People that have followed “Saturday Night Live” for years, who read about it obsessively, and who love the behind-the-scenes gossip likely know many of these facts, or at one time did and have forgotten them (that was the case for me in several instances). Nevertheless, “Saturday Night Live” has been around for 35 years, and as new generations come to the show, they’re not as likely to know about all the historical shenanigans, so this is for the newbies, the forgetful ones, and those who have only had a passing interest in “SNL” over the years.
If you want to know more about “Saturday Night Live,” I recommend the following books (which is where much of the information below came from): Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Tom Shales’ Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. There’s also a neat but not incredibly insightful James Franco documentary that followed the process of making an episode with host John Malcovich. Jay Mohr also has a book, but it’s not very good. Of course, with enough sleuthing, you can find most of what you want to know from the Internet by reading, for instance, a post like this one which was a tremendous amount of fun to put together (and doesn’t contain a tenth of the juicy behind-the-scenes gossip available).
1. Contrary to what most believe, Adam Sandler and Chris Farley did not leave “Saturday Night Live.” They were fired.
2. The commercials that are filmed on Saturday Night Live, at least as recent as a few years ago, were all pitched and filmed before the season began. It’s a very competitive process among the “SNL” writers because of the expense of filming them. Commercials can cost up to $100,000 to film.
3. Among the almost anchors of “Saturday Night Live,” Jason Sudeikis nearly got the gig over Seth Meyers; Marc Maron approached Lorne Michaels about replacing Norm MacDonald; Kevin Brennan nearly got the job over Colin Quinn; Laura Kightlinger (now a consulting producer on “2 Broke Girls”) was set to co-anchor with Norm MacDonald until he refused; Tim Kazurinsky was offered the job but turned it down; Jeffrey Ross was in the mix before Tina Fey and Seth Meyers were hired; and Al Franken wanted to replace Kevin Nealon but was denied.
4. During the five-year period in which Lorne Michaels had left the show, both Robert Townshend and Charlie Barnett were originally chosen over Eddie Murphy, but talent coordinator Neil Levy threatened to quit unless Murphy was hired. The then showrunner Jean Doumanian agreed to do so, but only as a featured player. (Barnett was let go because it was learned that he was illiterate).
5. Steven Seagall was not only considered one of the worst hosts of all time by the audience, but by the writers, who thought he was a terror, suggesting at one point a sketch in which he played a rape counselor who tried to sleep with his patients. (Robert Blake was also considered by the cast to be a huge dick).
6. If you’ve read Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live (and you should — it’s fascinating, and it’s where many of these facts derive), you’ll also learn that probably the two most well-liked, well-regarded cast members both had short stints and didn’t have much of an impact on the show: Chris Rock and Bob Odenkirk (Hartman, Sandler, Aykroyd, and Gilda Radner were also spoken off with immense affection). Meanwhile, Janeane Garaffalo and Nora Dunn (who apparently handled the Andrew Dice Clay situation horribly behind the scenes) come off as two of the least liked cast members, except for …
7. Everyone hated Chevy Chase. Everyone. Unsurprisingly, he was a terroristic sh*t to everyone, and when Will Ferrell is publicly bad-mouthing you, you know you’re a lousy human being. His most egregious act was pitching a sketch in which Terry Sweeney (an openly gay cast member) would play a person with AIDS who is weighed by a doctor to see how much weight he lost.
8. During its first season, “Saturday Night Live” was known only as “Saturday Night” because another show that aired during its premiere season went by the name “Saturday Night Live.”
9. In its eighth season, in an episode hosted by the then youngest host ever, Drew Barrymore, Andy Kaufman was banned by the show by virtue of an home audience vote using a 1-900 number.
10. Eddie Murphy is the only cast member to ever host the show while he was a cast member, filling in for Nick Nolte after Nolte drank too much the night before. After the cold open, Murphy announced, “Live for New York, it’s the Eddie Murphy Show.” The cast was not pleased. In fact, what I gather is that, during the Eddie Murphy years, no one in the cast really cared that much for Murphy and Joe Piscopo (who were the two most featured cast members), and they didn’t care much for the rest of the cast (and the stories about Piscopo are legendary. He was a preening, paranoid ass.)
11. During the 7th season, after Dick Ebersol took over for Lorne Michaels, the “Live from New York” line was cut from the cold open. In fact, cold opens were not often used, and sometimes, the monologes were skipped, as well. During the Ebersol years, “Weekend Update” also went by several other names, including “SNL Newsbreak.”
12. Donald Glover was one of several people who auditioned to play Barack Obama (a part that went to Fred Armisen). Tangentially related, I thought it was fascinating that, during his time as a writer on “30 Rock,” Glover — because he was a Southerner — often wrote for Kenneth the Page because he was best suited.
13. After season 10, NBC came to an agreement to cancel “Saturday Night Live,” only agreeing to reverse the decision if Lorne Michaels would return. The show was nearly cancelled again after the 20th season after a massive loss of cast members, including Mike Meyers, Janeane Garafalo, Morwenna Banks, Ellen Cleghorne, Chris Elliott, Chris Farley, Laura Kightlinger, Michael McKean, Jay Mohr, Kevin Nealon and Adam Sandler.
