Saturday Night Live’s 15 Shortest-Lived Cast Members, Explained

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Summary

  • Some cast members of
    SNL
    only appeared in a few episodes before being dismissed or quitting, often due to various factors.
  • Departing
    SNL
    doesn’t always mean the end of a successful career, as some cast members have gone on to make it big in other projects.
  • SNL
    has experienced cast overhauls and changes throughout its history, often driven by poor ratings and the need for fresh faces.

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Longevity should always be acknowledged; so, NBC deserves to be lauded for steering Saturday Night Live with steady hands, enabling the sketch comedy show to remain on air for close to 50 years. Apart from entertaining the world by parodying contemporary American culture, SNL has played a key role in launching the careers of many comedians and actors. Any cast member who gets hired, therefore, wishes to stay long enough to make an impact.

Ordinarily, most cast members spend at least two seasons on the show, but there have been a few surprising cases where comedic talents only appeared in a few episodes before being dismissed or quitting. Various factors can be singled out for the quick departures and this article shall go into detail about what exactly happened. Life after SNL also played out differently for those who left. Some still made it big, while others presumably regretted losing the coveted gig.

15 Damon Wayans (12 Episodes)

NBC

Damon Wayans is one of the most celebrated television actors, thanks to his great performances in My Wife & Kids, In Living Color, and the Lethal Weapon reboot. Before all the success, he was a stand-up comedian who created big enough buzz to land himself a cameo role in Beverly Hills Cop. He then joined Saturday Night Live for Season 11, but was let go after only 12 episodes because he went off-script during a sketch involving policemen.

Wayans Claims He Wanted to Be Fired

Wayans has claimed that his decision not to follow the script wasn’t triggered by over-excitement or the desire to prove he was good at improvising. He was frustrated about not having enough screen time, so he felt that it was time to leave and seek better opportunities. To him, getting fired was better than handing in a resignation letter. Wayans also had a few verbal bombs to throw at the boss, claiming that the show’s creator, Lorne Michaels, didn’t want him to become successful too soon.

14 Charles Rocket (12 Episodes)

Charles Rocket during the Weekend Update segment in Saturday Night Live
NBC

Charles Rocket’s story is an unfortunate one as he suffered one of the most heartbreaking actor deaths. The actor was found dead in 2005, with the authorities concluding that he had committed suicide. Before that, he appeared in many movies and shows in supporting roles, including SNL. He appeared in Season 6, where he became popular for playing a fictional game show host named Phil Lively. Sadly, he was fired for saying a curse word on air.

More Cast Members Were Fired

After doing a parody of the popular “Who Shot J.R?” story arc from Dallas, Rocket said, “Oh man, it’s the first time I’ve ever been shot in my life. I’d like to know who f***n did it.” This led to his dismissal, but he wasn’t the only one who was let go. Ratings for the season had been poor, and critics weren’t being kind either. The show was thus placed on hiatus to be retooled, and when it came back, Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo were the only cast members to be retained.

13 Alan Zweibel (11 Episodes)

Alan Zweibel on SNL
NBC

Alan Zweibel has won multiple Emmys, thanks to his writing work on Saturday Night Live, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Monk. He was also honored with the Thurber Prize for American Humor back in 2006. Though he is primarily a writer, Zweibel can act, too, and he proved that during Season 5 of SNL. However, he chose not to continue on that path after the season finale.

There Were Several Upgrades

At the start of Season 5, showrunner Lorne Michaels felt that many of the writers were good enough to do sketches. He thus upgraded Zweibel together with Dan Aykroyd, Jim Downey, Doyle-Murray, Don Novello, and Tom Schiller. Among them, Doyle-Murray would be the only one to return to writing the next season. Thankfully, each of them found success in various ways. Most recently, Zweibel wrote and co-produced the critically-panned but audience-approved comedy-drama film, Here Today.

Related: 10 All-Time Best SNL Movie and TV Show Parodies, Ranked

12 Matthew Laurance (10 Episodes)

Matthew Laurance on SNL
NBC

Matthew Laurance is better known for his role as Mel Silver in Beverly Hills, 90210. Besides that, he has had supporting roles in numerous other movies and television shows, some alongside his twin brother, Mitch Laurance. Before getting his big break, Laurance appeared as a cast member in one of SNL’s shortest seasons, Season 6 (there were only 13 episodes).

Cast Overhaul

Laurance was one of several cast members who were fired as part of an overhaul. The show was ailing at the time, so the network felt the need to bring in fresh faces for Season 7. Still, this was a blessing in disguise for Laurance, as he began getting TV roles frequently, something that hadn’t happened when he was still an SNL cast member. In addition to his on-screen gigs, Laurance has served as an acting coach on various projects.

