31 Famous People Rejected by Saturday Night Live

NBC
NBC

The history of Saturday Night Live is littered with thousands of sketches, hundreds of guest hosts, and even more Not Ready for Prime Time Player wannabes—some more memorable than others. In fact, the list of now-famous folks who auditioned and were denied access to a permanent spot in 30 Rock’s Studio 8H is long enough to fill multiple casts on their own.

1. JIM CARREY


Hollywood’s original $20 Million Man was rejected more than once by SNL. The first time was in 1980, when—citing burnout—Lorne Michaels asked to take a year off. He thought that the show would go on hiatus with him, but the network bumped associate producer Jean Doumanian into Michaels’ position to keep the show going. Her first order of business? Shake up the cast a bit. Carrey auditioned, but Doumanian hired Charlie Rocket instead. So he tried again, but again got a “no.” Michaels isn’t taking the blame for this oversight. In the book Live from New York, he says that “Jim Carrey never auditioned for me personally.” Carrey did eventually make his way onto the studio’s set; he guest hosted in 1996 and again in 2011 and 2014.

2. STEVE CARELL

In 1995, the same year that Steve Carell married fellow comedian Nancy Walls (whom he met at the Second City Training Center), the couple auditioned for SNL. Walls made it but Carell didn’t, which must have made for one awkward celebratory dinner. But it all turned out well in the end; Carell went on to become a household name and has hosted the show on two occasions. He also clearly has no ill will toward the guy who beat him out of the SNL gig, Will Ferrell.

3. DONALD GLOVER


Community star Donald Glover was gainfully employed as a writer (and occasional actor) on 30 Rock when he auditioned not for SNL itself but to play Barack Obama in any presidential sketches during the key 2007-2008 season. Fred Armisen ended up with the role.

4. PAUL REUBENS


Paul Reubens, a.k.a. 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. “I was so bitter and angry,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I thought, ‘You better think about doing something to take this to the next level.” Which is how Pee-Wee’s Playhouse came to be. “So I borrowed some money and produced this show. I went from this Saturday Night Live reject to having 60 people working for me.”

5. STEPHEN COLBERT

Though it was cancelled shortly after it started, The Dana Carvey Show boasted some serious talent both behind and in front of the camera, including writer Charlie Kaufman and stars Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert. In 2011, GQ ran “An Oral History of the Rise and Fall” of the show, in which Colbert recalled his failed 1992 SNL audition. “Robert Smigel had seen me perform at Second City when he was one of the people scouting for Saturday Night Live. When was Carvey? 1996? So that was in 1992 and I didn't get hired for SNL that time.”

6. AUBREY PLAZA

A year before she nailed 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, but was quickly offered a part in Judd Apatow’s Funny People, which brought her to L.A., where she has remained ever since.

7. ZACH GALIFIANAKIS

Zach Galifianakis may not have landed a recurring role after his SNL audition in 1999, but he was funny enough to get himself hired as a part-time writer for a few episodes of the same season. He has guest hosted three times, in 2010, 2011, and 2013.

8. KEVIN HART

Kevin Hart didn’t waste any time dishing on his failed SNL audition when he hosted the show in 2013. In his monologue, he talked about his failure to land a spot, but assured the audience that he was over it. That it had happened a long time ago—“six or seven months, 22 days, like 6 hours ago.”

9. DAVID CROSS

In a conversation with Arrested Development co-star Michael Cera at New York’s 92nd Street Y, David Cross recalled how Cross Comedy, the comedy collective he created in Boston in the 1990s, were brought to New York City to showcase for SNL—and bombed.

10. JOHN GOODMAN

There aren’t too many people who can say they got beat out of a part by Joe Piscopo, but that’s exactly what happened to John Goodman during SNL auditions in 1980. In the end, however, Goodman might have ended up with more SNL screen time, having hosted the show 13 times and made more than a half-dozen cameos.

11. LISA KUDROW

There was only one spot available for the 1990-1991 season of SNL, and it came down to Lisa Kudrow and Julia Sweeney. Lorne Michaels flew out to L.A. to watch a showcase starring the two Groundlings, with Sweeney emerging victorious and remaining on the show until 1994 (the same year Kudrow was cast in Friends). “I knew that SNL was there,” Kudrow later recalled to Los Angeles Magazine. “Julia and I were talking on the phone about it even before they came. The show that night got to me, I was unnerved and clearly not ready. I was disappointed that I did not get it. There's another sign, I thought, that I'm not cut out for it. That feeling lasted for a little bit.”

