It was interesting to see that, in her promos for this week’s hosting gig on Saturday Night Live, Sarah Silverman made light of her stint as a writer and featured player on Saturday Night Live twenty years ago. While many may know that Silverman is a former cast member of SNL, like some other short-lived female cast members — Julia Louis Dreyfus, Michaela Watkins, Casey Wilson, Jenny Slate — it’s not something we immediately associate with her.
In Silverman’s case, it’s because she had such a small presence during her one year stint on the show. As a writer, only one of her sketches made it as far as dress rehearsal (it didn’t make it into the final show), and as a performer, you’d be hard pressed to remember her from anything. Silverman made absolutely no impression. She herself admits that she “bombed” and that, during her stay, she did not write “one single funny sketch.”
Silverman is not bitter about it, though, nor did she hold any ill will toward the show (although, she does confess that the firing came as a surprise to her). It was simply part of a period in her early career where she struck out a lot (right after getting fired from SNL, she was also in a television pilot that was not picked up). Those setbacks would damage her psyche and made her more insecure for a time, but eventually, they also made her stronger, more thick-skinned, more resilient.
Silverman does not often talk about her year on SNL in interviews, however. Not because she’s upset about it, but because it’s “boring,” she says. She got the job. She lost the job. She was fired via fax. The End. She just wasn’t ready yet for SNL, she once told Terry Gross.
It was also crummy timing. Silverman came in at the end of the Boys’ Club Era of Saturday Night Live, and Silverman didn’t fit in, although she did apparently do well during Thursday meetings, when the rest of the cast was gloomy and downtrodden. “People look like they’re growing molds after, like, three in the morning. They’re sunk into the table like some sort of a fungus,” Michael McKean told The New Yorker. “Sarah just had this juice going at times. She used to remind me of Tigger. In the midst of all this gloomy, fearful dialogue there was this crazy girl jumping around.”
Bob Odenkirk, who was a writer on Saturday Night Live during her year, and who would later bring Silverman to Mr. Show, explained to The New Yorker why it didn’t work out for Silverman:
“I could see how it wouldn’t work at ‘S.N.L.,’ because she’s got her own voice, she’s very much Sarah Silverman all the time. She can play a character but she doesn’t disappear into the character—she makes the character her. She doesn’t really do character voices. She puts out stuff that she would appreciate and then you can like it or not — she doesn’t give a sh*t.”
The experience wasn’t a complete loss for Silverman. In fact, she used her experiences in an episode of The Larry Sanders Show that parodied Saturday Night Live. In the episode, “The New Writer,” Silverman played a writer whose ideas were consistently rejected because of the chauvinism of the writing staff.
If only Silverman had survived the cast purges after the 1994 season and 1995 seasons (5 were fired or left after 1994, and 9 were fired or left after the 1995 season, and Mike Meyers left midway through the ’95 season), maybe Silverman could’ve made it to the Tina Fey era, when things finally began to shift for women on Saturday Night Live. She could’ve had a completely different career, but then again, it’s hard to complain about the terrific one she’s had so far. After all, it brought her full circle back to Saturday Night Live, where she’ll be hosting this weekend.