraying hilarious characters like Luther Campbell, Old Man Ernie and talk show host Nat X. When Rock voiced his desire to join another sketch series, In Living Color, he was effectively fired from SNL.
Rock has since gone on to have a very successful film and stand-up career, having appeared in movies like The Longest Yard, the Madagascar series, Death at a Funeral and Grown-Ups (and its sequel). He also has starred in critically-acclaimed stand-up specials, and developed, wrote and narrated the sitcom Everybody Hates Chris, which was based on his early life. Rock will be starring in the upcoming fourth season of Fargo.
3. Sarah Silverman (1993-1994)
Sarah Silverman was a writer and featured player on SNL for 18 weeks; only one of the sketches she wrote survived to dress rehearsal, but none aired. She was fired after one season, and later said she was not ready to be on the show when she got the job and was fired via fax. Bob Odenkirk, a former SNL writer, later expressed, "I could see how it wouldn't work at SNL because she's got her own voice, she's very much Sarah Silverman all the time. She can play a character but she doesn't disappear into the character--she makes the character her."
Silverman has gone on to have a very successful stand-up career, and her comedy often addresses sexism, politics and religion. She starred in The Sarah Silverman Program and films like School of Rock, Wreck-It-Ralph and I Smile Back. Silverman currently hosts the Hulu late-night talk show, I Love You, America with Sarah Silverman.
4. Chris Farley (1990-1995)
The late and great Chris Farley was known for his energetic and loud comedic style, and while a cast member on Saturday Night Live he often collaborated with Adam Sandler, David Spade and Rob Schneider, among others. Farley was famous for his hilarious and wild characters like the over-the-top motivational speaker Matt Foley, Chicago sports fan Todd O'Connor and Weekend Update commentator Bennett Brauer. Farley was known for his office pranks and late-night phone calls, and enjoyed doing physical comedy to get laughs. He was fired/quit SNL alongside close friend Adam Sandler in 1995.
During his tenure on Saturday Night Live, Farley appeared in comedy films like Coneheads, Wayne's World, Airheads and Billy Madison. He starred alongside fellow SNL alum David Spade in Tommy Boy and Black Sheep, as well as movies such as Beverly Hills Ninja and Almost Heroes. Farley died from a drug overdose on December 18, 1997 at 33 years old.
5. Robert Downey Jr. (1985-1986)
Robert Downey Jr. was part of the new, younger cast of Saturday Night Live during the 1985-1986 season, and was just 20 years old when he joined. Unfortunately, following poor ratings and reviews of the new cast's talent, Downey Jr. and most of the new crew were effectively fired from the show. The actor himself has even said he was ill-suited for the hit series, having once expressed, "I learned so much in that year about what I wasn't. I was not somebody who was going to come up with a catchphrase. I was not somebody who was going to do impressions. I was somebody who was very ill-suited for rapid-fire sketch comedy. I was like this seems really hard."
Since his short stint on SNL, it's safe to say Downey Jr. has done pretty well for himself. He appeared in films like Weird Science, Chaplin and Natural Born Killers, and after battling a drug addiction, the actor came back stronger than ever becoming the face of the billion-dollar Marvel franchise as Iron Man. Downey Jr. is set to star in the upcoming sports comedy drama All-Star Weekend, alongside Jamie Foxx.
6. Damon Wayans (1985-1986)
Damon Wayans was hired as a featured performer for SNL in 1985, but was subsequently fired after only eleven episodes due to improvising a character during a live sketch, playing the character as a flamboyant gay cop instead of a straight one. Lorne Michaels fired Wayans for insubordination. The comedian would later claim he wanted to be fired from the show, due to a lack of creative freedom and little screen time. Reflecting on the moment, Wayans has since said, "I knew I was going to get fired. Lorne did the right thing."
Wayans went on to appear in another sketch comedy show, In Living Color, and also starred in comedy films like Mo' Money, Major Payne and Bamboozled. He appeared in television shows like My Wife and Kids and most recently Lethal Weapon, a TV version of the hit movie franchise.
7. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (1982-1985)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus became the youngest female cast member in history when she joined Saturday Night Live at twenty-one. During her tenure she appeared alongside multiple actors who would later rise to prominence, including Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal and Martin Short. She was let go from the show in 1985, but met and became close friends with Larry David her final year. Looking back on her time with the show, Louis-Dreyfus once reflected, "I did not adapt well. I was pretty miserable. Plus, there were a lot of drugs, and I didn't realize everybody was on drugs. Larry was there my third year. He never got a sketch on the air. We sort of became friends because we identified with each other's misery."
Louis-Dreyfus would go on to collaborate with Larry David, starring as Elaine Benes for 9 seasons on the beloved hit show Seinfeld. Her notable film roles include National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, A Bug's Life and Planes, as well as the critically-acclaimed television shows The New Adventures of Old Christine and Veep. She is set to star in the upcoming Disney/Pixar animated film Onward.
8. Jenny Slate (2009-2010)
Jenny Slate joined the cast of the sketch comedy show in 2009, but only lasted one season because she accidentally cursed in her first episode. Though the blunder was heard on the live broadcast, it was removed from reruns. During her short stint, Slate impersonated celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Hoda Kotb and Kristen Stewart. Her contract was not renewed following the completion of her first season. Slate once opened up about the experience to Glamour magazine, having said, "Lorne and I never talked when I was fired at the end of the season. I got the news online. I've still never watched the clip of my f---up."
Since her stint on the show, Slate has done well for herself, having starred in films like Obvious Child, Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets (and its sequel) and Venom. She has had reoccurring roles in television shows such as Bob's Burgers, House of Lies, Parks and Recreation and Star vs. the Forces of Evil. Slate currently provides her voice for the animated shows Big Mouth and Muppet Babies and will appear in the upcoming Sofia Coppola comedy-drama film On the Rocks.
9. Joan Cusack (1985-1986)
Joan Cusack joined the cast of SNL in 1985, appearing alongside newcomers like Robert Downey Jr. and Damon Wayans. Her reoccurring characters included Selena, a socially inept girl who tries to ask out her equally socially inept boyfriend Biff (played by Jon Lovitz) and impersonations of celebrities like Queen Elizabeth II, Brooke Shields and Jane Fonda. With low ratings and poor reception, most of the new cast was subsequently fired after their first season.
After her departure from Saturday Night Live, Cusack found success in both film and television, appearing in movies like Working Girl, In and Out, Runaway Bride, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and as Jessie in the Toy Story franchise. Her television credits include Peep and the Big Wide World, Shameless and A Series of Unfortunate Events. Cusack most recently reprised her role of Jessie in the blockbuster hit Toy Story 4.
10. Rob Riggle (2004-2005)
In 2004, Lorne Michaels hired Rob Riggle, a former US marine as a new cast member for the show's thirtieth season. During his one year stint, he impersonated celebrities like Larry the Cable Guy, Toby Keith and Howard Dean. After completing his first season, Riggle's contract was not renewed by the show. Of his experience on the show, the comedic actor once said, "This is the first showbiz gig I ever got so it's overwhelming to begin with. It's an unbelievable pace and pressure, and I got to a point where I didn't even know what was funny anymore by the end of the season."
Upon his firing from SNL, Riggle didn't stay down for long. Following his departure, he joined The Daily Show in 2006, and also went on to appear on shows like Funny or Die Presents, Modern Family and most recently as a commentator for the sports reality show Holey Moley. His film credits include The Other Guys, Step Brothers, Let's Be Cops, as well as the upcoming family comedy film The War with Grandpa, opposite Robert De Niro.
© 2019 Rachel M Johnson