31 Famous People Rejected by Saturday Night Live

NBC
NBC

The history of Saturday Night Live is littered with thousands of sketches, hundreds of guest hosts, and even more Not Ready for Prime Time Player wannabes—some more memorable than others. In fact, the list of now-famous folks who auditioned and were denied access to a permanent spot in 30 Rock’s Studio 8H is long enough to fill multiple casts on their own.

1. JIM CARREY


Hollywood’s original $20 Million Man was rejected more than once by SNL. The first time was in 1980, when—citing burnout—Lorne Michaels asked to take a year off. He thought that the show would go on hiatus with him, but the network bumped associate producer Jean Doumanian into Michaels’ position to keep the show going. Her first order of business? Shake up the cast a bit. Carrey auditioned, but Doumanian hired Charlie Rocket instead. So he tried again, but again got a “no.” Michaels isn’t taking the blame for this oversight. In the book Live from New York, he says that “Jim Carrey never auditioned for me personally.” Carrey did eventually make his way onto the studio’s set; he guest hosted in 1996 and again in 2011 and 2014.

2. STEVE CARELL

In 1995, the same year that Steve Carell married fellow comedian Nancy Walls (whom he met at the Second City Training Center), the couple auditioned for SNL. Walls made it but Carell didn’t, which must have made for one awkward celebratory dinner. But it all turned out well in the end; Carell went on to become a household name and has hosted the show on two occasions. He also clearly has no ill will toward the guy who beat him out of the SNL gig, Will Ferrell.

3. DONALD GLOVER


Community star Donald Glover was gainfully employed as a writer (and occasional actor) on 30 Rock when he auditioned not for SNL itself but to play Barack Obama in any presidential sketches during the key 2007-2008 season. Fred Armisen ended up with the role.

4. PAUL REUBENS


Paul Reubens, a.k.a. Pee-Wee Herman, has a theory as to why Gilbert Gottfried got the SNL spot the two of them auditioned for in 1980 —he believes that Gottfried was favored for being friends with one of the producers. “I was so bitter and angry,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I thought, ‘You better think about doing something to take this to the next level.” Which is how Pee-Wee’s Playhouse came to be. “So I borrowed some money and produced this show. I went from this Saturday Night Live reject to having 60 people working for me.”

5. STEPHEN COLBERT

Though it was cancelled shortly after it started, The Dana Carvey Show boasted some serious talent both behind and in front of the camera, including writer Charlie Kaufman and stars Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert. In 2011, GQ ran “An Oral History of the Rise and Fall” of the show, in which Colbert recalled his failed 1992 SNL audition. “Robert Smigel had seen me perform at Second City when he was one of the people scouting for Saturday Night Live. When was Carvey? 1996? So that was in 1992 and I didn't get hired for SNL that time.”

6. AUBREY PLAZA

A year before she nailed the part of April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation, Aubrey Plaza was passed over for a spot on SNL’s roster. “I wanted to be on that show for as long as I could remember,” she told The Guardian in 2012. She started taking improv classes in high school and continued after she moved to New York. She even landed an internship with the show in 2005. She was passed over when she finally auditioned three years later, but was quickly offered a part in Judd Apatow’s Funny People, which brought her to L.A., where she has remained ever since.

7. ZACH GALIFIANAKIS

Zach Galifianakis may not have landed a recurring role after his SNL audition in 1999, but he was funny enough to get himself hired as a part-time writer for a few episodes of the same season. He has guest hosted three times, in 2010, 2011, and 2013.

8. KEVIN HART

Kevin Hart didn’t waste any time dishing on his failed SNL audition when he hosted the show in 2013. In his monologue, he talked about his failure to land a spot, but assured the audience that he was over it. That it had happened a long time ago—“six or seven months, 22 days, like 6 hours ago.”

9. DAVID CROSS

In a conversation with Arrested Development co-star Michael Cera at New York’s 92nd Street Y, David Cross recalled how Cross Comedy, the comedy collective he created in Boston in the 1990s, were brought to New York City to showcase for SNL—and bombed.

10. JOHN GOODMAN

There aren’t too many people who can say they got beat out of a part by Joe Piscopo, but that’s exactly what happened to John Goodman during SNL auditions in 1980. In the end, however, Goodman might have ended up with more SNL screen time, having hosted the show 13 times and made more than a half-dozen cameos.

