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

7 Weird Super Bowl Halftime Acts

Al Bello, Getty Images
Al Bello, Getty Images

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez seem like natural choices to perform the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl, but the event didn’t always feature musical acts from major pop stars. Michael Jackson kicked off the trend at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, but prior to that, halftime shows weren’t a platform for the hottest celebrities of the time. They centered around themes instead, and may have featured appearances from Peanuts characters, Jazzercisers, or a magician dressed like Elvis. In honor of Super Bowl LIV on February 2, we’ve rounded up some of the weirdest acts in halftime show history.

1. Return of the Mickey Mouse Club

The era of Super Bowl halftimes before wardrobe malfunctions, illuminati conspiracy theories, and Left Shark was a more innocent time. For 1977’s event, the Walt Disney Company produced a show that doubled as a squeaky-clean promotion of its brand. Themed “Peace, Joy, and Love,” the Super Bowl XI halftime show opened with a 250-piece band rendition of “It’s a Small World (After All).” Disney also used the platform to showcase its recently revamped Mickey Mouse Club.

2. 88 Grand Pianos and 300 Jazzercisers

The theme of the halftime show at Super Bowl XXII in 1988 was “Something Grand.” Naturally, it featured 88 tuxedoed pianists playing 88 grand pianos. Rounding out the program were 400 swing band performers, 300 Jazzercisers, 44 Rockettes, two marching bands, and Chubby Checker telling everyone to “Twist Again."

3. Elvis Impersonator Performs the World’s Largest Card Trick

Many of the music industry's most successful pop stars—like Prince, Madonna, and, uh, Milli Vanilli—were at the height of their fame in 1989, but none of them appeared at Super Bowl XXIII. Instead, the NFL hired an Elvis Presley-impersonating magician to perform. The show, titled “BeBop Bamboozled,” was a tribute to the 1950s, and it featured Elvis Presto performing “the world’s largest card trick.” It also may have included the world's largest eye exam: The show boasted 3D effects, and viewers were urged to pick up special glasses before the game. If the visuals didn't pop like they were supposed to, people were told to see an eye doctor.

4. The Peanuts Salute New Orleans

Super Bowl XXIV featured one of the last halftime acts that was completely devoid of any musical megastars. The biggest celebrity at the 1990 halftime show was Snoopy. Part of the show’s theme was the “40th Anniversary of 'Peanuts,'” and to celebrate the milestone, performers dressed as Peanuts characters and danced on stage. The other half of the theme was “Salute to New Orleans”—not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the comic strip.

5. A Tribute to the Winter Olympics

Super Bowl XXVI preceded the 1992 Winter Olympics—a fact that was made very clear by the event’s halftime. The show was titled “Winter Magic” and it paid tribute to the winter games with ice skaters, snowmobiles, and a cameo from the 1980 U.S. hockey team. Other acts, like a group of parachute-pants-wearing children performing the “Frosty the Snowman Rap,” were more generally winter-themed than specific to the Olympics. About 22 million viewers changed the channel during halftime to watch In Living Color’s Super Bowl special, which may have convinced the NFL to hire Michael Jackson the following year.

6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye

“Peace, Joy, and Love” wasn’t the only Disney-helmed Super Bowl halftime. In 1995, Disney produced a halftime show called “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” to tease the new Disneyland ride of the same name. It centered around a skit in which actors playing Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood stole the Vince Lombardi Trophy from an exotic temple, and it included choreographed stunts, fiery special effects, and a snake. Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett were also there.

7. The Blues Brothers, Minus John Belushi

The 1990s marked an odd period for halftime shows as they moved from schlocky themed variety shows to major music events. Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 perfectly encapsulates this transition period. James Brown and ZZ Top performed, but the headliners were the Blues Brothers. John Belushi had been dead for more than a decade by that point, so Jim Belushi took his place beside Dan Aykroyd. John Goodman was also there to promote the upcoming movie Blues Brother 2000. The flashy advertisement didn’t have the impact they had hoped for and the film was a massive flop when it premiered.

15 Fun Facts About Betty White

Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

Happy birthday, Betty White! In honor of the ever-sassy star of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls's 98th birthday, let's celebrate with a collection of fun facts about her life and legacy. 

1. Her name is Betty, not Elizabeth.

On January 17th, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, the future television icon was born Betty Marion White, the only child of homemaker Christine Tess (née Cachikis) and lighting company executive Horace Logan White. In her autobiography If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't), White explained her parents named her "Betty" specifically because they didn't like many of the nicknames derived from "Elizabeth." Forget your Beths, your Lizas, your Ellies. She's Betty.

2. She's a Guinness World Record holder.

In the 2014 edition of the record-keeping tome, White was awarded the title of Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Female) for her more than 70 years (and counting) in show business. The year before, Guinness gave out Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Male) to long-time British TV host Bruce Forsyth. As both began their careers in 1939, they'd be neck-and-neck for the title, were they not separated by gender.

3. Her first television appearance is lost to history.

A photo of Betty White
Getty Images

Even White can't remember the name of the show she made her screen debut on in 1939. But in an interview with Guinness Book of World Records, she recounted the life-changing event, saying, "I danced on an experimental TV show, the first on the west coast, in downtown Los Angeles. I wore my high school graduation dress and our Beverly Hills High student body president, Harry Bennett, and I danced the 'Merry Widow Waltz.'" 

