vulture lists

21 SNL Cast Members Who Only Lasted a Season

Last Friday, as most of you were preparing to take off for the long Labor Day weekend, the Comic’s Comic dropped a bombshell about the upcoming season of Saturday Night Live. Namely, that cast members Casey Wilson and Michaela Watkins had been issued their walking papers by SNL’s commander in chief, one Lorne Michaels. The Wilson news didn’t come as a major surprise, considering that she never really seemed to find her footing with the show after a full season and a half on air. However, most comedy observers were caught off guard with the news about Watkins, especially considering that she came on mid-season and only had fifteen episodes in which to strut her stuff. But although this seemed like an abrupt dismissal, history demonstrates that there were 21 other unfortunate souls whose tenure as performers in front of the camera on Saturday Night Live didn’t last as long. What follows is a list of those folks who carry that dubious distinction, some of whom went onto great fame and fortune (Ben Stiller, Damon Wayans) and some of whom, well, were never really heard from again (Yvonne Hudson, Beth Cahill).

Number Of Episodes: Thirteen What Happened?: Cahill joined the cast midway through the season as both a writer and featured player, occasionally striking comedic gold as Denise Swerski, daughter of the Chicago Superfan Bill “Da Bears” Swerski. Not much is known about why she was not asked to return the following season. Post-SNL Career: It’s been fairly dire for Cahill ever since leaving Studio 8H. She’s had five credits to her name since 1992, including the role of Lana in a film called Fatty Drives the Bus.
Number Of Episodes: Thirteen What Happened?: You’ll read more about the troubled 1980–1981 season that was helmed by Jean Doumanian later on. Suffice it to say, Dillon was the strongest performer of the cast that year, but when Dick Ebersol replaced Doumanian as the show’s producer for the 1981–1982 season, Dillon was not invited back. Post-SNL Career: Dillon, the shortest cast member in SNL history, has acted consistently on both Broadway and the small screen ever since. She’s probably best remembered for her work on HBO’s Dream On.
Number Of Episodes: Thirteen What Happened?: Shaffer graduated from SNL band member to featured cast member during the difficult 1979–1980 season. He occasionally appeared in sketches, but was never really expected to do much heavy lifting (comedically speaking). Post-SNL Career: In 1982, he hooked up with a young stand-up comedian from Indiana named David Letterman. He was never heard from again.
Number Of Episodes: Twelve What Happened?: Wayans had a promising future as an SNL mainstay. However, he was reportedly very frustrated by the stressful environment and difficult creative process. He was fired from the show after he went against Lorne’s wishes by choosing to play a cop as a flamboyantly gay character instead of a straight one during a live show. Post-SNL Career: Obviously, Wayans went on to become one of the biggest comedians of the nineties, thanks to his pioneering work on In Living Color.
Number Of Episodes: Twelve What Happened?: When Lorne Michaels left SNL after the 1979–1980 season, producer Jean Doumanian was brought on to steer the ship. The results were, on every conceivable level, disastrous. Before the season was completed, Doumanian and almost all of the SNL cast were fired. Post-SNL Careers: Only Rocket and Gottfried went on to do anything of note. Rocket became infamous after dropping an F-bomb live on air, and Gottfried, of course, became a wildly successful stand-up comedian. As for the ladies, well, Matthius went into voice acting and Risley continued to sporadically act over the years.
Number Of Episodes: Twelve What Happened?: O’Donoghue was hired by Lorne Michaels to be the show’s first head writer, but he also appeared as one of the original group of “Not Ready for Primetime Players.” It was quickly determined that he should stay behind the scenes. Post-SNL Career: O’Donoghue was one of the surliest writers in the storied history of SNL, one who famously described his refusal to pen jokes for Jim Henson’s Muppets by saying “I don’t write for felt.” He won two Emmys for his work on the show. He died in 1994 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage.
Number Of Episodes: Eleven What Happened?: When Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi left the show after the 1978–1979 season for feature-film careers, Lorne Michaels temporarily recruited some of his writers to be on-screen talent. That experiment didn’t go so well. Post-SNL Career: Zweibel stepped back behind the scenes and went on to become an incredibly successful writer, bagging five Emmys, a Tony (for his work with Billy Crystal on 700 Sundays) and a slew of other writing awards.