11. LISA KUDROW

There was only one spot available for the 1990-1991 season of SNL, and it came down to Lisa Kudrow and Julia Sweeney. Lorne Michaels flew out to L.A. to watch a showcase starring the two Groundlings, with Sweeney emerging victorious and remaining on the show until 1994 (the same year Kudrow was cast in Friends). “I knew that SNL was there,” Kudrow later recalled to Los Angeles Magazine. “Julia and I were talking on the phone about it even before they came. The show that night got to me, I was unnerved and clearly not ready. I was disappointed that I did not get it. There's another sign, I thought, that I'm not cut out for it. That feeling lasted for a little bit.”

See Also: 10 Famous People Who Rejected Saturday Night Live

12. KATHY GRIFFIN

Kathy Griffin was in that same showcase with Kudrow and Sweeney and agrees that Michaels made the right decision by choosing Sweeney. “Backstage it was ridiculous,” she recalled of the evening to Los Angeles Magazine. “One girl was in the other room audibly sobbing. [Fellow Groundling] Mary Scheer was throwing makeup in her bag and saying, ‘Let's be honest—I deserve this as much as you guys.’ I was like, ‘Jesus, just focus.’ Lisa and I were really crushed. Julia just kicked our asses. She was perfect.”

13. ADAM MCKAY


Anchorman writer-director Adam McKay’s SNL rejection—for the 1995 season—was probably for the best. He was offered a writing gig instead, and eventually worked his way up to head writer for the latter half of his six years with the show. His success has continued since leaving the show, when he partnered up with fellow alum Will Ferrell.

14. DAVE ATTELL

Comedian Dave Attell was yet another performer who was offered a writing gig in place of an on-camera spot after auditioning for the 1993-1994 season. He left after one season to write for The Jon Stewart Show.

15. MARC MARON


WTF Podcast host Marc Maron loves to share the story of his 1996 meeting with Lorne Michaels when he was called in as a possible “Weekend Update” replacement for Norm MacDonald. Maron blames his rejection on a bowl of candy and wrote a story about the incident, titled “Lorne Michaels and Gorillas,” for Air America. Maron’s contention is that his fate rested on whether or not he took a piece of candy from the bowl on Michaels’ desk, which he obsessed about, then finally gave in. “As soon as I took the candy I swear to God Lorne shot a look at the head writer that clearly connoted to me that I had failed the test,” he wrote. “I walked out of there thinking I ruined my career because of a Jolly Rancher. I don't even like Jolly Ranchers.”

16. JENNIFER COOLIDGE

Christopher Guest ensemble member Jennifer Coolidge had some serious competition when she auditioned for SNL alongside Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, and Chris Kattan in 1995. “They chose Will and Cheri and not Chris and I,” she recalled to Los Angeles Magazine. “And six months later they called up Chris. I was the one who got rejected. I was spared a bullet. I think of all the demons, and playing politics. The good thing was I might have become anorexic. But I probably would have self-destructed on SNL.”

17. JEFF ROSS

Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon weren’t the only folks vying for Colin Quinn’s spot at the Weekend Update desk in 2000. Comedian Jeff Ross was in contention, too. But Fey had clout: three years' experience as a writer for the show and one season as head writer.

18. PAUL SCHEER


The League star auditioned for SNL in both 2001 and 2002. He recalled the auditions in an interview with Splitsider in 2012, noting that the dumbest thing he did was a series of impressions, including Jeff Goldblum returning a shirt and a panda bear sitting in first class. “My final meeting was the first time I ever really met Lorne Michaels... At the end of the meeting, he said, ‘Do you have any questions for me?’ And I said, ‘No.’ And then he said, ‘Really? Thirty years in TV and you don’t have a question for me?’ It was a totally terrible response. I should have had a question. I think that answer cost me the job at SNL, but I basically just said, ‘If I had my druthers, I would keep you here all night.’ And he said, ‘Of course, of course. All right, well, thank you very much.’”

19. JACK MCBRAYER

In that same interview, Scheer recalled that his second audition—which was more of a group improv—included 30 Rock star Jack McBrayer. “I didn’t know anybody else besides Jack McBrayer,” Scheer recalled. “That was interesting because it was a bunch of people all competing for the same job, trying to prove that they’re funny, but also it was really cool because everyone respected the space. You would think it would have been a little more competitive. But that also was the year that Fred Armisen said ‘no,’ he wasn’t gonna do that if he didn’t have an improv background. He just did Fericito, and he was the one who ultimately got hired.”

