Last week, it was reported that comedian Michael Patrick O’Brien, who’s been writing for SNL since 2009, will become a part of the show’s cast this season. SNL writers becoming cast members is something that doesn’t happen so often on the show anymore. The last time this occurred was in 2005 with Jason Sudeikis; Tina Fey in 2000 was before that.
Despite the fact that SNL turning its writers into cast members is a rarity these days, the show has, from its very beginning, featured a writing staff made up of extremely funny performers. In fact, writers are often hired from comedians who audition to be in the cast but don’t make the cut, like Michael Patrick O’Brien, who tried out for the cast in 2005 and in 2009 before being hired as a writer following his second audition. Let’s take a look at some SNL writers who would have fit in just fine with the cast, including Stephen Colbert, a member of The Lonely Island, and another guy whose last name is O’Brien.
1. Larry David (1984-1985)
Larry David only spent one year writing for SNL, the weird Billy Crystal/Chris Guest/Martin Short 1984-85 season, but he already had plenty of sketch acting experience when he walked in the door. David had been a cast member (and writer) on ABC’s SNL knockoff Fridays, where he proved capable of funny characters and impressions and even delivered some great desk pieces at Fridays’ Weekend Update ripoff, The Friday Edition.
2. Bob Odenkirk (1987-1991, 1993, 1994-1995)
During his original four-year stint on SNL, Bob Odekirk was used occasionally in small parts in sketches, most notably in 1990’s “Bad Idea Jeans.” Although he never made it into the cast and had a frustrated relationship with the show, Odenkirk left SNL (the first time) and quickly landed a job as a series regular (and writer) on Fox’s cult hit The Ben Stiller Show, where he demonstrated sketch acting abilities that SNL would have been lucky to have in the show’s mid-’90s doldrums.
3. Conan O’Brien (1988-1991)
Conan O’Brien was mainly focused on writing when hired by SNL, but a writers’ strike during the 1987-88 season led him and fellow writers Bob Odenkirk and Robert Smigel to perform an acclaimed improvisational comedy show called Happy Happy Good Show, which is where the trio ended up discovering they were gifted actors, as well. O’Brien left SNL after three and a half seasons in 1991 and ended up taking over David Letterman’s prestigious Late Night just two years later, starting an on-camera career that’s now nearly 20 years deep.
4. Dave Attell (1993-1994)
Hired when SNL was buying up standups in bulk, Insomniac host Dave Attell only wrote for the show for one season. While it’s a little hard to imagine him doing sketches, the revered standup would have excelled with Weekend Update commentary segments and while playing creepy weirdos.
5. Paula Pell (1995-Present)
Hired during SNL’s last big transition season, Paula Pell has been used dozens of times on camera, often as an audience plant alongside fellow writer J.B. Smoove. Since making her TV debut on SNL, Pell has popped up in big sitcom roles like Ron Swanson’s mother Tammy on Parks and Rec and recurring on 30 Rock as Peter Hornberger’s put-upon wife, Paula.
6. Stephen Colbert (1996)
Stephen Colbert only wrote for SNL for a scant number of episodes in the fall of ‘96 after The Dana Carvey Show fell apart. It’s really a shame that the only time Colbert has gotten to do sketch on TV was during Carvey and another short-lived series, Exit 57, as he has a chameleonic ability with characters akin to Phil Hartman.
7/8. Eric Slovin & Leo Allen (2002-2005)
Comedy team Slovin & Allen had been performing sketch and standup together before being hired by SNL, where they wrote sketches like Will Forte’s “The Falconer.” Check out the duo doing their Time Machine bit below:
9. J.B. Smoove (2003-2006)
Curb Your Enthusiasm regular J.B. Smoove spent a few years writing for SNL and was used often as question-asking audience member Terrell during the host’s monologue (with Paula Pell as his wife). Now, Smoove is booking sitcom jobs right and left with his latest on Will Arnett’s new fall CBS comedy, The Millers.
10. Jorma Taccone (2005-2010)
One third of The Lonely Island, Jorma Taccone auditioned for the show alongside fellow members Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer. While Samberg was the only one to become a cast member, Taccone and Schaffer were hired on as writers, but a couple years into his run on the show, Jorma Taccone was popping up so frequently (and in such big parts) in SNL’s digital shorts that it’s surprising he never made it into the cast.
11. John Mulaney (2008-2013)
When SNL started using John Mulaney, a writer for the show, in a pair of Weekend Update commentary pieces in 2010, it seemed like he was being groomed to take Seth Meyers’s place behind the desk in the near future; that doesn’t seem to be in the cards now, as Mulaney is busy developing a sitcom that he’s writing and starring in at Fox after NBC passed on it.
12. Jessi Klein (2009-2010)
Standup and former Comedy Central exec Jessi Klein spent a year at SNL before leaving and landing writing jobs on Kroll Show and Inside Amy Schumer. She’s done plenty of on camera acting though, on Comedy Central’s Showbiz Show with David Spade and Michael & Michael Have Issues and could have fit in nicely in SNL’s cast.
13. Hannibal Buress (2009-2010)
Red hot standup Hannibal Buress wrote for SNL for one season before leaving to become a part of 30 Rock’s writing staff. Buress’s slow, unique delivery and the clear point of view he has in his standup would make him a natural for Weekend Update (as an anchor or commentary person) or in sketches as a slow-talking funny guy.