15 Celebs Who Rose to Fame After Being Fired From Saturday Night Live

by Kristine Cannon
Mar 20, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. ET
Jenny Slate 2015 Film Independent Spirit Awards
Image: Christopher Patey/Getty Images

With 43 seasons and 150 featured cast members so far, it's no surprise NBC's long-running comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live has a truly fascinating history — one that's been covered in countless memoirs (two are Tina Fey's and Amy Poehler's), podcasts (WTF with Marc Maron has many SNL-centric episodes) and, more specifically, the national bestseller (and beast of a book) Live From New York, a complete and uncensored history of the show, straight from the mouths of its stars, writers and guests themselves. 

To start, did you know there's believed to be an SNL curse? Basically, once you leave the cast, you have a higher chance of an early death. How morbid is that? John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Chris Farley and Phil Hartman (among others) are believed to be victims of the curse. They definitely died young: 33, 42, 33 and 49, respectively.

And have you heard of the F-Bomb Club? You do not want to be part of this club, either, especially if you're a cast member. Sam Rockwell and Kristen Stewart are two of the most recent celebs to join it by accidentally dropping the F-bomb when they appeared as hosts on the show. Lucky for them, they weren't part of the cast, or they would have gotten fired. It's true; producer Lorne Michaels has a very low tolerance for cursing on live TV (for good reason). 

For instance, remember when Jenny Slate, a cast member from 2009-2010, dropped the F-bomb on her very first on-air skit? She never quite lived it down because she eventually got fired for doing it.

For some, getting fired might signal the end of their career, but not for these former SNL cast members. In fact, getting the ax helped boost them to fame and stardom. 

Here are 15 SNL cast members who got fired and made it big.

1 /13: Rob Riggle

Rob Riggle Spike TV 10th Annual Guys Choice Awards
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1/13 :Rob Riggle

Rob Riggle’s timing wasn’t great when he joined the cast of SNL in 2004, coming on board as Jimmy Fallon and Tracy Morgan were on their way out. But Lorne Michaels ended up giving Riggle the boot after just a year. Andy Samberg, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig would join shortly after, while Riggle snagged himself a gig on The Daily Show as a correspondent. And since then, he’s been in countless comedies and even hosted the ESPYs.

2 /13: Damon Wayans

Damon Wayans PaleyFest 2016
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2/13 :Damon Wayans

When Damon Wayans got fired, it was mid-episode. Harsh.

Wayans was to play a straight-shooting cop, but instead he played the character as effeminate. According to rumor, Michaels fired him backstage. Wayans went on to star in In Living Color and the sitcom My Wife and Kids, which ran from 2001 to 2005.

3 /13: Jenny Slate

Jenny Slate SFFILM Festival
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3/13 :Jenny Slate

We’ll never forget Jenny Slate dropping the F-bomb in the middle of her very first sketch. She stayed on for the rest of the season (2009-2010), and Michaels let her go once it wrapped — but clearly not to her face. Slate said on the podcast WTF with Marc Maron that she found out she was fired by reading an article online. "It took me a few years to get back to myself; I developed stage fright, so I went to a hypnotist," she told ABC News. "I thought I didn't have the right to be creative anymore, but my husband told me, 'You were creative before, and you'll be creative after — it's in your nature.' He was right."

Slate went on to write a book based on her wildly popular short film Marcel the Shell With Shoes On. Her role in Obvious Child also earned her rave reviews. You can also catch her on FX’s Married and in several episodes of Parks and Recreation.

4 /13: Robert Downey Jr. & Anthony Michael Hall

Robert Downey Jr Spider-Man Homecoming premiere
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4/13 :Robert Downey Jr. & Anthony Michael Hall

Show of hands if you had no idea Robert Downey Jr. was on SNL

Yeah, us too.

Only 20 years old at the time, Downey was cast during the 1985-1986 season, alongside Anthony Michael Hall (who was 17) and Joan Cusack. But they didn’t last long. Both he and Hall were let go after just one season. 

After leaving, though, Downey obviously did just fine; he became Tony Stark in Iron Man, after all. Hall starred in the TV series The Dead Zone for five years, had a role in Community for a couple years and has starred in countless films.

5 /13: Norm Macdonald

Norm MacDonald 2015 NBCUniversal Summer Press Day
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5/13 :Norm Macdonald

Norm Macdonald also dropped an F-bomb, obviously long before Slate did it. But what actually got him fired was NBC Executive Don Ohlmeyer, who simply didn’t think he was funny as the anchor of “Weekend Update.” Ohlmeyer let him go in the middle of the season, and Colin Quinn replaced him at the desk. Macdonald said in Live From New York that he discovered he was fired mere hours after he found out Farley had died. 

Since he left SNL, Macdonald went on to star in his own TV show, Norm. He also had a role on Billy Madison, and he currently has a successful weekly podcast, Norm Macdonald Live.

6 /13: Sarah Silverman

2018 Film Independent Spirit Awards
Image: Brian To/WENN

6/13 :Sarah Silverman

Comedienne and excellent tweeter Sarah Silverman was let go after just one season (18 weeks) — via fax. It was 1994, after all. 