See Also: 10 Famous People Who Rejected Saturday Night Live

12. KATHY GRIFFIN

Kathy Griffin was in that same showcase with Kudrow and Sweeney and agrees that Michaels made the right decision by choosing Sweeney. “Backstage it was ridiculous,” she recalled of the evening to Los Angeles Magazine. “One girl was in the other room audibly sobbing. [Fellow Groundling] Mary Scheer was throwing makeup in her bag and saying, ‘Let's be honest—I deserve this as much as you guys.’ I was like, ‘Jesus, just focus.’ Lisa and I were really crushed. Julia just kicked our asses. She was perfect.”

13. ADAM MCKAY


Anchorman writer-director Adam McKay’s SNL rejection—for the 1995 season—was probably for the best. He 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. His success has continued since leaving the show, when he partnered up with fellow alum Will Ferrell.

14. DAVE ATTELL

Comedian Dave Attell was yet another performer who was offered a writing gig in place of an on-camera spot after auditioning for the 1993-1994 season. He left after one season to write for The Jon Stewart Show.

15. MARC MARON


WTF Podcast host Marc Maron loves to share the story of his 1996 meeting with Lorne Michaels when he was called in as a possible “Weekend Update” replacement for Norm MacDonald. Maron blames his rejection on a bowl of candy and wrote a story about the incident, titled “Lorne Michaels and Gorillas,” for Air America. Maron’s contention is that his fate rested on whether or not he took a piece of candy from the bowl on Michaels’ desk, which he obsessed about, then finally gave in. “As soon as I took the candy I swear to God Lorne shot a look at the head writer that clearly connoted to me that I had failed the test,” he wrote. “I walked out of there thinking I ruined my career because of a Jolly Rancher. I don't even like Jolly Ranchers.”

16. JENNIFER COOLIDGE

Christopher Guest ensemble member Jennifer Coolidge had some serious competition when she auditioned for SNL alongside Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, and Chris Kattan in 1995. “They chose Will and Cheri and not Chris and I,” she recalled to Los Angeles Magazine. “And six months later they called up Chris. I was the one who got rejected. I was spared a bullet. I think of all the demons, and playing politics. The good thing was I might have become anorexic. But I probably would have self-destructed on SNL.”

17. JEFF ROSS

Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon weren’t the only folks vying for Colin Quinn’s spot at the Weekend Update desk in 2000. Comedian Jeff Ross was in contention, too. But Fey had clout: three years' experience as a writer for the show and one season as head writer.

18. PAUL SCHEER


The League star auditioned for SNL in both 2001 and 2002. He recalled the auditions in an interview with Splitsider in 2012, noting that the dumbest thing he did was a series of impressions, including Jeff Goldblum returning a shirt and a panda bear sitting in first class. “My final meeting was the first time I ever really met Lorne Michaels... At the end of the meeting, he said, ‘Do you have any questions for me?’ And I said, ‘No.’ And then he said, ‘Really? Thirty years in TV and you don’t have a question for me?’ It was a totally terrible response. I should have had a question. I think that answer cost me the job at SNL, but I basically just said, ‘If I had my druthers, I would keep you here all night.’ And he said, ‘Of course, of course. All right, well, thank you very much.’”

19. JACK MCBRAYER

In that same interview, Scheer recalled that his second audition—which was more of a group improv—included 30 Rock star Jack McBrayer. “I didn’t know anybody else besides Jack McBrayer,” Scheer recalled. “That was interesting because it was a bunch of people all competing for the same job, trying to prove that they’re funny, but also it was really cool because everyone respected the space. You would think it would have been a little more competitive. But that also was the year that Fred Armisen said ‘no,’ he wasn’t gonna do that if he didn’t have an improv background. He just did Fericito, and he was the one who ultimately got hired.”

20. KEL MITCHELL

After four years of co-starring in Kenan & Kel for Nickelodeon, stars Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell went their separate ways, but not before both auditioned for SNL. The ending to this story is obvious: Kenan got the job (he’s in his eleventh year on the show), Kel did not.

