The Words “Live From New York…” have been ringing in Saturday nights for 42 hilarious years. The classic NBC sketch show debuted in 1975 with a now-legendary cast including Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Chevy Chase. The show has gone on to launch the careers of comedians such as Tina Fey, Eddie Murphy, Amy Poehler, Chris Rock, Mike Myers and many more. In honor of 42 years, here are 42 side-splitting facts about Saturday Night Live!
42. First Utterance
Chevy Chase was the first person to utter what would become a very famous line. On October 11th, 1975, a new TV show debuted with a sketch featuring an English tutor and his Eastern European immigrant student discussing badgers and wolverines before falling down dead for seemingly no reason. Then Chase, dressed as a stage manager, walked into frame, stared into the camera, and declared, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”
41. First Flub
Speaking of famous SNL firsts, the live show has a long history of actors flubbing lines. The first person ever to screw up their delivery was none other than legendary SNL announcer Don Pardo in the very first episode. He was meant to announce the show’s cast, then called the “Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players,” but mixed up his words, calling them the “Not-For-Ready-Prime-Time Players.”
40. He’s Around Often Enough…
Contrary to what many may think, Steve Martin was never actually a cast member on Saturday Night Live. The misconception is understandable—Martin has certainly made enough appearances on the show over the years. In addition to popping up in numerous guest appearances, he’s hosted 15 times (once he did so three times in a single season) and is the only person to host a season premiere, a season finale, and a Christmas show.
39. A Select Group
In its 42+ years, only three people have directed the lion’s share of SNL episodes: Dave Wilson (335 episodes between 1975-1995), Beth McCarthy-Miller (218 episodes between 1995-2006) and Don Roy King (215 episodes between 2006-2017). However, show has had some pretty famous guest directors, including Christopher Guest, Jonathan Demme, Mike Judge, Bruce McCulloch and Eric Idle.
38. Perseverance is the Key to Success
Eddie Murphy wouldn’t take “no” for an answer in his quest to be on the show and his perseverance paid off. He called Neil Levy, the SNL talent coordinator, every day for a week, begging for a shot to appear on the show. Levy relented, and brought Murphy on as an extra, but when Levy saw Murphy’s screen test, he was blown away and got him hired as a cast member.
37. A Real Person
Saturday Night Live writer Jack Handey is perhaps most famous for his Deep Thoughts segments that ran on the show from 1991-1998. The wacky aphorisms were read over new age music and credited to Handey himself, but because they were mixed in with the show’s sketches, most people assumed that “Jack Handey” was a made up name. Handey has since published five books of Deep Thoughts, plus a successful collection of short stories and a novel, and often has pieces published in the New Yorker.
36. A Well-Earned Vacation
According to Saturday Night Live lore, the show can give thanks to Johnny Carson for its origin. The Tonight Show host wanted to stop airing reruns of his show on the weekends and save them to air during weekdays so he could take a vacation. Something new needed to take the weekend slot, and Saturday Night Live was created to fill the time.
35. Top Dog
Alec Baldwin has the record for hosting Saturday Night Live. He’s hosted the show 17 times.
34. Stranger Than Fiction
SNL producer Dick Ebersol may have felt a sense of déjà vu if he watched a certain episode of Seinfeld in which George returns to his office after having quit the previous work day, hoping nobody would notice. The episode’s writer, Larry David, ripped the plot line directly from real life—in the 1980s, while working as a writer on SNL, he was upset that too few of his sketches were making it to air. In a fit, five minutes before the show went to air, he told Ebersol, “I’ve had it. I quit!” The following Monday he regretted the outburst and returned to work as if nothing had happened, and continued to work there for the rest of the season.
33. Unlikely Hero
Not every SNL character is an obvious hit: when Mike Myers ignored the writers who thought his new character, Wayne Campbell, wouldn’t work, writer Conan O’Brien reportedly said “This poor kid is going to have to learn the hard way.” The character made it onto the show, but just barely, in the unpopular final slot. Along with his pal Garth Algar (played by Dana Carvey), Wayne became a hit, and even spawned two blockbuster spin-offs, Wayne’s World (1992), and Wayne’s World 2 (1993).
32. Dump Andy
Comedian Andy Kaufman was the first performer to be officially banned from the show. His performances, though beloved by some, could be inconsistent and unpredictable, and after a run-in with producer Dick Ebersol in 1982 Kaufman suggested they put his future on the show to a vote and let the audience decide. A phone-in vote tallied 195,544 votes to “Dump Andy” against only 169,186 to “Keep Andy,” and he never returned to the show again, except for a pre-recorded segment the following week thanking the almost 170,000 people who voted to keep him. To his credit, Kaufman had the backing of many cast-members, and Don Pardo himself closed Kaufman’s final episode with the words “This is Don Pardo saying, ‘I voted for Andy Kaufman.'”