11 Jim Downey (Nine Episodes)

Jim Downey in SNL
NBC

Jim Downey is the longest-tenured writer in Saturday Night Live’s history, having crafted scripts for 31 seasons. Lorne Michaels even described him as the “best political humorist alive,” and in Season 5, he was part of the team of writers that were upgraded to cast member status. For Downey, this turned out to be a short-term gig as he quickly left to become the head writer for Late Night with David Letterman.

A Return Was Always in the Cards

SNL was always part of Downey’s DNA, so it wasn’t surprising to see him return. He would keep his writing gig until 2013, when he officially announced his retirement. It’s also worth noting that even though Downey was credited as a cast member in only one season, he occasionally appeared in sketches in numerous other seasons, his last one coming in 2005. Fans can also spot him in a few movies, notably one of 2007’s major Hollywood hits, There Will Be Blood.

10 Yvonne Hudson (Eight Episodes)

Yvonne Hudson in SNL
NBC

Yvonne Hudson is best known for being the first Black woman cast member on Saturday Night Live, as well as the third Black cast member. Unfortunately, she was fired in the middle of Season 6. She never signed up for any other screen projects ever since, though she continued to appear in minor uncredited roles on the popular sketch comedy show, until 1984.

A Rocky Season

Hudson’s dismissal wasn’t all down to her performance. She simply joined at the wrong time. Season 6 had seen Jean Doumanian take over as showrunner after Lorne Michaels resigned, citing burnout. Doumanian had to hire a whole new team of cast members, since most of the previous ones had followed Michaels out of the door. With the many changes came a dip in ratings and poor critical reception. Consequently, the network saw the need for an overhaul.

9 Tom Schiller (Seven Episodes)

Tom Schiller in SNL
NBC

Tom Schiller is yet another writer who had a lengthy stint at SNL. He was part of the writing team when the show began and ended up being among the group that was upgraded to cast member status for a single season. Schiller would end up writing for a total of 11 seasons. Besides that, he has directed over 600 commercials that are mainly comedic.

Writing Runs in the Family

For Schiller, sticking to writing and directing was always the wise choice as it’s something that runs in the family. His father, Bob Schiller, wrote for one of the greatest ‘50s sitcoms, I Love Lucy, and All in the Family. So good was Bob that he was even allowed to write for two competing shows, CBS’s It’s Always Jan and NBC’s The Jimmy Durante Show. He might have never mentioned it, but he presumably was very proud of the person his son became.

8 Patrick Weathers (Seven Episodes)

Patrick Weathers in SNL
NBC

Patrick Weathers made a bigger impact on the music industry than the television industry. Before appearing in Season 6 of Saturday Night Live, he had a budding music career, performing on many occasions alongside legendary Hip Hop group Run DMC. He would then become part of Jean Doumanian’s infamous cast members, and after he was let go, he gladly switched back to music.

A Low-Profile Life and Career

It’s hard to tell how big Weathers would have become if he had been given more time on SNL. After all, his skits, especially those that involved music, were well received. Since then, he has rarely made any major headlines, so it can only be assumed that he is doing well. At the moment, Weather’s biggest fans have plenty to enjoy from his vast music collection.

7 Ben Stiller (Four Episodes)

Ben Stiller in SNL-2
NBC

Ben Stiller needs no introduction. As a member of the Frat Pack (a group of actors who have dominated the comedy genre since the mid-90s), Stiller has starred in many high-grossing movies, collecting plenty of accolades in the process. Most recently, he served as a director and producer for the Emmy-winning sci-fi series, Severance. Given how much he has done, fans often forget that he was once a featured performer on SNL in 1989.

Not a Perfect Match

Stiller and SNL might have seemed like a perfect match at first, but things didn’t work out, resulting in him leaving after only four episodes. The discord was born out of the fact that Stiller wanted to continue making short films, yet his SNL contract didn’t allow him to do so. Many budding comedians would have been glad to sacrifice a previous passion for a chance to continue appearing in the popular sketch comedy show. After all, it was a career-maker. Surprisingly, Stiller chose to continue doing what he loved the most. The rest is history. Despite not leaving on good terms, Stiller would return to host in 1998 and 2011.

6 Fred Wolf (Four Episodes)

Fred Wolf in SNL
SNL

Fred Wolf has been a full-time screenwriter for the past few decades, but he began his career as a stand-up in Los Angeles in the late-1980s. He then landed a role as a co-host of the Comedy Central series Comics Only, before joining the writing team of Saturday Night Live, where he went on to serve for several years as a lead writer. In Season 22, he briefly served as a featured cast member.