21. AND 22. JORMA TACCONE AND AKIVA SCHAFFER

Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island cohorts, understand what it’s like to compete against a comedic partner in crime. The entire trio auditioned for SNL’s 2005 season, but only Samberg was lucky enough to be cast. But Samberg didn’t leave his partners behind; both have served as writers for the show.

23., 24., 25., AND 26. DAVE FOLEY, SCOTT THOMPSON, BRUCE MCCULLOCH, AND KEVIN MCDONALD

The Kids in the Hall guys—Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, Bruce McCulloch, and Scott Thompson—were in a similar situation when they auditioned for the show in 1985. McCulloch and McKinney were brought on as writers for a season. In 1995, McKinney did actually join the cast.

27. GEENA DAVIS

Five years before she earned an Oscar for The Accidental Tourist, Geena Davis lost out on a spot in SNL’s 1984-1985 season to Pamela Stephenson.

28. RICHARD BELZER

Though today’s audience knows him as Law & Order’s series-jumping Sergeant Munch, Richard Belzer got his start as a stand-up. 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. Belzer has long contended that Lorne Michaels promised him a place in the cast but later reneged. “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 in 1993.

29. ROBERT TOWNSEND

Eddie Murphy ended up being cast for the slot that comedian Robert Townsend auditioned for in 1980, the year Jean Doumanian took over for Lorne Michaels. No doubt the experience worked its way into Hollywood Shuffle, Townsend’s groundbreaking—and semi-autobiographical—1987 film about the struggle of black actors in Hollywood.

30. ROB HUEBEL


Children’s Hospital star Rob Huebel auditioned for SNL a couple of times in the mid-2000s. “The way they do that is they put together a list of people that they want to audition, and they have them all do a show at some comedy club,” he explained to Splitsider. “You go and do a few characters of your own and a few impressions, if you wanna do impressions, or you can do stand-up if you wanted to do that. But you do it at this comedy club somewhere in New York, and they all come and they sit in the back and they show up late and they watch it and they don’t laugh and you feel horrible. But if you do okay, you get called back and you go into 30 Rock and you do it on their stage at the real show. ... I auditioned twice, one year I got to go in and do that at 30 Rock but they really ice you out. They try to make it as scary as possible because it’s a live show, and in real life, I’m sure it is terrifying and things do go wrong, so they want you to be prepared … It’s the most intimidating thing. I know Rob Riggle auditioned the same year, and he got it and I was happy for him, but it didn’t work out for me.”

31. KERRI KENNEY

“It was terrifying,” The State and Reno 911! star Kerri Kenney told Marc Maron on WTF of her failed 1996 SNL audition. “I believe they must do it that way on purpose because since then I've never had an audition so terrifying… Sit and wait, cold room. I feel like I was in a basement that was like seven buildings away and someone comes and gets you in a page jacket and they lead you through hallways and you're trying to keep up with your bag of props and hit the mark. You have four minutes. Do your best this, this, and this… I got no laughs, and at the time, I thought, ‘Wow, if I want to be in this business, this is what it’s going to be every time.’ Thank god it's never like that.”

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

See Also:

9 Saturday Night Live Movies That Were Never Made

10 Famous People Who Rejected Saturday Night Live

21 Fun Facts About Elf

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Everyone knows the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear! But the second best way is to enjoy Elf. Revel in the giddy glow of this modern holiday classic with a slew of secrets from behind the scenes.

1. Jim Carrey was initially eyed to play Buddy the elf.

When David Berenbaum's spec script first emerged in 1993, Carrey was pre-Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and attached to front the Christmas film. However, it took another 10 years to get the project in motion, at which time Saturday Night Live star Will Ferrell was signed to star. Carrey would go on to headline his own Christmas offerings—the live-action How The Grinch Stole Christmas and the CGI animated A Christmas Carol.

2. Will Ferrell worked as a mall Santa.


Warner Bros.

And his A Night at the Roxbury co-star Chris Kattan was his elf. This was back when the pair were pre-Saturday Night Live, and part of the comedy troupe The Groundlings. Ferrell recollected to Spliced Wire, "I have some experience playing Santa Claus … Chris Kattan was my elf at this outdoor mall in Pasadena for five weeks, passing out candy canes. It was hilarious because little kids could care less about the elf. They just come right to Santa Claus. So by the second weekend, Kattan had dropped the whole affectation he was doing and was like (Ferrell makes a face of bitter boredom), 'Santa's over there, kid.'"