20. KEL MITCHELL

After four years of co-starring in Kenan & Kel for Nickelodeon, stars Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell went their separate ways, but not before both auditioned for SNL. The ending to this story is obvious: Kenan got the job (he’s in his eleventh year on the show), Kel did not.

21. AND 22. JORMA TACCONE AND AKIVA SCHAFFER

Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island cohorts, understand what it’s like to compete against a comedic partner in crime. The entire trio auditioned for SNL’s 2005 season, but only Samberg was lucky enough to be cast. But Samberg didn’t leave his partners behind; both have served as writers for the show.

23., 24., 25., AND 26. DAVE FOLEY, SCOTT THOMPSON, BRUCE MCCULLOCH, AND KEVIN MCDONALD

The Kids in the Hall guys—Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, Bruce McCulloch, and Scott Thompson—were in a similar situation when they auditioned for the show in 1985. McCulloch and McKinney were brought on as writers for a season. In 1995, McKinney did actually join the cast.

27. GEENA DAVIS

Five years before she earned an Oscar for The Accidental Tourist, Geena Davis lost out on a spot in SNL’s 1984-1985 season to Pamela Stephenson.

28. RICHARD BELZER

Though today’s audience knows him as Law & Order’s series-jumping Sergeant Munch, Richard Belzer got his start as a stand-up. Belzer was SNL's warm-up comic in its first season, which led to a couple of appearances on the show, including a stint at the Weekend Update desk after Chevy Chase suffered a groin injury. Belzer has long contended that Lorne Michaels promised him a place in the cast but later reneged. “Lorne betrayed me and lied to me—which he denies—but I give you my word he said, ‘I'll work you into the show,’” Belzer told People in 1993.

29. ROBERT TOWNSEND

Eddie Murphy ended up being cast for the slot that comedian Robert Townsend auditioned for in 1980, the year Jean Doumanian took over for Lorne Michaels. No doubt the experience worked its way into Hollywood Shuffle, Townsend’s groundbreaking—and semi-autobiographical—1987 film about the struggle of black actors in Hollywood.

30. ROB HUEBEL


Children’s Hospital star Rob Huebel auditioned for SNL a couple of times in the mid-2000s. “The way they do that is they put together a list of people that they want to audition, and they have them all do a show at some comedy club,” he explained to Splitsider. “You go and do a few characters of your own and a few impressions, if you wanna do impressions, or you can do stand-up if you wanted to do that. But you do it at this comedy club somewhere in New York, and they all come and they sit in the back and they show up late and they watch it and they don’t laugh and you feel horrible. But if you do okay, you get called back and you go into 30 Rock and you do it on their stage at the real show. ... I auditioned twice, one year I got to go in and do that at 30 Rock but they really ice you out. They try to make it as scary as possible because it’s a live show, and in real life, I’m sure it is terrifying and things do go wrong, so they want you to be prepared … It’s the most intimidating thing. I know Rob Riggle auditioned the same year, and he got it and I was happy for him, but it didn’t work out for me.”

31. KERRI KENNEY

“It was terrifying,” The State and Reno 911! star Kerri Kenney told Marc Maron on WTF of her failed 1996 SNL audition. “I believe they must do it that way on purpose because since then I've never had an audition so terrifying… Sit and wait, cold room. I feel like I was in a basement that was like seven buildings away and someone comes and gets you in a page jacket and they lead you through hallways and you're trying to keep up with your bag of props and hit the mark. You have four minutes. Do your best this, this, and this… I got no laughs, and at the time, I thought, ‘Wow, if I want to be in this business, this is what it’s going to be every time.’ Thank god it's never like that.”

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

See Also:

9 Saturday Night Live Movies That Were Never Made

10 Famous People Who Rejected Saturday Night Live

These Breaking Bad K-Swiss Sneakers Are Heisenberg-Approved

K-Swiss
K-Swiss

On the heels of last week's Netflix release of El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, fans of Breaking Bad have another treat on tap. Sneaker brand K-Swiss just announced a special edition sneaker modeled after the now-iconic RV camper where unlikely drug kingpin Walter White and his sidekick Jesse Pinkman cooked batches of the finest methamphetamine New Mexico had ever seen.

A K-Swiss Classic 2000 x 'Breaking Bad' Recreational Vehicle sneaker is pictured
K-Swiss

The Classic 2000 x Breaking Bad Recreational Vehicle sneakers sport the same distinctive striped pattern as the camper and feature the show’s logo on the tongue. Inside is a lining that resembles the upholstery of the camper’s interior. The shoebox even has a few bullet holes to mimic the ones on the camper’s door.