Saturday Night Live has had its share of controversy, but few moments stand out like Sinead O’Connors shocking performance in 1992 in which she ripped up a picture of Pope John Paul II live on air. After her performance, the director left the “applause” sign off, leaving O’Connor in darkness and silence, and host Tim Robbins failed to thank her at the end of the episode.
The show seemed to take the incident in jest: the following week, Joe Pesci ripped up a photo of O’Connor on camera, and in a later monologue Alec Baldwin joked that “Sinead O’Conner ripped up a picture of [Adam Sandler’s much-maligned SNL character] Canteen Boy to deafening cheers at London’s Wembley Stadium.” Even Lorne Michaels spoke kindly of her later: “I think it was the bravest thing she could do. She’d been a nun. To her the church symbolized everything that was bad about growing up in Ireland the way she grew up in Ireland, and so she was making a strong political statement.”
30. I’m Sorry
In 1986, the World Series game between the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox took over the airwaves, and Saturday Night Live was cancelled in favor of the broadcast. The Mets won, thanks to a now infamous error by Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner. Mets pitcher Ron Darling appeared on SNL the following week apologizing to the fans for the missed show.
29. Is It Really Live?
Since its inception, Saturday Night Live has indeed been broadcast live in Eastern and Central time zones (excepting special occasions—the show has occasionally opted for a 7-second-delay for unpredictable hosts like Richard Pryor and Andrew Dice Clay). A recorded version of the show was broadcast in Mountain and Pacific time zones to make up for the time difference. However, starting with the last four episodes of of the 42nd season, the show was broadcast live in all four time zones for the first time in its history, and entire upcoming 43rd season will continue the trend.
28. First Impression
New cast member Jenny Slate made quite the first impression during her very first episode in 2009 when she accidentally dropped an f-bomb during a sketch titled “Biker Chick Chat.” She was let go at the end of the season, but has gone on to play roles in Bob’s Burgers and Girls, as well as to star in the film Obvious Child.
27. Nude Beach
Speaking of controversial language, the show drew the ire of the FCC and NBC executives when it ran a sketch in 1988 that said more than it should have. Host Matthew Broderick starred alongside Kevin Nealon, Jon Lovitz, and Dana Carvey in a sketch in which several friends visit a nude beach. The sketch reportedly went awry because Conan O’Brien, the sketch’s writer, made a bet with the cast members to see how many times they could use the word “penis” in the five-minute sketch. The answer? 43 times.
26. First Hired
The first cast member hired for the very first season in 1975 was Gilda Radner. Radner had made a name for herself on Broadway, performing many of the characters she’d later bring to Saturday Night Live.
25. Making History
Tina Fey became the first-ever female head writer for Saturday Night Live in 1999.
24. Breaking Barriers
Kate McKinnon gained the distinction of being the first openly lesbian SNL cast member when she joined the show in 2012 (although Terry Sweeney, from the show’s 1985-86 season, was the show’s first gay cast member). She was also one of the season’s breakout stars: McKinnon was nominated for an Emmy for her performance on the show in 2014, and starred in the smash-hit all-female remake of Ghostbusters with fellow SNL alumna Kristin Wiig and Leslie Jones.
Darryl Hammond was the longest-serving cast member on Saturday Night Live before Kenan Thompson took over the honor in 2014. During his 14 year tenure as a regular cast member, he performed 107 different impressions on 208 shows, and delivered the show’s signature cold open, “Live From New York, It’s Saturday Night!” over 70 times.
22. High Salary
The Saturday Night Live cast members were originally paid $750 a week, though due to the popularity of the show, this rose to $4000 per week by the fourth season. Will Ferrell made history in 2001, becoming the highest-paid cast member when he signed a contract for $350,000 per season.
21. Taking A Stand
In 1990 cast member Nora Dunn took a stand for what she believed in by boycotting an episode hosted by Andrew Dice Clay because of the gross misogyny in the controversial star’s stand-up routine. She was considered “difficult” by network executives after that. “‘Saturday Night Live‘ is why I have a name,” Dunn said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, “but it also has its own baggage.”
20. Predicting The Future
Parody commercials have been a common sketch idea since the show debuted in 1975, and more than one of them have come to be: the very first parody commercial was for the “triple trac,” a three-bladed razor—and 23 years later, Gillette debuted the Mach3 razor with, you guessed it, three blades. We’re hoping that SNL’s three-legged jeans never become a real thing.