3. Director Jon Favreau favored practical effects.

Inspired by the Christmas specials he grew up with, Favreau explained in the film's commentary track that he employed “old techniques” instead of CGI whenever possible. This included stop-motion animation, and using forced perspective to make Buddy look like a giant among his elf peers. For North Pole scenes, two sets were built—one larger scale for the actors playing elves, the other smaller to make Buddy and Santa look big. These elements where then carefully overlaid in camera, using lighting to blend the seams.

4. Snow was often computer-generated.


Warner Home Video

Some effects just couldn't be practical. These included the snowflakes that drift over the opening credits, and many of the snowballs in Buddy's pivotal fight scene. It's probably not much of a shocker that much of these were added in post, considering Buddy's perfect aim. But to further underscore the drama that is a snowball fight in frosty New York, Favreau asked composer John Debney to give this section a Western vibe that would recall The Magnificent Seven.

5. Elf's production design was heavily influenced by Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The classic stop-motion Christmas special from 1964 gave a memorable presentation of Santa's winter wonderland to which Favreau wanted to pay tribute. The elves' costumes in Elf were inspired by those worn by Hermey and his peers in the animated film. And Elf's workshops were modeled after the Rankin/Bass designs, as were the stop-motion animals of the area. The production did secure permission for these allusions, and was even granted the privilege of using the company's signature snowman.

6. There's a Christmas Story cameo.

Peter Billingsley, who memorably played the Red Ryder-wanting Ralphie in the 1983 holiday classic, popped in to play Ming the elf. It's an uncredited role, but between the glasses and those bright baby blue eyes, Billingsley stands out as an A Christmas Story Easter egg. This marks just one of many Billingsley and Favreau's collaborations. Billingsley has been a producer on several of Favreau's film and television projects.

7. Jon Favreau played multiple parts in Elf.

Jon Favreau directs Will Ferrell in 'Elf' (2003)
Alan Markfield, New Line Productions

As a writer/director/actor, Favreau has often appeared in his own films. He fronted Made with friend Vince Vaughn, and later found a sweet supporting role for himself in Iron Man. You may have picked him out as the doctor in Elf, but on the DVD commentary, Favreau revealed he also tapped in to his inner narwhal and provided the voices for some of the stop-animation critters who see Buddy off from the North Pole. He also voiced the rabid raccoon Buddy encounters.

8. Baby buddy was fired.

To play the bubbly baby version of the titular elf, Favreau had initially cast twin boys whose blonde curly hair made them great little doubles for the mop-topped Ferrell. However, the production ran into a problem when the boys couldn't perform. Instead of smiling and crawling as needed, they cried relentlessly. To replace them, brunette triplet girls were brought in, who were far perkier and more playful, and thereby ready for their close-ups.

9. Buddy was bullied in an early version.

In first drafts of Berenbaum's Elf script, Buddy's decision to seek out his dad was in part because he was being hassled by the actual elves for being different. Favreau pushed to take out this element. He preferred to keep the North Pole characters warm, even when Buddy bugs them. In the DVD commentary, Favreau offers, “It explained why Buddy was doing all these good things in New York if he grew up in a world where everybody was so sweet even when he’s obviously screwing everything up and doesn’t fit in at all.”

10. Elf hockey hit the cutting room floor.

Poor Buddy accidentally wreaks all kinds of havoc on his elf community because of his ungainly size. One such scene of his well-meaning mayhem featured Buddy playing hockey on a frozen pond. The friendly game becomes unintentionally violent when the too-big Buddy takes to the ice. Though it was shot, it ended up being chopped from the finished film.

11. Elf was shot on location in New York when it counted.

Like many productions, this one took advantage of the financial benefits of filming in Canada, and much of Elf was shot in sound stages in Vancouver. However, when Buddy comes to New York, it was important to Favreau to shoot on location whenever possible. This includes all the Manhattan exteriors, as well as scenes shot at Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and Central Park West, where Buddy's dad lives.