Unlike Walt's meth, the sneakers are available only in limited quantities. K-Swiss plans on launching the shoe beginning at 6 p.m. PST on Thursday, October 17, at a pop-up store at 7100 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, California. (The “store” is actually the screen-used RV from the series, and fans are welcome to stop by to take pictures with it.) The company will release 50 pairs at the pop-up, with another 250 through K-Swiss.com and through Greenhouse, a designer and collectible shoe app from Foot Locker.

The shoes retail for $80, but unless you’re one of the lucky few able to grab a pair through the routes above, you’ll probably have to consider a marked-up eBay sale. As Walter White well knows, quality comes at a heavy price.

10 Gruesome Facts About Dawn of the Dead

Anchor Bay Entertainment
Anchor Bay Entertainment

In the late 1960s, George A. Romero changed horror cinema forever with Night of the Living Dead, an instant classic that defined zombie storytelling on the big and small screens for decades to come. Over the next decade, Romero—who was reluctant to revisit the creepy world of shambling corpses he’d brought to life—tried other things. But then a chance encounter with a shopping mall and a little help from a fellow horror master changed his mind. The result was Dawn of the Dead, an over-the-top horror comic book for the big screen that remains, for many fans, the greatest zombie film ever made.

It’s been more than 40 years since Dawn of the Dead first arrived in theaters, and the film remains a wickedly fun piece of horror satire full of exploding heads, mischievous bikers, and one very dangerous helicopter. In celebration of four decades of terror at the mall, here are 10 facts about the making of Dawn of the Dead.

1. We can thank the mall (and Dario Argento) for Dawn of the Dead.

When Night of the Living Dead became a massive hit after its release in 1968, Romero began fielding various offers to potentially revisit the world of ghouls that he had created. Romero, who’d made a living making TV commercials in Pittsburgh before Night of the Living Dead was made, was "paranoid" about the idea of returning for a second film, and left it alone for years until an idea unexpectedly came to him.

As Romero explained on Anchor Bay’s Dawn of the Dead commentary track, the idea for the film initially came to him when he touring Pennsylvania's Monroeville Mall, which was owned by some friends of his. During the tour, he was shown some crawlspace within the mall where various supplies were stored, and started thinking about what might happen if people holed up in the mall to try and ride out a zombie apocalypse.

The second big ingredient that led to Dawn of the Dead was Dario Argento, the acclaimed Italian director best known for Suspiria and Deep Red. Argento offered to help Romero get financing for a Night of the Dead sequel, and even invited him to Rome to work on the script.

“They got us a little apartment, I sat in Rome and banged this out,” Romero said.

2. George A. Romero came up with the most famous line while drinking.

A photograph of George A. Romero
Vittorio Zunino Celotto, Getty Images

The most famous line in Dawn of the Dead—a line so famous it became the movie's tagline and was later reused in Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake—belongs to the character of Peter: “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth.” As catchy and unforgettable as it is, Romero doesn’t recall any grand moment of inspiration. He was just drunk one night, trying to get the script finished.

“I just made that up. Truly. On a drunken night when I was really crashing to finish the script and I thought that was kind of nice. It was from something Dario Argento told me,” Romero told Rolling Stone in 1978. “My family is Cuban and Dario said, ‘Well you have a Caribbean background and that’s why you’re into the zombie thing; zombies originated in Haiti.’ I said, well, all right, and I just figured that’s something a voodoo priest might say. Whee! I’m just having fun, man.”

3. Multiple versions of Dawn of the Dead exist.

Argento helped Romero find financing for Dawn of the Dead and served as a “script consultant” on the film. In exchange, Argento retained the right to recut the film for various foreign markets, while Romero retained final cut for North and South America. As a result, the Italian version of the film was shorter than Romero’s U.S. version, as Argento trimmed certain jokes he felt Italian audiences wouldn’t get. This increased the darkness of the film, which led to certain content cuts in other foreign markets. This is why several different cuts of the film wound up existing around the world, including an R-rated re-release that was re-cut for drive-in theaters in 1982.

4. Dawn of the Dead was released unrated in America.

Dawn of the Dead was released first in international markets, arriving in Italian theaters in the fall of 1978, months before it would land in the United States. In just a few weeks, the film was a commercial success overseas without ever playing to American audiences. So, when Romero and company ran into MPAA demands that they cut the film down or get an X rating, they doubled down and released the film unrated without any cuts to the gore.

