Mental Floss

40 Saturday Night Live Facts for Season 40

Meredith Danko

Saturday Night Live returns this weekend for its 40th season. Here are some facts from the first 39 years.

1. In 1974, Johnny Carson requested that NBC stop airing Tonight Show reruns on the weekend. He wanted to save those reruns for the extra time off he was planning to take during weekdays. NBC wanted to fill those weekend slots, so they hired Lorne Michaels to develop a show. Basically, Saturday Night Live came to be because Johnny Carson wanted a few more vacation days.

2. The show was originally called NBC’s Saturday Night because there was already a show titled Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell on ABC. Cosell's show ended in 1976 and Lorne took the name.

3. Only four people have ever directed SNL: Dave Wilson (1975-86, 1989-95), Paul Miller (1986-89), Beth McCarthy-Miller (1995-2006), and Don Roy King (2006-present).

4. Director Dave Wilson has said Lorne only trusted him enough to give him the job because Wilson pretended to be an old friend of George Carlin. In fact, the two had gone to camp together when they were kids, but Wilson didn’t know if Carlin even remembered him.

5. Lorne Michaels pitched SNL to cast member Laraine Newman as Monty Python meets 60 Minutes.

6. Cast members originally earned $750 per week.

7. Announcer Don Pardo made a mistake on the show’s premiere. He was supposed to say “Not Ready for Prime-Time Players.” Instead, he mixed up a few words, calling them the “Not for Ready Prime-Time Players.”

8. On the show’s premiere, Chevy Chase became the first person to say the signature line, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”

9. The Festrunk brothers, also known as “Two Wild and Crazy Guys,” were based on separate characters that Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd had developed individually. When Martin hosted SNL in the seventies, the two morphed their characters into a set of brothers.

10. In the seventies, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi rented a bar in New York City, known as the Blues Bar, where SNL after-parties were frequently held. The two often played their own live music there, sometimes with the help of famous artists like Keith Richards, Sam Moore, and James Taylor.

11. Lorne Michaels left the show in 1980 and returned in 1985. He claims he didn’t even watch the show for those five years. “It was very hard for me," Michaels said in Live From New York, the excellent oral history by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales. "In retrospect, to be relieved of the show was an emotional withdrawal that took me, truly, years to get a perspective on.”

12. Andy Kaufman had been involved with SNL since the very beginning, but he got banned in 1982. The decision was actually made by the audience who were asked to vote via a 900 number. “Dump Andy” won with 195,544 votes. “Keep Andy” had received 169,186 votes.

13. Eddie Murphy got cast because he called the show’s talent coordinator, Neil Levy, every day for a week explaining how desperately he needed the job. Levy decided he’d give Murphy a job as an extra, but brought him in to audition as well. His audition was so good that he was given a contract right away.

14. Murphy was even asked to replicate his audition on the show during an episode when they were a few minutes short on material.

15. Murphy has since distanced himself from the show. He will not host and has not shown up to any reunion specials to date. Many cite one particular sketch as the reason. In David Spade’s “Hollywood Minute,” he once referred to Murphy as a “falling star.” The next week, Spade received a phone call from a very angry Murphy. According to former NBC executive Rick Ludwin, “I’m told from that day forward, Eddie Murphy never set foot on that stage again.”

16. In Live From New York, Anthony Michael Hall said a fan of the show occasionally mailed in tapes that he’d edited together. They exclusively contained sketches in which it was most apparent that Hall was reading from cue cards.

17. Ron Reagan Jr. is the only child of a U.S. president to host SNL. He thought that Terry Sweeney’s impression of Nancy Reagan was so good, he called Sweeney “Mom” throughout the week.

18. Chris Farley’s idol was John Belushi. He once found an old pair of Belushi’s pants in the wardrobe room and stole them.

19. A few hosts are set for particular shows before the season starts — usually because they’re very famous or have a movie being released that week. For other weeks, there are two to three stars who are asked to host. Then, Lorne Michaels picks one of those people as the week approaches.

20. In 1994, the film It’s Pat grossed a little over $60,000, making it the least successful film based on an SNL character. The most successful was 1992’s Wayne’s World, which made over $180 million.

21. Speaking of Wayne’s World, it was originally an unadvised sketch. When Mike Myers was just starting out, he approached a few of the show’s writers, including Conan O’Brien, to ask what they thought about a character he was developing. The character was Wayne. The group of writers informed him that he could do better, but Myers wrote the sketch anyway. O’Brien recalled thinking, “This poor kid is going to have to learn the hard way.” The sketch made it to air, but in the unpopular final slot. Obviously, it became a hit.