"It wasn't like I did something wrong," Silverman told HuffPost Live. "I was that last year of the old guard, and they started anew. And by the way, I wrote not a single funny sketch, so that might have something to do with it, too." 

Following the firing, she really gained a name for herself in the comedy world, particularly with her stand-up documentary, Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic, and her Comedy Central series, The Sarah Silverman Program.

7 /13: Adam Sandler & Chris Farley

Adam Sandler and Chris Farley
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7/13 :Adam Sandler & Chris Farley

Adam Sandler and Chris Farley were supposedly fired at the same time: the summer of 1995. But according to Sandler, they quit. 

“We kind of quit at the same time as being fired,” Sandler told The Daily Beast. “It was the end of the run for us. The fact that me and him got fired? Who knows. We were on it for a few years, had our run, and everything happens for a reason. We kind of understood because we did our thing. It hurt a lot at the time because we were young and didn’t know where we were going, but it all worked out.”

Sandler blew up after his time on SNL. I mean, do we really need to list off all the massively successful films he’s starred in? As for Farley, he was on the rise with films like Black Sheep and Tommy Boy but died of a drug overdose in 1997.

8 /13: Laurie Metcalf

Laurie Metcalf AARP The Magazines Movies for Grownups Awards
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8/13 :Laurie Metcalf

This is a very short-lived stint on SNL

Laurie Metcalf, who you probably know best from her time on Roseanne, was a cast member for one whole episode. When Metcalf was brought on as a replacement, a writers’ strike put the show on hiatus, and she didn’t return. 

Metcalf would do very well for herself, though. Recently, she received an Oscar nomination for her role in Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird and won Best Supporting Actress at AARP's Movies for Grownups Awards for the same role. 

9 /13: Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Julia Louis-Dreyfus HBO Emmy Party 2017
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9/13 :Julia Louis-Dreyfus

It didn’t sound like Julia Louis-Dreyfus enjoyed her time on SNL, which lasted for three years, from 1982 to 1985.

Louis-Dreyfus joined the cast when she was 21 and calls her time on the show “pretty miserable.” She told Entertainment Weekly that SNL was a “very dog-eat-dog” kind of place in the early ’80s, adding that "there were a lot of drugs, and I didn’t realize everybody was on drugs."

But she can thank the show for introducing her to Larry David, who was also a writer for SNL

"We sort of became friends because we identified with each other’s misery,” Louis-Dreyfus said. Plus, making friends with David led to her getting cast as Elaine Benes on Seinfeld. Currently, though, Louis-Dreyfus stars on the incredibly successful, award-winning HBO comedy Veep.

10 /13: Joan Cusack

Joan Cusack 2013 Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards
Image: FayesVision/WENN

10/13 :Joan Cusack

Joan Cusack on SNL? Who knew?

As previously mentioned, Cusack was hired on at the same time as Downey and Hall. Although she was fired after one season, she did land a role in the 1987 rom-com Broadcast News, which would catapult her career. Currently, you can spot her in the award-winning Showtime drama Shameless.

11 /13: Chris Rock

Chris Rock 2016 Emmys
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11/13 :Chris Rock

Another day, another SNL alum spilling the beans on Marc Maron’s podcast. 

This time, it's Chris Rock, who explained how he got fired from SNL in the ‘90s, claiming he purposely got himself fired so he could join the cast of In Living Color

"SNL was still a pretty white show. When I got hired, I was the first black guy in like eight years — and In Living Color was just hip. The shit was hot. I wanted to be in an environment where I didn’t have to translate the comedy I wanted to do," Rock said.

12 /13: Casey Wilson

Casey Wilson 2014
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12/13 :Casey Wilson

Casey Wilson lasted two seasons before she got fired from SNL. At the time, in the early naughts (2008-2009), it was rumored that execs let her go because she was overweight But those rumors turned out to be false.  

After she was fired, she said, "My mindset is good. I did it for a year and a half. I don't think it will ultimately define my career. And it wasn't the best fit for me.”

Wilson went on to star in the ABC fan favorite Happy Endings, and she currently has a popular weekly podcast called Bitch Sesh: A Real Housewives Breakdown

13 /13: Taran Killam & Jay Pharoah

Taran Killam and Jay Pharoah
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13/13 :Taran Killam & Jay Pharoah

Taran Killam and Jay Pharoah were both let go in 2016. Killam and Pharoah had been on the show since 2010 and were key impressionists, so it’s no surprise Killam was genuinely hurt by the firing.  

“I was there for six years,” he told Uproxx. “I have not been anywhere in my life for six years. I don’t know that the end of something that you’ve committed that much time and energy to is ever going to feel great... You sign for seven years, so I had one more year. I had sort of had it in my head I would make this upcoming year my last year, but then heard they weren’t going to pick up my contract. I was never given a reason why, really. I can assume until the cows come home.” 

Killam went on to star in the hit Broadway play Hamilton