Number Of Episodes: Ten What Happened?: Two words: Jean Doumanian. Post-SNL Career: Became an incredibly prolific film and television actor. Despite never really breaking through into household-name status, appeared in films like Eddie and the Cruisers and St. Elmo’s Fire. He’s probably best known for his role on Beverly Hills 90210 as Mel Silver.
Number Of Episodes: Nine What Happened?: Downey is one of the best-known and most-revered writers in the history of SNL, but much like Alan Zweibel, Lorne Michaels convinced him to step in front of the camera when John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd left the show for feature film careers. Post-SNL Career: He left the show when Lorne Michaels left in 1980, and was a formative influence on the then-fledgling Late Night With David Letterman show on the network. He returned the show in 1984, and might be best known for penning the majority of Norm MacDonald’s jokes during his controversial reign as anchor of Weekend Update.
Number Of Episodes: Eight What Happened?: Hudson was brought on by new SNL producer Jean Doumanian and earned the distinction of being the first African-American female cast member of the show. However, as we have detailed in prior slides, that season didn’t exactly go so well for anyone. Post-SNL Career: After leaving the show, Hudson didn’t appear in any other film or television roles. It is rumored that she became a missionary, but considering the source of said rumor is Wikipedia, we advise you to take that with a grain of salt.
Number Of Episodes: Eight What Happened?: Coe was one of the original “Not Ready for Primetime Players,” but quickly found himself taking a backseat to the likes of John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Chevy Chase. Post-SNL Career: He had a somewhat sizable role in Kramer vs. Kramer, and also went on to appear in shows like Max Headroom and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Number Of Episodes: Seven What Happened?: Weathers became a feature player during Jean Doumanian’s ill-fated 1980–1981 season. When Dick Ebersol took over the show, Weathers was not invited back to participate the following season. Post-SNL Career: Weathers appeared in bit parts in a handful of projects over the years, including a small role as a trader in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.
Number Of Episodes: Seven What Happened?: Schiller began writing for SNL during the show’s first season, but became a featured cast member during the 1979 season. Post-SNL Career: Although he didn’t have much on-screen success, he remained a vital part of the SNL writing staff, eventually picking up three Emmy awards for his work behind the scenes.
Number Of Episodes: Four What Happened?: Banks began as a repertory cast member, not just a featured player, on April 8, 1995. The British actress left the show at the conclusion of the season, though. Post-SNL Career: She went back to England and continued being a moderately successful television actress (Skins, Saxondale), but she’s never really ever been able to break through on these shores.
Number Of Episodes: Four What Happened?: Stiller was brought onto the show on March 25, 1989. He had hoped to make more short films for the show, but Lorne resisted and Stiller left for greener pastures. Post-SNL Career: Not too shabby! Won an Emmy in 1993 for The Ben Stiller Show; as an actor, his films have grossed over $2 billion at the box office. Perhaps you’ve heard of him?
Number Of Episodes: Three What Happened?: Tough to say. Not much information exists about Vitale, who was hired as a featured player by Lorne Michaels (who, himself, had just returned from a five-year absence from the show). The show’s cast and writers never gelled and most everyone was fired at the end of the season. Post-SNL Career: Not much; a few uncredited appearances in films like Anger Management and Malibu’s Most Wanted.
Number Of Episodes: One What Happened?: Metcalf was brought on by the show’s new producer, Dick Ebersol, for the April 11, 1981, telecast. She appeared in exactly one sketch that week; the following week, a writer’s strike derailed the show. Metcalf was not asked back in the fall. Post-SNL Career: Went on to be a very successful comedic actress who is best known for her role on Roseanne, a part that netted her three Emmys.
Number Of Episodes: Zero What Happened?: Prager was hired by Dick Ebersol to be a Featured Player on the show, but the 1981 writer’s strike got in the way of her ever appearing on a live episode of SNL. She did, however, appear in a few sketches of the dress rehearsal of the April 11, 1981, episode of the show. Post-SNL Career: She became an author (Eve’s Tattoo, Roger Fishbite) and journalist.
21 SNL Cast Members Who Only Lasted a Season