Saturday Night Live’s Lost Performers: 15 Comedians Who Failed To Break Out As SNL Cast Members

Ben Stiller PF WENN

Photo: Joseph Marzullo/

“Saturday Night Live” has been on the air for almost 38 years now. During that time we’ve seen countless comedians become overnight stars thanks to the show. Bill Murray, Chris Rock, Kristen Wiig, Adam Sandler, Tina Fey—he list goes on and on. Yet, while the show has the ability to break performers into mainstream popularity, not every comedy cast member has emerged from the show a star.

Here are 15 comedians who didn’t make it as “Not Ready For Prime Time Players” through SNL, but went on to success nevertheless.


Jim Belushi

James Belushi PF WENN

Photo: Nikki Nelson/

In 1983, James “Jim” Belushi joined the cast of Saturday Night Live. This was a year after the death of his brother, John Belushi, who became one of the show’s biggest breakout stars. Jim Belushi was not quite as successful—the comedian, who also wrote for the show, was hired, fired, and rehired during the course of the ninth season. He lasted until the tenth season and left the show. Belushi also spearheaded the SNL’s infamous “lost season” of 1984-85. Belushi served as creative director under package Ebersol, who was contractually obligated to bring in three new episodes following a writer’s strike. These episodes were due just before SNL control reverted back to current head honcho Lorne Michaels. Rather than stick with original ’84 cast (who they couldn’t afford), Belushi and Ebersol hired a whole new repertoire that included unknowns Vincent Shiavelli and Kevin Peter Hall. Those three episodes haven’t aired since Michaels’ return.

Joan Cusack

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Photo: Jody Cortes/

Joan Cusack was apart of the cast Michaels formed upon his return to the SNL’s 1985 season. Cusack established something of a presence on the show as one of three female performers and shared a series of noteworthy skits with Jon Lovitz titled “The Further Adventures of Biff and Christina.” Unfortunately, she wasn’t asked to return for the show’s following season, along with the majority of the cast (excluding Dennis Miller and Jon Lovitz).

Robert Downey, Jr

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Photo: Apega/

Yes, two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr. was a featured player on SNL. The actor was also hired to perform on the 1985 season. Though already an honorary member of the Brat Pack thanks to his role in the John Hughes favorite Weird Science, Downey would prove himself unfit for the “Not Ready For Prime Time Players.” He only had two recurring characters and would be scrapped along with the majority of the cast the following year.

Garrett Morris

Garret Morris PF WENN

Photo: Nikki Nelson/

Of the original SNL cast, Garrett Morris was one of the only members not achieve breakout, mainstream stardom. Morris was a New York playwright who was hired on as one of the show’s writers during its inception. Though his sketches proved lacking, performer Chevy Chase suggested he be added as one of the show’s repertory players. Though he had a couple of favorite recurring characters, including language challenged baseball player Chico Ensuela, Morris grew frustrated by the show’s typecasting him based on his race. While co-stars Chevy Chase, John Belushi, and Bill Murray went on to stardom, Morris found himself relegated mostly to B-movies and TV guest spots after having appeared on SNL from 1975 to 1980.

Chris Elliott

Chris Abby Elliott PF WENN

Photo: Joseph Marzullo/

Chris Elliott was hired as a repertory player for SNL’s 1994-1995 season. Despite having already proved himself as a talented comedic performer on The Late Show With David Letterman and the film Groundhog Day, Elliott would be one cog in what has generally been regarded as a disastrous season for the show. Elliott would quit the show before the follow-up season as his film Cabin Boy was about to open. In an interview with Shock Cinema, Eliott admitted he was a rough fit for the show based on his more conceptual, self-aware brand of comedy that “you can’t do on SNL in general.” His daughter, Abby Elliott (pictured above), would go on to better acclaim as a SNL cast member from 2008 to 2012.