19. Twice Bitten
Chris Parnell has the distinction of being the only cast member to be fired from Saturday Night Live twice. He was let go for the first time in 2001 due to his lack of confidence, but returned the following season. He was axed for a second time in 2006 during a $10 million budget cut, along with fellow stars Horatio Sanz and Rachel Dratch.
18. What Did They Expect?
The rap group Cypress Hill found themselves banned from SNL after a performance as the musical guest in 2003 when they smoked pot on stage. DJ Muggs announced, “They said I couldn’t light my joint, you know what I’m saying? Well, we ain’t going out like that!” They lit up, and haven’t been back since.
17. Radio Radio
British rocker Elvis Costello found himself banned from SNL as well after going rogue in an episode in 1977. He wanted to play his song “Radio Radio” but was told “no” by NBC—they didn’t want to air a song so critical of the commercialization of music on their network. In his second performance, thirty seconds into his second song, his band stopped and started playing “Radio Radio,” leading producer Lorne Michaels to ban him for 12 years until he was invited back in 1988. Costello parodied himself in the Saturday Night Life 25th Anniversary show, interrupting the Beastie Boys who then joined him in a version of “Radio Radio.”
16. Spin-Off Success
In the 42 years of Saturday Night Live, the show has launched 11 spin-off movies to varying success. Some have been forgettable—A Night At The Roxbury (1998) and Stuart Saves His Family (1995) aren’t exactly cult favourites. However, the franchise had major hits with The Blues Brothers (1980) and Wayne’s World (1992). You could make a case for the original Austin Powers as an SNL spin-off, as many of the movie’s jokes were taken directly from the show. And former head writer Tina Fey’s NBC sitcom, 30 Rock, though not a spin off was clearly inspired by her time working on the show.
15. The Biggest Flop
By far the least successful SNL spin-off film was It’s Pat (1994), starring Julia Sweeney as an ambiguously-gendered but well-meaning Pat, a whiny, job-hopping misfit who was perhaps more annoying than charming. Despite an appearance by the band Ween, the film was a major flop, bringing in only $60,822.
14. Never Made
In an interview with The AV Club longtime SNL writer and producer Robert Smigel admitted to writing a handful of movie adaptations that never made it to the big screen. He said he’d written a full-length “Superfans” movie—a sketch in which sports fans with thick Chicago accents discuss “Da Bears” and “Da Bulls.” In 2010, Smigel, Bob Odenkirk, George Wendt, and former Bears tight end Mike Ditka staged a live-read of the script for the Chicago Just For Laughs Festival.
13. Practical Joke
LA-based writer Justin Becker tried to tempt Hollywood with a “Mr. Peepers” movie adaptation. He wrote a fake script for Chris Kattan’s oddball suspender-wearing monkey-man character, innocently attributed to “C. L. Kattan,” and began leaving them in bookstores around California. Sadly, nobody ever made the film a reality, though the script did go viral on the internet.
12. Younger Than The Show
When 25-year-old Kenan Thompson joined the SNL cast in 2003, he became the first cast member ever who was born after the show premiered. Thompson was born in 1978, three years after the show premiered in 1975.
11. Second Generation
SNL has had its fair share of famous writers, such as Conan O’Brien and Larry David, but you might not know all the famous kids who have written for the show. Kristin Gore (daughter of former Vice President Al Gore), J.J. Philbin (daughter of talk-show host Regis Philbin) and Max Brooks (son of comedy legend Mel Brooks) have all written for the show. In 2008, Abby Elliott became the first child of a former cast member to join the cast in her own right—she’s the daughter of Chris Elliott, who was on SNL from 1994-1995.
10. A Convincing Impression
In 2013, when longtime SNL announcer Don Pardo came down with laryngitis, cast member Darryl Hammond stepped up with his best Pardo impression. Pardo said in an interview that Hammond nailed it: “He did such a job that my sister-in-law in Newport, Rhode Island called up the following Sunday morning… and said, ‘You were going back to your acting days! You sounded terrific!’” When Pardo passed away in 2014, Hammond was given the job full time and was named as Pardo’s official replacement.
9. Not In Sync
Ashlee Simpson made headlines in 2004 for one of the worst musical performances in SNL history. During her second performance of the night, when she was supposed to be performing her song “Autobiography,” the track for her single “Pieces of Me” began playing, vocals and all, even though Simpson’s microphone was nowhere near her mouth. She tried to cover it up with what she would describe as a “hoedown,” but it was obvious to everyone that she had been planning to lip sync. She tried to save face at the close of the show by blaming her bandmates, saying they had started to play the wrong song. No one believed her, and her career never really recovered from the debacle.