12. Some of Elf’s sets were built in a horror factory.

Okay, technically it was an abandoned mental hospital, where the production team constructed the interior sets for Walter's Central Park West apartment, Gimbels's lavish toy department, and that grim prison cell. The facility is called Riverview Hospital, and it has played host to a long list of film and television productions, including The X-Files, Final Destination 2, Jennifer's Body, and See No Evil 2.

13. Macy's stood in for Gimbels.

The sprawling department store that takes up a whole block in Manhattan was digitally altered to transform into Elf's Gimbels. A bit awkward: Gimbels was once a real department store, and a noted rival of Macy's. Though immortalized here and in the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street, the department store closed its doors in 1987, its 100th year of operation.

14. Will Ferrell broke James Caan.


Warner Home Video

The Academy Award-nominated star of The Godfather was hired to play Walter in part because Favreau wanted a stern persona to play against Ferrell's giddy Buddy, and Caan took the comedy of Elf seriously. He knew it was crucial for Walter to be annoyed—never amused—by his supposed son's antics. But when it came to the blood test scene where Buddy bellows when pricked by a needle, Caan cracked. Watch closely and you'll see he turns away from the camera so as not to ruin the take.

15. The studio didn't get a joke from the mailroom sequence.

This was the last set piece shot for Elf, and one that filmmakers were wavering on from its conception late in production. Grizzled Mark Acheson's casting as Buddy's drinking buddy concerned execs because of the line, "I'm 26 years old." The studio noted the actor does not look 26, to which Favreau—who had previously cast Acheson in a small role that had been cut before production—responded that this disconnect was part of the joke.

16. Will Ferrell went method with those jack-in-the-boxes.

In the scene where Buddy suffers as a toy tester, he's subjected to popping open an endless stream of menacing jack-in-the-boxes. The anxiety etched on Ferrell's face in these scenes is real. Rather than standard jack-in-the-boxes that would pop at the song's end, these were remote controlled by Favreau, who purposely manipulated their timing to toy with his star and get authentic reactions.

17. Will Ferrell frolicked all over New York City in character.

The final day of Elf's New York shooting was pared down from a massive crew to just three people: its star, its director, and one cameraman. Together, this trio traveled around the city, looking for mischief for Buddy to get into with random passersby turned background extras. This included him leapfrogging across a pedestrian walk, happily accepting flyers, and getting his shoes shined, all of which made it into the movie's cheerful montage.

18. That epic burp was real, but overdubbed.

Though uncredited, that lengthy belch came not from Ferrell, but from noted voice actor Maurice LaMarche, who might be best known for Brain of Pinky and the Brain. LaMarche shared his secret to such an impressive burp with The A.V. Club, saying, "I’ve always been able to do this weird effect, where I turn my tongue, not inside out, but almost. I create a huge echo chamber with my tongue and my cheeks, and by doing a deep, almost Tuvan rasp in my throat, and bouncing it around off this echo chamber, I create something that sounds very much like a sustained deep burp."

19. Elf made its star stick.

In the movie, Buddy is happy to gobble down an endless supply of sweets, including maple syrup-coated spaghetti and cotton balls made of cotton candy. But this sugary diet played havoc on Ferrell, who told About Entertainment, "That was tough. I ingested a lot of sugar in this movie and I didn't get a lot of sleep. I constantly stayed up. But anything for the movie, I'm there. If it takes eating a lot of maple syrup, then I will—if that's what the job calls for."

20. Will Ferrell refuses to make Elf 2.

Though the comedian reprised the role of Ron Burgundy for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and returned as Mugatu in Zoolander 2, he flat out rejected the possibility of bringing back Buddy, even after being offered a reported $29 million. In December of 2013, he told USA TODAY, "I just think it would look slightly pathetic if I tried to squeeze back in the elf tights: Buddy the middle-aged elf."

21. Elf became a hit Broadway musical.

From November 2010 to January 2011, Elf the musical ran on Broadway, boasting songs like "World's Greatest Dad," "Nobody Cares About Santa," and "The Story of Buddy The Elf." This run was a huge success, taking in more than $1.4 million in one week, a record for the Al Hirschfield Theater where it debuted. Plus, The New York Times called it, "A splashy, peppy, sugar-sprinkled holiday entertainment." A revival hit in time for Christmas 2012, and national tours have been recurring.

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