14. Damon Wayans, bored with the parts he was given, was fired from the show for playing a police officer as gay when it was not asked for or appropriate to the sketch. (He was asked two months later, however, to return to do a stand-up act on the show).
15. In season 13, Gilda Radner was set to host the show, but the writer’s strike resulted in a production stoppage. She would not be able to make it up, unfortunately, as she died from cancer the next year. In fact, she died on the day of season 14’s season finale.
16. In 1996, Rage Against Machine’s second song was cut, and the band ordered out of the studio, after the hung two American flags upside down during their first performance in an episode hosted by presidential candidate Steve Forbes (on their way out, they shredded up the flags and tossed the remains in Forbes’ dressing room).
17. Three cast members have been fired and re-hired by the show: John Belushi, Tim Meadows, and Chris Parnell.
18. Tina Fey’s book, Bossypants, provides quite a few interesting insights on Saturday Night Live — including the fact that, during her tenure, the male writers had a piss jar in their office (yes, a jar in which they urinated because they were too lazy to go to the bathroom). One of the interesting “SNL” details she talked about were “Sneaker Uppers”: When the real person shows up alongside his or her “SNL” impressionist to basically say they are “in on the joke.” Fey said that the cast hates Sneaker Uppers, and Fey absolutely dreaded her Sneaker Upper with Sarah Palin and in fact, refused a two-shot (i.e., share the screen with Palin) because Fey didn’t want to be seen essentially endorsing Palin. That’s why Palin’s cameo was filmed backstage standing alongside Lorne Michaels (that episode, however, is the show’s highest rated since the Nancy Kerrigan episode in 1994). Amusingly, many may not remember this, but Fey was not actually a cast member when she appeared as Palin (she was already two seasons into “30 Rock,”) although as Fey pointed out, most people didn’t realize that when she returned.
19. Kenan Thompson is the first cast member born after the premiere of Saturday Night Live (in auditions, he beat out his former colleague, Kel Mitchell, from “Kenan and Kel.”) Anthony Michael Hall is the youngest cast member ever (17), although Eddie Murphy was only 19 when he began. Abby Elliot (21) was the youngest female cast member (and the first child of a former cast member).
20. It wasn’t until 2006, with Julia Louis Dreyfus, before the first former female cast member came back to host the show.
21. The show’s longest serving cast member is Darrell Hammond, who was on for 14 seasons.
22. Don Pardo, who is in his 90s, began prerecording his introductions from his home in Arizona in 2010. (Darrell Hammond, doing a Pardo impersonation, has also filled in from time to time).
23. There have been eight premature deaths of “Saturday Night Live” cast members: Chris Farley and John Belushi (drug overdoses); Gilda Radner (ovarian cancer); Danitra Vance (breast cancer); Michael O’Donoghue (cerebral hemorrhage); Phil Hartman (murdered by his wife); Charles Rocket (suicide by box cutter to the throat); and Tom Davis (throat and neck cancer).
24. The “Saturday Night Live” band (which had Paul Schaefer as bandleader from 1975 - 1980) plays musical interludes during the commercial breaks. However, apparently, occasionally affilate stations do not have commercials, and in those cases, they get to hear the musical interludes played behind an “SNL” bumper.
25. If you become an “SNL” cast member, NBC owns you. Your first year, you make around $6000 an episode (which increases the longer you’re one), but apparently, you must sign a contract which says that if NBC can offer you a sitcom, and while you’re allowed to reject the first two offers, you must take the third. To date, Will Ferrell is the show’s highest paid cast member, making $350,000 in 2001. (Cast members also make extra money if they write a sketch that makes it on to air).
26. The biggest box-office failure for an “SNL” movie, among many, was It’s Pat!, which made only $60,000. The two most successful movies were The Blues Brothers ($115 million) and Wayne’s World ($121 million).
27. Only one episode has been “cancelled,” an October 1986 episode featuring Roseanne Arquette, which was pushed because of the extra innings in a Mets/Red Sox World Series. The episode nevertheless taped starting at 1:30 a.m., and was aired three weeks later.
28. Remember that 2008 “Weekend Update” in which Tina Fey proclaimed “Bitch is the new Black,” in reference to Hilary Clinton? That was something of a last minute change, and Fey didn’t intent to be political about it. However, after the show, she received thank you calls from both Bill and Hillary Clinton.
29. If you haven’t read Jay Mohr’s book on his short stint at “Saturday Night Live,” don’t bother. It’s not that fascinating, and the behind-the-scenes stuff isn’t very enlightening, except to know that Rob Schneider was a huge asshole to him, and that Roseanne was a terrible, bossy and childish host, who belched through an entire writer’s meeting.
30. Alec Baldwin currently has the record for most stints as host (ahead of Steve Martin); Steve Martin is the only person to serve as host three times in one season; and John Goodman at one time hosted the show 11 years in a row.