5. The zombies didn’t get a lot of direction.

Though he’s renowned among horror fans as the man responsible for building zombies into one of the most effective movie monsters, Romero didn’t spend too much time guiding his undead ghouls. The director felt that if he tried to offer detailed direction in terms of zombie behavior, the zombies would all start acting one way instead of like a group of individuals. So, direction was kept to a minimum.

“You just have to say, ‘Be dead,’” he later recalled.

6. Yes, it was filmed in a working mall.

The Monroeville Mall was not a Romero invention. It was a real, working shopper’s paradise, owned by friends of his, which meant that it wasn’t just going to be shut down for weeks at a time so a zombie movie crew could come in and wreck it. Though Romero and his wife Chris later recalled having to stay out of the mall while the Christmas decorations were up (which is when scenes set elsewhere were shot), once the crew did get into the mall they could only shoot at night.

To make that easier, the crew replaced many of the lights in the mall with color-corrected lighting, so they could essentially shoot wherever they chose. At 7 a.m. each morning the mall’s Muzak would automatically start playing, which meant shooting was done for the day, and the cast and crew could shamble home for a little rest. (The Monroeville Mall, which is located about 10 miles from Pittsburgh, is still in operation today.)

7. Many of Dawn of the Dead's gore effects were improvised.

Though he would eventually become known as one of horror’s great gore wizards, at the time of Dawn of the Dead Tom Savini’s career as a special effects artist was still quite young. As he recalled later, he was doing a play in North Carolina when Romero called him and said: “We got another gig. Think of ways to kill people.”

Savini later recalled that he was given a great deal of freedom to play with different ideas for the many, many gore effects in Dawn of the Dead, so much so that many of the most memorable effects were made up on the day of shooting, including the scene in which a zombie takes a screwdriver through the ear and the exploding head during the SWAT raid on the housing project near the beginning of the film. Savini’s knack for improvisation also served him well in another capacity: The character of Blades the biker, which Savini plays, was not in the original script. He was simply added during shooting.

“George let us go play,” Savini recalled.

8. Dawn of the Dead is packed with cameos.

Like many of Romero’s films, Dawn of the Dead’s production was based in his native Pittsburgh, which meant that getting people to be in the movie was often as simple as contacting friends and family and inviting them to appear on camera. Romero makes a cameo in the film himself, alongside his future wife and producer Chris, in the film’s opening sequence at the TV station, where the couple is sitting side by side at a control panel (Romero, Savini noted on the commentary track, is also wearing his “lucky scarf”). Other cameos scattered throughout the film include Chris Romero’s brother Cliff Forrest as the man who leans over a sleeping Francine in the opening shot, and Tom Savini’s niece and nephew as the two zombie children who burst out of a closet at the landing strip and attack Peter.

9. The bikers were not actors.

As with some of the smaller speaking roles, getting extras to show up in Dawn of the Dead was often a matter of simply asking around Pittsburgh for the right people. As a result, the National Guardsmen present in the film, as well as some of the police officers, were real National Guardsmen and real cops.

For the legendary sequence in which a biker gang stages a raid on the mall, the production also managed to find real bikers in form of a group called The Pagans, who brought their own motorcycles for the shoot.

“I don’t remember who contacted them, but they just showed up,” Chris Romero later recalled.

10. Dawn of the Dead almost featured a darker ending.

During production on Dawn of the Dead, George Romero told Rolling Stone writer Chet Flippo that the film had, in Flippo’s words “no beginning and two endings.” Romero explained that this was because he was working “moment to moment” on the film. He eventually figured the beginning of the film out, of course, and went with an ending in which Peter and Francine fight their way out of the mall and onto the roof, where they escape in the helicopter. So, what was the other ending?

On the film’s commentary track, George and Chris Romero and Tom Savini all discuss a much darker concept to close the film, in which Peter would have shot himself (which he contemplates doing in the final cut) while Francine would have leapt into the spinning blades of the helicopter, mirroring one of the most famous zombie deaths earlier in the film. That ending would have followed in the footsteps of Night of the Living Dead’s dark ending, but Romero ultimately decided on something lighter.

Still, the original plan didn’t go to waste: Savini had already made a cast of actress Gaylen Ross’s head to use for Francine’s death scene, so he repurposed it—with the help of some makeup and a wig—for the famous exploding head shot during the housing project raid.

Additional Sources:
Shock Value by Jason Zinoman (The Penguin Press, 2011)
Dawn of the Dead DVD Commentary (Anchor Bay, 2004)

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