More than 40 years after it first hit the air, Saturday Night Live remains an enduringly relevant pop culture phenomenon. Few shows have faced as much scrutiny as the various iterations of the not-ready-for-primetime-players have, but even fewer have survived nearly 800 episodes and can still generate the attention, buzz and headlines of SNL. In recent weeks, NBC’s Saturday night flagship delved into controversy by booking Donald Trump as a guest host and then drew praise by breaking from standard format to honor Paris in the aftermath of the November 13th attacks with a tribute from Cecily Strong.
Over the years, the SNL machine has stayed fresh through the energy and spirit of an ever-changing roster of dynamic, funny young comedians looking to build a wider following through greater exposure. The show’s creator, Lorne Michaels, has always had a keen eye for talent and it’s been under his watch that budding stars like Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, Adam Sandler, Tina Fey and Will Ferrell, along with so many more, have used Studio 8H as a stepping stone for big screen stardom.
Of course, not every on-air talent within the SNL universe has made it big. For every John Belushi, there are innumerable talent-less players like Tony Rosato and scads of poor fits like Jay Mohr. To succeed with Michaels, you need to pitch skits that get the green light after a mid-week table read and then manage to deliver the goods live in front of an in-studio and TV audience while navigating through a versatile variety of skits. In other words, it isn’t quite the fun and games that it may look like from the outside in.
No wonder, then, that these 10 poor souls didn’t quite make the grade. You could say that they were not ready to be not-ready-for-primetime players.
10. Victoria Jackson
Credit Jackson with lasting six seasons as an SNL player, particularly given that her very existence on the show came about after Lorne Michaels axed most of the season 11 cast. She managed to get by with a series of ditzy blonde characters and a signature oddball routine in which she would recite poetry while doing handstands on the Weekend Update desk in front of a bemused Dennis Miller. However, as the seasons wore on, it became increasingly clear that her comedy range didn’t stretch far past those two skills – and neither was ever all that funny.
9. Brad Hall
The first among the several comics that will surely generate a “who?” response among most readers, Hall spent two seasons on SNL in the early eighties but remains best known as Mr. Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Hall had a flat, deadpan delivery that worked well in certain sketches, but too often left him in the forgettable position as straight man to other wacky characters. He is, perhaps, the most forgotten figure to ever helm the Weekend Update desk. Upon being fired by then-SNL head honcho Dick Ebersol before the 10th season, he smartly shifted off-camera to writing and producing in television and film.
8. Colin Quinn
Both Quinn and Darrell Hammond joined the SNL cast in 1995, but while Hammond might have been the most versatile, skilled impressionist in the show’s decorated history, Quinn was among the most limited. If you needed a tough smart ass with an Irish New Yorker accent, he was your guy – just don’t expect a whole lot else. Outside of his three-year run at the Weekend Update desk, you’d be hard-pressed to recall one recurring character that he really owned, which is strange for a five-year guy. He was last seen playing Amy Schumer’s curmudgeon father in Trainwreck.
7. Jenny Slate
Anyone reading this who’s familiar with Slate’s funny work on shows like FX’s Married and NBC’s Parks & Recreation is probably saying to themselves “wait, Jenny Slate was on SNL?”. Slate’s blink-and-you-missed-it one-season stint had precisely one memorable moment, and an unintentional one at that. In her very first sketch, a biker chick talk-show with Kristen Wiig during the show’s season premiere in 2009, Slate let loose an accidental f-bomb on live TV. Her debut faux pas proved the beginning of a very quick end, as her appearances were scaled back through the rest of the season, at which point she was let go.
6. Anthony Michael Hall
The funny thing is that Michael Hall had all the makings of a great SNL player. He arrived at Studio 8H in 1985 at 17 years of age (still the youngest cast member in the show’s history), having already gained some measure of fame with John Hughes classics Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club already on his resume. Apparently, however, no one ever bothered to check if he was actually funny and he didn’t have the versatility and comic timing to adapt. At season’s end, he wound up as part of the most star-studded group to get axed from the show alongside Joan Cusack, Robert Downey Jr. and Randy Quaid.
5. Jim Belushi
Family ties don’t have a great history when it comes to SNL. Neither Chris Elliott nor daughter Abby Elliott stood out as cast members and few remember Brian Doyle Murray, brother of Bill. Jim Belushi, who went on to considerable success with hit sitcom According to Jim and a respectable film career, had a similar level of fame to big brother John, an all-time great who died too soon. But while John brought life to characters like Samurai Futaba and Elwood Blues, Jim’s two-year SNL tenure was remembered only for what he wasn’t.
4. Damon Wayans
Plenty of people have been fired from the show over the years, but only one has ever been known to get a mid-episode axing. Wayans would, of course, later find sketch comedy stardom on In Living Color along the way to building an impressive comedy resume. But at 30 Rockefeller, he found his SNL career cut unexpectedly short after a sketch in which he veered from his intended role as a straight-man cop and spontaneously decided to try out an extremely effeminate character instead. Legend has it that Michaels immediately tracked him down, tore into him backstage and fired him on the spot.
3. Charles Rocket
One of the darker stories of SNL failure, particularly in light of his tragic 2005 suicide, Rocket was a classic case of over-inflated hype and unfulfilled expectations. Brought in for the tumultuous 1980-81 season in which many previous favorites (including a briefly departed Michaels) had left, Rocket was viewed as the show’s newest star and Chevy Chase‘s heir apparent. It didn’t pan out. Rocket alienated the audience with a bitter, indifferent demeanor and was quickly overshadowed by co-stars Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy, who he soon became intensely jealous of.
2. Ellen Cleghorne
The second female African-American cast member in SNL history, Cleghorne’s anointment as an SNL player in 1991 appeared to have more to do with political correctness than any actual track record of being funny. She stuck around for four seasons, and yet the biggest laugh she ever drew probably came in a Family Guy episode when Stewie Griffin wondered if they had even “found an appropriate vehicle” for Cleghorne, a reference to failed attempts to find her place in comedy. It speaks to both her own limited range and SNL’s historical struggle with handling race and finding roles for minority players that she was best known for a character named ‘Queen Shenequa’.
1. Horatio Sanz
No one found Horatio Sanz funnier than Sanz, himself. That much is evident by the countless sketches in which the jovial, heavy-set eight-year cast member couldn’t hold back his laughter and ‘broke’ in the middle of sketches. Only Jimmy Fallon could match his friend and fellow player in number of crack-ups, but Fallon at least offered reason to laugh. Remarkably, Sanz actually got worse over the course of his lengthy run, transitioning from prepared and able to used his humorous look to deliver straight-faced physical comedy to a spastic, volatile mess that gradually became uncomfortable to watch.
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