10 People Banned from SNL
During its nearly four decades on the air, Saturday Night Live has showcased plenty of hilarity—and controversy. The show runs on a tight schedule and protocol led by longtime producer and creator Lorne Michaels, and on occasion, people have gone a bit too far. Here are a few who went so far that most of them never appeared in the hallowed halls of 8H again.
1. Sinéad O’Connor
Perhaps the most notorious—and most watched—banishment from the show belongs to Sinéad O’Connor. In an unrehearsed gesture on the October 3, 1992 broadcast that hadn’t been cleared by anyone on the SNL staff, O’Connor ripped a photo of Pope John Paul II in half while singing an a cappella version of Bob Marley’s “War.”
According to SNL’s music coordinator John Zonars, O’Connor pulled off the stunt by holding a photo of a starving child during dress rehearsal, explaining that the song is essentially about child abuse and that she wanted to make a statement. This explains why the camera zoomed in at the correct moment during her live performance. Michaels seemed more understanding when interviewed for the book, Live From New York. “I think it was the bravest possible thing she could do," he said. "She’d been a nun. To her the church symbolized everything that was bad about growing up in Ireland the way she grew up in Ireland, and so she was making a strong political statement.”
The incident was addressed in the next week’s monologue by host Joe Pesci, who taped the photo of the Pope back together. O’Connor was effectively banned and hasn’t appeared on SNL since. Reruns of the show include the dress rehearsal footage of her performance.
2. Steven Seagal
Hosting duties at SNL are an intensely collaborative process for cast members and the hosts themselves. Some, like those in the prestigious “Five-Timers Club,” work well with the cast and writers and are invited back, while others can’t seem to hack it. Steven Seagal fell into the latter category. While he didn’t pull any on-air stunts like Sinéad O’Connor, Seagal was unable to play nice behind the scenes. “He just wasn’t funny and he was very critical of the cast and the writing staff," said Tim Meadows in Live From New York,. "He didn’t realize that you can’t tell somebody they’re stupid on Wednesday and expect them to continue writing for you on Saturday.” Michaels got in a jab at Seagal on a later show hosted by actor Nicolas Cage. When Cage lamented during his monologue that the audience might think he’s the biggest jerk who’s ever been on the show, Michaels responded, “No, no. That would be Steven Seagal.”
3. Andy Kaufman
Kaufman’s appearances on SNL were unpredictable and ahead of their time, beginning with SNL’s very first episode in 1975. Whether he was nervously lip-synching to the Mighty Mouse theme or impersonating Elvis Presley, audiences had no idea what would come next. Eventually, Kaufman's stint wrestling women drew the ire of then-producer Dick Ebersol. In response, Kaufman proposed an audience vote to let him stay or force him off the show. The final tally of viewers calling in to “Keep Andy” came in at 169,186, while 195,544 voted to “Dump Andy.” Whether it was another one of his audacious stunts remains to be seen, but Kaufman never appeared on SNL again following that vote.
4. Martin Lawrence
Lawrence was a huge television star in the '90s—remember his sitcom, Martin?—but his monologue while hosting SNL wasn’t a hit with the staff or network censors. After voicing his appreciation for the show, Lawrence launched into a bit about the then-recent John and Lorena Bobbitt incident then spontaneously segued into a feminine hygiene rant. The comments were removed for syndication and replaced by facetious title cards that describe his opinions as “a frank and lively presentation” that “nearly cost us all our jobs.” Lawrence hasn’t hosted since.
5. Robert Blake
Long before he was charged with (and acquitted of) murdering his second wife, Robert Blake wasn’t too nice when he hosted SNL. Like Steven Seagal, Blake didn’t exactly work well with the cast or writers. According to SNL writer David Sheffield—who labels the In Cold Blood and Baretta star as the worst host ever—Blake was not a fan of what the writers came up with for him during a read-through of a sketch called “Breezy Philosopher,” about a rough and tumble biker-type who quoted Kierkegaard. Allegedly, Blake crumpled up his script, turned to writer-actor Gary Kroeger, and said, “I hope you got a tough a**hole pal, ‘cause you’re going to have to wipe you’re a** with that one.” Blake’s little outburst got him banned for life.
6. Milton Berle
Uncle Miltie didn’t seem to get the memo that Saturday Night Live includes cast members as well as a host. According to people who worked on the show, Berle took over the production of his episode of SNL in 1979, inserting sketches of his own and intentionally upstaging cast members like Gilda Radner for cheap laughs. Berle never hosted again, and in Live From New York, Lorne Michaels characterized the difference between Berle’s old-school brand of comedy and the new, edgy comedy of his “Not Ready For Primetime Players” when he said, “I have great affection for old-time show business. But it had become corrupt. It wasn’t what it had been. The show was trying to get away from that.”
7. Adrien Brody
One would think that a little improvisation could work on a sketch comedy show, but that's not the case for SNL. When host Adrien Brody came out to introduce reggae performer Sean Paul in a 2003 episode, the actor was wearing fake dreadlocks and speaking in a stereotypical Jamaican patois. Lorne Michaels was not pleased, and Brody has yet to host a second show.
8. Charles Grodin
Charles Grodin earned banishment from SNL for his October 29, 1977 appearance as host. Grodin reportedly missed rehearsals and, when the show went live, he came across as unprepared and clumsy while stepping over the cast members' lines and ad-libbing much of his dialogue.
9. Frank Zappa
The godfather of weirdo rock was banned for his performance as host in 1978. Instead of just going along with the lines written for him, Zappa lazily read from the cue cards and reminded viewers that he wasn’t really trying. Instead of an A for effort, he got a B for “banned” and never showed up on SNL again. Writer Don Novello—better known on SNL as Father Guido Sarducci—called Zappa, “One of the worst ever.”
10. Elvis Costello
During their second segment on the December 17, 1977 show, Elvis Costello and the Attractions began playing the hit song “Less Than Zero” from Costello’s debut album, My Aim Is True. Soon Costello waved at his band and shouted, “Stop! I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen, there’s no reason to do this song here.” The band then tore through the song “Radio Radio” in an unplanned performance that got them banned. Apparently, the dispute came from Costello’s record company instead of anything anyone at SNL did. Costello originally wanted to perform “Radio Radio”—a single that hadn’t been released yet—but Columbia Records forced them to play the better-known single. In this case, the hard feelings didn't linger; in 1989, Costello was invited back again. He even parodied his own stunt on the 25th anniversary show by interrupting the Beastie Boys' performance of "Sabotage," which quickly morphed into a joint performance of "Radio Radio."