8. Banned For Life
Screwing up on camera isn’t the only way to get yourself banned from Saturday Night Live. Executive Producer Lorne Michaels has a reputation for not tolerating anyone who goes off script or is too difficult to work with. Frank Zappa was banned in 1978 after admitting to the audience that he was reading his monologue off cue cards, Martin Lawrence was banned in 1994 after an off-script rant about feminine hygiene that was deemed too offensive even to rebroadcast, and Steven Seagal was banned in 1991 for being the “worst host ever” after being rude to the cast and crew.
7. Hits & Misses
The Saturday Night Live writing team writes a new 90 minute show every week and occasionally they don’t think through certain sketches as much as they should. The show has taken fire for sketches lampooning the blind, the deaf, victims of domestic violence and other insensitivities. However, one of the most bizarre incidents occurred in 2003 when host Adrien Brody ad-libbed an introduction to musical guest Sean Paul while wearing fake dreadlocks and speaking in a fake Jamaican dialect for 45 seconds. He was banned from the show and Lorne Michaels himself didn’t hesitate from calling Brody’s performance racist. Respeck mah neck!
6. Definitive Rankings
In 2015, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked all 141 cast members to date. John Belushi topped the list at #1, with Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey, Mike Myers, and Dan Aykroyd filling out the top five. At the other end of the scale, Robert Downey, Jr. (who was on the show from 1985-1986) ranked #141, lower even than Jim Henson’s unpopular pre-Muppet Show puppets from the show’s first season.
5. Cracking Up
Bill Hader had a reputation for “breaking,” i.e. laughing while in character as Stefon on the “Weekend Update” segments. It might not have been all his fault: co-writer John Mulaney would often change Hader’s cue cards, adding in jokes so that Hader was reading lines live on camera that he hadn’t seen before. To add to the joke, cast member Andy Samberg would stand next to the camera, out of viewer’s view, and shake his head at Hader’s chortling. The bit worked: in addition to the hilariousness of Stefon’s jokes, Hader’s laughter became a popular part of the beloved character.
4. Political Game
Saturday Night Live is a cultural institution, and politicians are always trying to get on any show that has the viewers’ attention. New York City Mayor Ed Koch was the first politician to appear on the show in 1978, and came back to host three times in 1983 and 1984. Fellow NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani hosted in 1997, and appearances have been made by politicians Ralph Nader, Jesse Jackson, John McCain, Gerald Ford, George W. Bush and many others. As SNL cast members often perform impressions of notable politicians, it’s a popular gag for the political themselves to appear on stage behind the cast member, proving they’re a good sport about the lampooning. Recently, Sarah Palin and Hilary Rodham Clinton both appeared on the show beside Tina Fey and Kate McKinnon, respectively, while Barack Obama actually played himself in a sketch.
3. Senator Funnyman
Senator Al Franken is the only former Saturday Night Live cast member to go on to a career in politics. After working on the show as a writer and occasional performer in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, he left for good in 1995 and went on to write books on American politics. In 2009, he was elected to the United States Senate for the state of Minnesota, though his opponents were often quick to point out his time writing raunchy jokes for the show, and recently he has likely seen the end of his political career due to allegations of sexual misconduct.
2. Can’t Take A Joke
In 2015, in the midst of his campaign for the US Presidency, Donald Trump appeared as a guest on Saturday Night Live. Despite massive protests and petitions against his appearance and Trump’s disparaging remarks about the cast and writing staff before the show, he appeared on November 7th, 2015. The group DeportRacism.com had offered $5000 to any audience member who heckled Trump and called him “racist.” Larry David actually ended up doing so, but it was all part of a gag. He shouted the accusation from the crowd, then said “I heard if I yelled that I’d get $5000,” to which Trump replied “As a businessman, I can respect that.” Trump ended up appearing for 12 minutes and the show was critically panned, but it did manage to get 9.3 million people to tune in, the show’s highest ratings in four years.
Chevy Chase was hated by the rest of the show’s cast. Once, just before going live, he got into a wild fist-fight with Bill Murray because Chase was smug about how popular he was, and Murray got fed up. During SNL‘s first season, Chase was the undeniable star of the show. He was so popular that ended up leaving after just that one season to test the waters in Hollywood. America loved him, but behind the scenes he had a reputation for being rude and abusive, and few of the show’s cast members were sad to see him go. In 1978, when he returned to host, he continued to ruffle feathers. This is when Murray and Chase got into it, just moments before Chase was supposed to step on stage to start the show, and they had to be torn apart by fellow cast member Dan Aykroyd. Apparently Murray pointed out how much everyone hated Chase, and Chase responded by saying Murray’s acne looked like the crater covered surface of the Moon. Things escalated, and the rest is history. Since this event, Chase hasn’t maintained a good relationship with the show and has been banned by Lorne Michaels due to his continually atrocious behavior.
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