Yesterday, Brooks Wheelan announced that he would not be returning to Saturday Night Live next season. Wheelan lasted just one year on the show, and while he had his moments, he never really managed to break out and establish himself as an essential part of the cast. Luckily for Wheelan, he’s in pretty good company. Here’s some other talented folks who were memorably let go from SNL.
Sometimes, bad SNL seasons happen to good people. Thats what happened with Riggle, who was stuck in the woefully awkward 2004-05 campaign. Jimmy Fallon, Tracy Morgan, and Chris Kattan were all out the door, while Andy Samberg, Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis, and Kristen Wiig had yet to arrive. The result was an unmemorable, directionless season which caused Lorne Michaels to make big changes the following summer. Sadly, this meant Riggle was given the boot before he could ever fully develop a voice on the show. Luckily, he rebounded by earning a gig as a Daily Show correspondent where he made a much bigger name for himself. He hosted the ESPY’s and currently has a gig on the Fox NFL Sunday pregame show.
This is one of the more memorable firings in SNL history, because not only did it happen in the middle of the season, it happened in the middle of an episode. In a sketch where Wayans was supposed to play a “straight man”-type cop, Wayans chose to play the character as extremely effeminate, distracting the audience, and leaving them wondering what the joke was supposed to be. As the legend goes, Michaels tore into him backstage, and fired him on the spot. Of course, the incident hardly killed Wayans career; he went on to become a star after breaking out on In Living Colour and starring in the movie Mo’ Money. Wayans was destined for fame, but like many others, SNL just wasn’t the right place for him.
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This might be the only firing that was actually discussed on the show by the person who was fired. After the 2000-01 season, his third on the show, Parnell was let go. Midway through the season, he re-appeared. Those who were wondering just what was going on were given an explanation in the season finale, when Parnell mentioned that Will Ferrell was responsible for Parnell’s re-hiring onto to the show. He would manage to stay in the cast for another five years, creating memorable characters like Merv the Perv, and of course, co-starring in “Lazy Sunday.” Considering how beloved Parnell had become by the time his 2006 departure, it’s hard not to wonder why he was ever let go in the first place. But at least the mistake was corrected, and he rightfully enjoyed a lengthy SNL career.
It’s hard to imagine having a worst first show than Slate did, when she dropped an f-bomb in the middle of a sketch. While Slate remained on the cast for the rest of the season, she was quickly let go upon its completion. Thankfully, she managed to recover nicely. Her short film Marcel The Shell With Shoes On became a phenomenon, leading to a book deal. Last month, Slate’s film Obvious Child was met with rave reviews, with Slate in particularly being credited with giving a brilliant performance. She also co-stars in FX’s new comedy, Married. Based on Slate’s recent star turn, it wouldn’t be surprising if she came back to host SNL in the near future. Let’s hope she can avoid swearing in her opening monologue. No wait, actually that would be pretty awesome.
Robert Downey, Jr.
Yes, that’s right folks, Tony Stark was an SNL cast member. In the ill-fated 1985-86 season, a 20-year-old RDJ was part of one the least-loved casts ever (only three cast members were brought back the following year), which also included Joan Cusack, Randy Quaid, and Anthony Michael Hall. A year after leaving SNL, Downey, Jr. had his breakout role in Less Than Zero, and while he was derailed by drug problems in the 90s, his 2008 comeback as Iron Man lead to him becoming one of America’s most beloved — and highest paid — stars.
Before he became the voice of the Aflac Duck, and his ultra-screechy voice found his way into or hearts, Gottfried was part of the disastrous 1980-81 season, which saw the show bring an entirely new cast, along with a new producer (Jean Doumanian). The whole thing was a catastrophic failure, with Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy being the only cast members who were brought back. Gottfried hadn’t developed his comedic personality yet, and during his lone season on SNL, he mostly just blended into the fabric. He would go on to have a long, successful career in comedy, with his lone year on SNL acting mostly as an historical footnote.
Much like Jenny Slate, MacDonald dropped an f-bomb during a live show, but that probably wasn’t what got him fired. In his case, producer Don Ohlmeyer simply didn’t think he was funny, at least not as the anchor of “Weekend Update.” He was let go in the middle of the season, and replaced by Colin Quinn. MacDonald still appeared in sketches on the show for a short while longer, but it was clear that he was on his way out. The week after his firing, he had a memorable appearance on Letterman in which much of the American public likely heard the word “quisling” for the first time. Two years later, MacDonald came back to host SNL, and in his monologue, he warned the audience that he hadn’t gotten any funnier, and that the only reason he was brought back was because “the show’s gotten really bad.” Probably the best revenge any fired SNL cast member ever got.