A Healthy Collaborative Relationship with Former Co-Workers

It’s unclear why Wolf left, as 1996 had been one of the show’s best years. Moreover, he was now earning extra income as both a writer and cast member. Still, Wolf’s decision to leave wasn’t a bad one, as he has made significant contributions to the genre. Since leaving the variety sketch series, he has frequently collaborated with many of his former SNL colleagues in movie and television projects, namely Adam Sandler, David Spade, Chris Farley, Norm Macdonald, and Rob Schneider.

5 Morwenna Banks (Four Episodes)

Morwenna Banks in SNL
NBC

British actress Morwenna Banks has been in many projects, including Season 20 of Saturday Night Live. Recently, she was part of the Channel 4 comedy sketch show, Absolutely. She also produced, wrote, produced, and appeared in the ensemble film The Announcement. Besides that, she has various voice roles in the children’s series Peppa Pig, and is a writer on the Apple TV+ series, Slow Horses.

Another Overhaul Was Needed

Banks was brought in as a repertory player for the final four episodes of Season 20, but found herself without a job when the season ended because Lorne Michaels felt that a cast overhaul was needed for Season 21. It wasn’t a mean decision by the showrunner, as the reception had become really bad. Michaels would later confess that he expected to be fired after the season and when that didn’t happen, he chose to switch things up in a major way.

4 Dan Vitale (Three Episodes)

Dan Vitale in SNL
NBC

Dan Vitale began his career as a stand-up comedian, cutting his teeth at popular spots like the Bitter End and the Improv. Lorne Michaels then mentored him and cast him in the short-lived NBC variety show The New Show, which aired toward the end of the showrunner’s five-season absence from Saturday Night Live. Vitale would then be cast as a featured player in Season 11 before being fired because of drug problems.

SNL Almost Got Canceled

1986 was the year that SNL almost got canceled. NBC president Brandon Tartikoff had to be begged not to pull the plug and only agreed to let the show go on if Michaels hired more talented cast members. Given the circumstances, Vitale can console himself, arguing that he might have been let go anyway, even if he didn’t have a personal problem. Vitale would later state that he had zero regrets about losing the gig, insisting that his drug problem would have only gotten worse if he had become a big comedian.

3 Emily Prager (One Episode)

Emily Prager in SNL
NBC

Emily Prager is more of an author and journalist. She has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, Penthouse, and Village Voice. In addition to that, she has three published novels: Clea and Zeus Divorce, Eve’s Tattoo, and Roger Fishbite. So, how did she end up on SNL? Like many other cast members, Prager began as a writer on the show before finding herself in front of the camera.

A Quick Fix Was Needed

Prager was brought on as part of the temporary Season 6 cast following the departure of showrunner Jean Doumanian. Unfortunately, she was used sparingly, only getting credit as a featured player in a single episode. When plans were being made for Season 7, the decision was made not to bring her back. For Prager, this is something she is unlikely to ever feel bad over, since her writing career took off shortly after she began looking for new opportunities.

Related: Every Movie Based on an SNL Sketch, Ranked

2 George Coe (One Episode)

George Coe in the pilot episode of SNL
NBC

George Coe was the kind of actor showrunners always called if they needed someone to star in a supporting capacity. He has appeared in over 100 movies and television shows, with 99% of his roles being cameo ones. His only frequent gig was the voice of Arthur Woodhouse in the animated spy series, Archer. Given his vast body of work, it’s easy to forget that he was part of the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players” (the original Saturday Night Live cast).

NBC Needed Someone Older

Coe was cast because NBC needed someone older as part of the cast for the pilot. He did well, but chose not to continue being part of the comedy show. However, he would occasionally spare some time from his busy schedule to appear in the sketches. Coe was never credited for any of these, proving he was content with only helping the sketch series get better. Sadly, the actor passed away in 2015 after a lengthy illness. His death was then written into Archer’s Season 8 storyline.

1 Laurie Metcalf (One Episode)

Laurie Metcalf in SNL
NBC

Laurie Metcalf is widely considered one of the greatest actresses of all time. She became popular because of her role Jackie Harris in Roseanne, and its spinoff The Conners, for which she won three Emmys. She has also been nominated for two Tonny Awards and an Oscar, making her a contender for the prestigious EGOT designation. All the success came after her short-lived appearance on Season 6 of Saturday Night Live.

A Ray of Hope for Those Who Don’t Make Shine on SNL

Like Prager, Metcalf was brought in to help fix things when Ebersol took over after the termination of Doumanian’s contract. During her sole appearance, she appeared as part of the Weekend Update segment. Regrettably, she never got a proper chance to flex her skills as the show went on hiatus after the episode, and when it returned, new cast members had been hired. Even so, Metcalf is proof that SNL isn’t the beginning and the end of a comedian or actor’s career. With enough hard work and optimism, flops can always make it elsewhere.

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