Saturday Night Live’s One Season Wonders

Getting let go after just one season of Saturday Night Live can end a career before it even begins. When was the last time you heard from Dan Vitale or Beth Cahill? (I had to look up who they were too.) That being said, getting the axe doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the end of the world either. There are plenty of former cast members who went on to become big stars despite leaving after just one season (or less).

And hey, here they are right now!

Paul Schaffer (1979-80)

Schaffer started his SNL career back in the first season when he served as a member of the Saturday Night Live Band. In season 5 he was promoted to featured player, but lasted only 13 episodes. His short stint didn’t create any memorable characters, but he bares the distinction of being the first person in the show’s history to drop the f-bomb.

Since then: In 1982, Schaffer teamed up with a young David Letterman to serve as the musical director of Late Night with David Letterman and followed him to CBS for the Late Show in 1993. He still serves as the show’s musical director and has also guest hosted the show on a few occasions. Schaffer has also served as a musical director for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, the closing ceremony of the 1996 Olympics, and Friends. He even released a Grammy nominated album in 1989 titled Coast to Coast.

Gilbert Gottfried (1980-81)

Gottfried was a seldom used featured player during the show’s troublesome 6th season. He only appeared in 12 episodes.

Since then: You remember him from your childhood when he appeared as Iago in Aladdin. You also remember him as the voice of the Aflac duck before he has fired earlier this year for making controversial statements about the Japanese tsunami on Twitter. But mostly you remember him because of his voice. Gottfried has also had a successful standup career and was a regular on Hollywood Squares.

Larry David (1984-85)

David never appeared in front of the camera, but he did serve as a writer for one season. He didn’t have much success, only getting one sketch to air in his short time on the show. He quit his job midseason, but showed up a few days later, pretending the whole thing never happened. The incident would later inspire a Seinfeld plotline.

Since then: David co-created Seinfeld in 1989 and served as the show’s executive producer and left the show after the 7th season, but returned to pen the show’s finale. David also provided the voice of George Steinbrenner on the show. David currently stars in Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is in its 7th season. He also starred in Whatever Works as Woody Allen — I mean Boris.

Damon Wayans (1985-86)

Wayans was hired alongside the likes of Anthony Michael Hall, Joan Cusack and Randy Quaid for SNL’s infamous 11th season. In the show’s 7th episode, Wayans had a minor role in a sketch as a cop but decided to improvise and the cop as a flamboyantly gay character instead of the straight character he was supposed to play. Wayans also improvised his lines. The character was only supposed to have one line. Lorne Michaels fired him after the show (Wayans wasn’t even the shortest tenured member of the season).

Since then: Wayans went on to co- create In Living Color, one of the most influential sketch comedy shows of all-time. He has also appeared in several films and TV shows including Major Payne, The Great White Hype, and My Wife and Kids, for which he garnered four Emmy nominations. He was considered for the role of the Riddler in Batman Forever, but eventually lost out to former In Living Color cast mate Jim Carrey. He also appeared performed on Solid Gold, but unfortunately not as a Solid Gold Dancer.

Robert Downey Jr. (1985-86)

Downey Jr. was only 20 years old when he was hired for the show’s difficult 11th season. Unlike Wayans, he was able to make it to the end of the season, but fired along with most of the cast after garnering the lowest ratings in the show’s history.

Since then: Downey Jr. is now one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Known most recently from his roles as Tony Stark in Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes, he was also nominated for an Oscar for his role as Charlie Chaplin in the 1992 film Chaplin. He has the special distinction of being perhaps the only person in history to successfully pull off black face.

Ben Stiller (1988-89)

Stiller’s time as a performer and writer for SNL was brief, even by the one season wonder standards. Stiller wanted to make short films for the show, but Lorne Michaels refused, and he left after just five episodes.

Since then: He was never heard from again.

Sarah Silverman (1993-94)

Silverman was hired during season 19 to serve as both a staff writer and featured player. As a writer she failed to make an impact, failing to get any sketches to air and getting only one to dress rehearsal. After the season she was fired by fax, which she would later make fun of on an episode of the Larry Sanders Show.

Since then: Silverman has gone on to have a successful standup career and has appeared in several TV shows and movies including The School of Rock, Greg the Bunny, Seinfeld, and The Sarah Silverman Program. Most recently she has sold a pilot to NBC.

Janeane Garofalo (1994-95)

Garofalo already had a pretty impressive comedy resume by the time she joined the cast of SNL in 1994. She was a cast member on The Ben Stiller Show, had a small recurring role on The Larry Sanders Show (which she would continue until 1997) and appeared in Stiller’s directorial debut, Reality Bites.  Her time on Saturday Night Live, however, was not a pleasant one. Relegated mostly to bit roles, the frustrated Garofalo quit mid-season claiming a sexist atmosphere and calling the show’s sketches “juvenile and homophobic.”

Since then: Garofalo has appeared on seemingly an endless number of TV shows including Seinfeld, 24 and Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior. She voiced Colette in Ratatouille alongside fellow alt-comedian Patton Oswalt and starred as Beth in the comedy nerd favorite Wet Hot American Summer.

Andrew Cass is the head writer of Phroth Humor Magazine at Penn State. He hopes to one day be fired by Saturday Night Live. He tweets here, because he knows you were wondering.

Saturday Night Live’s One Season Wonders