Anthony Michael Hall

Anthony Michael Hall PF WENN

Photo: Nikki Nelson/

Anthony Michael Hall was already a famous comedic performer thanks to his status as nerd king of the Brat Pack (an honor earned by John Hughes collaborations like Vacation, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club). He joined the show alongside Robert Downey Jr. and Joan Cusack for the infamous 1985 season. At the age of 17, he was and remains the youngest cast member in the show’s history. Hall had a handful of successful characters like “Craig Sunberg—Idiot Savant” and Fred Jones of “The Jones Brothers” (opposite Damon Wayans). Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep him from getting canned along with the majority of the cast. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Hall mentioned his lack of experience as a stand-up and uncompetitive nature as a contributing factors, though he remains proud of his SNL tenure.

Julia Louise-Dreyfus

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Photo: Nikki Nelson/

Julia Louise-Dreyfus put her time in on SNL during its 1982-83 season. The 21-year-old comedic actress joined more notable stars like Joe Piscopo (a breakout performer who failed to make his success last) and Eddie Murphy. Dreyfus had a number notable characters on the show, including “April May June” a Southern TV evangelist and Weekend Update’s “sarcastic teenage girl” correspondent. Still, the success wouldn’t go far enough to put her alongside the show’s major talents. The actress attributes her inexperience with behind-the-scenes politics, backstage sexism, and the habitual drug use of many co-stars as factors behind her brief tenure. Fortunately, she came into contact with writer Larry David during the stint. He would later write Elaine onto Seinfeld with Dreyfus in mind.

Harry Shearer

Harry Shearer PF WENN


Frequent Christopher Guest collaborator and Simpsons voice actor Harry Shearer was hired onto SNL’s 1979 season as a replacement for John Belushi and Dan Akroyd. Though he was hired as a writer and performer, Lorne Michaels would not include Shearer as a featured cast member in the opening montage. After reportedly informing Shearer’s fellow cast members he was solely a writer. Shearer proceeded to butt heads with Michaels and his established repertory performers. Describing the experience as a “living hell,” Shearer was relieved when Lorne and his crew left the show. He offered to stay on for the new producer and develop a new cast, but was turned down and left. Later, he re-joined the show for the 1984-85 season alongside fellow Spinal Tap actor Christopher Guest. Shearer again left the show after a season, citing a lack of parts and creative control.

Sarah Silverman

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Photo: Brian To/

Wreck It Ralph voice actress and shock comedian Sarah Silverman was among SNL’s 1993-94 cast as a writer and featured player. Unfortunately, only one the sketches she wrote survived to make it to dress rehearsal and Silverman was fired from the cast at the end of the season. Even more insultingly, producer Lorne Michaels opted to let her go via a fax. Silverman would later parody her termination during her stint on The Larry Sanders Show, where her character was fired by a sexist showrunner favoring male comedy writers.

Damon Wayans

Damon Wayans PF WENN


Improv performer Damon Wayans was hired for Lorne Michaels’ infamous season 1985 alongside Robert Downey Jr, Anthony Michael Hall, and Joan Cusack. Despite his talent for sketch comedy, Wayans would become dissatisfied with the parts he was receiving. In protest, the actor performed in a sketch where he played added a flamboyantly gay mannerism to a cop character meant to be played straight. Having ruined the sketch, Lorne Michaels fired him on the spot. Wayans would go on to co-create a show that made SNL look stale in comparison, the Fox hit In Living Color. Later in the decade as an SNL host, Wayans would bring many of his In Living Color characters onto the show that initially fired him.

Jay Mohr

Jay Mohr PF WENN

Photo: Judy Eddy/

Jay Mohr enjoyed minor success as a cast member on the show’s 1993-1995 seasons. Though only having one character, “James Barone,” to his credit, Mohr did great impressions (including a spot on Christopher Walken) and found some success with guest bits on Weekend Update. Unfortunately, the comedian’s competitive nature would undermine his tenure—after failing to become a repertory player after the two seasons he quit the show in 1995. Though the terms he left on were bad, he would reconcile with Lorne Michaels after finding success as a film actor.

Ben Stiller

Ben Stiller PF WENN

Photo: Joseph Marzullo/

After having a comedy short film shown on an episode during SNL’s twelfth season, Ben Stiller was hired on for season fourteen. As a mid-season, featured addition to the cast, Stiller had great potential on the show. Unfortunately, he quit after four episodes citing creative differences. He went on to get his own sketch comedy series, The Ben Stiller Show, which aired on MTV from 1990 to 1993. He later came back to SNL to host in 1998 in 2011.