22. Several sketches were almost turned into movies, including Coffee Talk, Sprockets, and Mr. Peepers.

23. When the opportunity arose to turn Bill Swerski's Superfans into a film, Robert Smigel and Bob Odenkirk (who had created the original sketch together) jumped at the opportunity, with Smigel leaving his job as Conan’s head writer to work on the script.

24. It never made it to the big screen, but the Da Bears script was not a total loss. In 2010, Smigel, Odenkirk, Joe Mantegna, George Wendt, Mike Ditka and Richard Roeper (as narrator) staged a live reading of the script at Chicago’s Just for Laughs festival.

25. Larry David wrote for SNL in the eighties, but he always struggled to get his sketches on the air. Five minutes before the show went live one Saturday, David went up to then-producer Dick Ebersol and said, “I’ve had it. I quit.” Once he left, he realized how much money he had just cost himself, so he showed up to work on Monday as if the outburst never happened. He continued working there for the rest of the season, and that story was later used on a Seinfeld episode.

26. Quitting for a weekend is nothing compared to Chris Parnell, who was fired from the show twice: once in 2001, then again in 2006. According to Parnell, the first time was “devastating” and had to do with his lack of confidence. He was asked back the following season, though. The second time, the show was making a $10 million budget cut, so he was dropped along with Horatio Sanz and Rachel Dratch.

27. When Andrew Dice Clay hosted the show, Nora Dunn wouldn’t appear, citing his misogynistic stand-up as the reason. Lorne Michaels claims that she reached out to the press before telling him about the decision. That was the beginning of the end of her SNL career. She has since said, “Saturday Night Live is why I have a name, but it also has its own baggage.”

28. Another controversial show occurred when Sinead O’Connor took the crew by surprise and ripped up a picture of the Pope at the end of a performance. Though many people still make a big deal about her supposedly being banned from the show, Lorne Michaels actually gives her credit. According to him, “I think it was the bravest thing she could do. 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.”

29. Louis C.K. auditioned in 1993, but didn't make the cut. But a few days later, Robert Smigel offered him a job writing for Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

30. Plenty of other now-famous people were rejected by SNL, including Paul Reubens, Stephen Colbert, Lisa Kudrow, and Marc Maron.

31. In the nineties, CBS offered Lorne Michaels a tempting job to develop Saturday late-night content for their network. They even drew up plans for a Lorne Michaels Theater. In the end, he decided to stick with Saturday Night Live and NBC.

32. Kenan Thompson was the first cast member who was born after SNL premiered.

33. Tina Fey described what SNL writers called “Sneaker Uppers” in her book Bossypants. The term applies to “when a famous person ‘sneaks up’ behind the actor who plays them and pretends to be mad about it” or “any time someone being parodied volunteers to come on the show and prove they’re ‘in on the joke.’”

34. Bill Hader’s “Weekend Update” character Stefon took on a life of his own, perhaps partially thanks to Hader’s frequent character breaks. One of the reasons he had trouble staying in character was co-writer John Mulaney, who would change Stefon’s lines on the cue cards without telling Hader. So, Hader would often deliver lines that he had just seen for the first time live on the show. Their friend Andy Samberg would also join the fun by standing right next to the camera with his arms folded, shaking his head.

35. During the Writers Guild of America Strike in 2007, SNL didn’t air. The cast gathered at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater and put on the show anyway, recruiting Michael Cera to host. Amy Poehler explained, “We’re like cranky trained monkeys if we don’t get to perform.”

36. Tina Fey had already left the show before the 2008 election, but Lorne Michaels knew he had to ask her to return when, within a few minutes, both his doorman and Robert De Niro pointed out Fey’s resemblance to Sarah Palin.

37. In 2009, when Taylor Swift hosted the show for the first time, she came prepared. She wrote her own song for the monologue, which hosts typically don’t do. According to Seth Meyers, she walked into Lorne Michaels’s office and said, “I wrote a monologue. Can I play it for you guys?” They liked the song and had her perform it on the show.

38. During his 14-year tenure, Darrell Hammond achieved the record for most times saying, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday night!” He said it seventy times.

39. In 2013, Don Pardo got laryngitis before the show. Darrell Hammond filled in with his best Pardo impression. Pardo later claimed, “He did such a job that my sister-in-law in Newport, Rhode Island called up the following Sunday morning...and said, ‘You were going back to your acting days! You sounded terrific!’”

40. After Pardo passed away last month, Hammond was named as his replacement.