4. White's initial rise to stardom was derailed by World War II.

Before she took off on television, White was working in theater, on radio, and as a model. But with WWII, she shelved her ambitions and joined the American Women's Voluntary Services. Her days were devoted to delivering supplies via PX truck throughout the Hollywood Hills, but her nights were spent at rousing dances thrown to give grand send-offs to soldiers set to ship out. Of that era, she told Cleveland Magazine, "It was a strange time and out of balance with everything." 

5. Her first sitcom hit was in the early 1950s.

A photo of actress Betty White
Getty Images

Co-hosting the Al Jarvis show Hollywood on Television led to White producing her own vehicle, Life With Elizabeth. As a rare female producer, she developed the show alongside emerging writer-producer George Tibbles, who'd go on to work on such beloved shows as Dennis The Menace, Leave It To Beaver, and The Munsters. Though the show is not remembered much today, in 1951 it did earn White her first Emmy nomination of 21 (so far). Of these, she has won five times.

6. White loves a parade.

From 1962 to 1971, White hosted NBC's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade alongside Bonanza's Lorne Greene. But that's not all. For 20 years (1956-1976), she was also a color commentator for NBC’s annual Tournament of Roses Parade. However, as her fame grew on CBS's The Mary Tyler Moore Show, NBC decided they should pull White (and all the rival promotion that came with her) from their parade. It was a decision that was heartbreaking for White, who told People, "On New Year's Day I just sat home feeling wretched, watching someone else do my parade."

7. She has been married three times.


Getty Images

White and her first husband, Dick Barker, were married and divorced in the same year, 1945. After four months on Barker's rural Ohio chicken farm, White fled back to Los Angeles and her career as an entertainer. Soon after, she met agent Lane Allen, who became her husband in 1947, and her ex-husband in 1949 after he pushed her to quit show biz. She wouldn’t marry again until 1963, after she fell for widower/father of three/game show host Allen Ludden.

8. Her meet-cute with husband number three happened on Password.

Bubbly Betty was a regular on the game show circuit, but she met her match in 1961 when she was a celebrity guest on Password, hosted by Allen Ludden. Though White initially rebuffed Ludden's engagement ring (he wore it around his neck until she changed her mind), the pair stayed together until his death in 1981. Today, their stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame sit side-by-side.

9. White originally auditioned for the role of Blanche on The Golden Girls.

A photo of actress Betty White
Getty Images

Producers of the series thought of White for the role of the ensemble's promiscuous party girl because she'd long played the lusty Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Meanwhile, they eyed Rue McClanahan for the part of naive country bumpkin Rose Nylund because of her work as the sweet but dopey Vivian Harmon on Maude. Director Jay Sandrich was worried about typecasting, so he asked the two to switch roles in the audition. And just like that, The Golden Girls history was made.

10. If she hadn't been an actor, she'd have been a zookeeper.

"Hands down," she confessed in a 2014 interview. This should come as little surprise to those aware of White's reputation as an avid animal lover and activist. Not only does she try to visit the local zoo of wherever she may travel, but also she's a supporter of the Farm Animal Reform Movement and Friends of Animals group, as well as a Los Angeles Zoo board member, who has donated "tens of thousands of dollars" over the past 40 years. In 2010, White founded a T-shirt line whose profits go to the Morris Animal Foundation.

11. She passed on a role in As Good as It Gets because of an animal cruelty scene.

A photo of actress Betty White
Getty Images

White was offered the part of Beverly Connelly, onscreen mother to Helen Hunt, in the Oscar-winning movie As Good as It Gets. But the devoted animal lover was horrified by the scene where Jack Nicholson's curmudgeonly anti-hero pitches a small dog down the trash chute of his apartment building. On The Joy Behar Show White explained, "All I could think of was all the people out there watching that movie … and if there's a dog in the building that's barking or they don't like—boom! They do it." She complained to director James L. Brooks in hopes of having the scene cut. Instead, he kept it and cast Shirley Knight in the role.

12. A Facebook campaign made White the oldest person to ever host Saturday Night Live.

In 2010, a Facebook group called Betty White To Host SNL … Please? gathered so many fans (nearly a million) and so much media attention that SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels was happy to make it happen. At 88 years old, White set a new record. Her episode, for which many of the show's female alums returned, also won rave reviews, and gave the show's highest ratings in 18 months. White won her fifth Emmy for this performance.

13. She is the oldest person to earn an Emmy nomination.


Getty Images

In 2014, White earned an Emmy nod for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program for the senior citizen-centric prank show Betty White's Off Their Rockers. She was 92. She also holds the record for the longest span between Emmy nominations, between her first (1951) and last (so far).  

14. She loves junk food.

The key to aging gracefully has nothing to do with health food as far as White is concerned. In 2011, her Hot in Cleveland co-star Jane Leeves dished on White's snacking habits, "She eats Red Vines, hot dogs, French fries, and Diet Coke. If that's key, maybe she's preserved because of all the preservatives." Fellow co-star Wendie Malick concurred, "She eats red licorice, like, ridiculously a lot. She seems to exist on hot dogs and French fries." 

15. She wants Robert Redford.

A photo of actor Robert Redford
Getty Images

White once gave this cheeky confession: “My answer to anything under the sun, like ‘What have you not done in the business that you’ve always wanted to do?’ is ‘Robert Redford.'” Though she has more than 110 film and television credits on her filmography, White has never worked with the Out of Africa star, who is 14 years her junior.

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