Gilbert Gottfried

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Screechingly loud shock comedian Gilbert Gottfried, best known as the former voice of the Aflac Duck, was hired by Lorne Michaels successor Jean Doumanian for the show’s 1980-81 season. This was before Gottfried had established his loudmouthed comic persona. With little help from the show’s writers, Gottfried only managed to create one character on the show (“What’s It All About?” talk show host Leo Waxman). Gottfried, along with producer Doumanian, was fired from the show midseason after a month long hiatus.

Laurie Metcalf

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Photo: Joseph Marzullo/

After Jean Doumanian’s termination, Laurie Metcalf was hired by package Ebersol to be apart of the new cast for the second half of the 1980-81 season. Unfortunately, this proved the absolute worst time to be hired—Ebersol’s run lasted a single episode due to the writer’s strike. Metcalf managed to get a featured part for a woman-on-the-street Weekend Update segment, showing potential as a straight woman. Unfortunately, she would not be asked back for the following season. Later she’d find a better venue to exercise her comedic chops as Jackie on the hit sitcom Roseanne.

Janeane Garofalo

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Photo: Alberto Reyes/

Thanks to prominent parts in The Larry Sanders Show, The Ben Stiller Show and the film Reality Bites, acid tongued comedienne Janeane Garofalo was already reaching for stardom when she joined SNL in its 1994-95 season. Unfortunately, she would find herself being relegated mostly to background and “wife” roles, rather than have the chance to perform in featured parts. Citing the show as a sexist, “juvenile and homophobic” boy’s club, Garofalo left mid-season in February of 1995.

  • Just Sayin’

    I know this is just a blog but does StyleBlazer not have an editor or someone to proofread posts for typos, poor grammar and sophomoric writing? Good idea for a post but the bad writing is sort of distracting and confusing. Do better please

  • EricWolfsbane

    The greatest mystery of the universe.

    How did John Belushi dying make Jim Belushi funny or talented?

  • Beth

    The Ben Stiller Show was aired on FOX not MTV.

    • Look it up

      The Ben Stiller Show started on MTV and then moved to FOX in 1992.

  • Tboner

    Julia Louis, not Louise–yeesh!

  • Bob

    No Conan O’Brien mention? Who researched this?

    • Anth

      O’Brien was a writer, not a cast member.

      Also, Lovitz and Miller weren’t the only people kept from ’85-86…Nora Dunn was too.

      • Anth

        Oh yeah, and I think it goes without saying that there are no “lost” episodes of SNL from after ’84-85. I have no idea where they got that idea.

    • Jason Benesh

      No Norm MacDonald?

  • Kevin Bowman

    “Package” Ebersol??

    • Nora Heath

      Best part of the whole article.

  • Cachiva

    “Laurie Metcalf was hired by package Ebersol to be apart of the new cast”

    What the helll is “package Ebersol”, and doesn’t the “writer” know that “apart” means “separate from”?

  • Gman51

    garafalo, morris and gotfreid were not funny. Period.

  • Zach Kaplan

    I’m going to add my voice to the choir of those critiquing the sophomoric writing… what’s not gramatically or factually incorrect is just plain badly written. I have written for websites that can’t pay their writers and yet have more rigorous editing processes than Styleblazer clearly has. How can I trust any of this when it’s even partially inaccurate?

  • gordon_wagner

    Fifteen full page redraws? HELLO WEB 1.0 TECHNOLOGY.

  • Hurshey Bar

    What about when you can tell the actors are just reading off of cue cards… and they make it so obvious

  • birdmantd

    Some others I was thinking- Siobhan Fallon, David Koechner, Brian Doyle Murray, Casey Wilson. None are huge stars but all have found steady work in movies/TV since they’re less than memorable tenures.

  • Frank Childs

    are you serious? It’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus, that’s Lousk, not Louise. Why not throw all your credibility out the window? Craptacular reporting!

  • Redowl

    Christopher Guest? Larry David??

  • Jazzboy1

    What a truly banal premise for a headline that shrieks something else. I am quitting your lists that entice but fail to deliver (like The World headlines). With the exception of Gottfried, Metcalf and Hall — the rest became BIG stars in movies, TV, etc. What English class did this blogger miss along the way? Pathetic…

    • Quid Malmborg

      You said it. IIRC, Anthony Michael Hall was famous BEFORE he joined SNL- that’s how he got the job. His star has waxed and waned solely because he’s bulked-up since the mid-late ’80s (e.g. “Edward Scissorhands”) in an attempt to shed his uber-geek image.

  • Quid Malmborg

    If the author of this article isn’t freelancing and is an actual employee of this website, they should lose their job for such a gross display of journalistic ignorance. This article should never have been written. More of an op-ed piece bordering on defamation. Author should go back to bagging groceries.

    • Quid Malmborg

      …and fire the so-called “editor.”

  • Susan Barwick

    A catchy title for getting click through for ads. SO wrong on this list.

  • sharksandcreatures

    That’s because except for Ben Stiller and Damon Wayans, none of them were/are comedians, or should I say funny.

    • Steve

      sharksandcreatures is so wrong! John Belushi, Dan Akroyd, Chevy Chase, and many others (mostly from the first cast, but a few others – Tina Fey for one) is/was very creative comedians

  • rickcain2320

    Garrett Morris was an icon. He was way underused in the show and every time he appeared he was amazing. The writers admitted they simply didn’t know where to put him in the scripts, but it was their fault not his for being uncreative. I was happy to see him in the coneheads movie.

  • Bill Merritt

    This article is absolutely absurd. ABSURD. Each of these members did well on the show and with a few exceptions (Garrett Morris) afterwards.

  • Bobby Bailey

    Public School . . . NO DOUBT!!

  • Mike Bee

    Chico ESCUELA. Do some research.

  • Badger1969

    There are a lot of successful people in comedy that are listed as “Comedians Who Failed to Break Out” – Julie Louise Dreyfus, Daymon Williams, Ben Stiller, and more. This is more of a list of successful comedians fired by SNL.

  • SNLaddict

    I don’t get it. It it supposed to be about SNL cast who didn’t become main stream stars, or stars who weren’t big as SNL players? they go back and forth, back and forth.

  • Holy Bullies

    Two Oscar nominations. I don’t know. I think Joan Cusack did rather well.

  • Rhonda Fomby

    Jim Belushi has had a very popular show on network TV, and starred in numerous movies and they think he failed to break out of SNL?! Think I’m done reading this article as it is obvious whoever wrote it watches nothing but SNL!

  • blind_leading_blind

    It’s D – I – C – K Ebersol. Auto-censoring the comments is one thing, but auto-censoring the actual article is stupid.

  • Oldemily

    i’ve seen some stupid lists, but this is by far the worst. it makes no sense!!!! is that the point, or is the person who wrote it 12?

  • Erik Baran

    a…part of! a….part of! JFC, how ignorant can you be??

  • Leftist_Matyr

    Didn’t The Ben Stiller Show air on Fox on Sunday nights with Married with Children?

  • scumby

    the fact is Chris was hired as a performer and refused to write for free.

  • scumby

    Robert Downey is not a comedian

  • Agree, but missing the point

    I understand what you guys are saying about the people making it after SNL. However, this article is about those ‘stars’ that didn’t make it big on SNL itself. Agree wholeheartedly with the grammar/spelling/writing crap. Very hard to read when you have to rewrite the sentences in your head to give them fluency.

  • sardoodledom

    This is the most poorly written article I’ve ever read.

  • Heitmyer

    The proofreading is the real joke b/c an “alternate history” AKA fictitious account posted on the web of what might have been had three more shows aired in the summer of 1985 is printed as fact under the James Belushi entry. Boy, that’s bad. No such shows existed. When the writers strike scuttled three episodes in 1985, NBC simply re-allocated the funds, they didn’t make Ebersol produce them. Just plain dumb.

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