Add John Goodman to the long list of talented individuals Saturday Night Live has overlooked. The star of The Conners and The Righteous Gemstones revealed recently that he once tried out for the venerated sketch-comedy show.
To be fair, Goodman might not have done the requisite prep work for his tryout, as you’ll see below. But in other cases, SNL producers just didn’t recognize stardom in the making.
Other times, they did, but they said no anyway. “There were lots of people who, you’d see how brilliant they were, but you knew on some level that it wasn’t going to work,” creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels explained to The Hollywood Reporter in 2015, reflecting on SNL‘s former aspirants.
But Michaels also acknowledged that he and the other SNL producers are fallible. “No one gets it all right,” he said.
Here are more details on Goodman and the other big names who were turned away.
Carrey broke out on another sketch-comedy show, In Living Color, after SNL turned the then-18-year-old down in 1980. “I wasn’t at the Jim Carrey audition, but somebody who was there said, ‘I don’t think Lorne would like it,’ and they were probably wrong, but it doesn’t matter,” Michaels told The Hollywood Reporter. “Or maybe they were right — who knows?”
The White Lotus star revealed in a 2004 interview with Los Angeles Magazine that she auditioned alongside Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, and Chris Kattan, and she was the only one turned down. “They chose Will and Cheri and not Chris and I, and six months later they called up Chris,” she said. “I was the one who got rejected. I was spared a bullet. I think of all the demons, and playing politics. … I probably would have self-destructed on SNL.”
This Baskets star’s 1999 audition — a snippet of which you can see above — didn’t land him a spot on the SNL stage, but he did join the show as a part-time writer that year. It would be another decade before his onscreen break in The Hangover came about.
The Emmy winner has hosted Saturday Night Live 13 times by now, but his 1980 tryout for the show didn’t go so well. “I just knew they’d hire me, just ‘cause I’m a nice guy,” he quipped on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon earlier this month. “That’s the worst thing I’ve ever done in front of people in my life. I wrote something about 15 minutes before I went over there, and oh God, it was awful.”
“If you had seen this tape, you would understand why I didn’t get it,” the Die Hart actor said on Conan in 2015, recalling his failed audition for SNL. As he said at the time, he did an impression of Avery Johnson, a San Antonio Spurs player with whom Michaels supposedly wasn’t familiar. (“I found out that white people didn’t know who Avery Johnson was,” Hart said during his 2013 SNL monologue.)
Kaling told The Daily Beast in 2019 that she auditioned for SNL midway through The Office’s second season, and Office producer Greg Daniels told her that if she was cast, he’d let her out of her contract. After her audition, she learned she was being considered for the SNL writing room. “So I went back and talked to Greg about it and he said to me, no, that’s not the deal we made. The deal we made is that if you get cast as a cast member, you can go,” she said. “And it was really a life-changing thing. I think the course of my career would have gone really differently had I left The Office and done that instead.”
Before Friends made her a household name, Kudrow was in contention for Saturday Night Live: The actress told the Television Academy in 2014 that Michaels visited the Los Angeles improv troupe The Groundlings to watch her, Julia Sweeney, and Kathy Griffin perform. And it was Sweeney who got the SNL job, joining the show in 1990. “The thing about the characters that I did at The Groundlings is, they weren’t the big crowd-pleasers,” Kudrow explained.
Kenan Thompson’s Kenan & Kel costar didn’t make the cut at a 2003 SNL audition, unfortunately, even after trotting out impressions like DMX in Toy Story and a tree-allergic Michael Jackson. “There was some laughter, there was some ‘What the heck is going on?’” he told Yahoo! in 2018, recalling the reaction in the room. “I think they were looking for a certain thing. … I have no remorse about it.” (See him discuss the tryout at the 12:10 mark of the video above.)
The host of The Amber Ruffin Show was one of nearly a dozen Black women who auditioned for SNL at a Los Angeles showcase in 2013, joining Nicole Byer, Tiffany Haddish, and others at the tryout, per Entertainment Weekly. “I thought, ‘For sure, I got this job. I’ve been professionally writing sketch and performing for 10 years. I have it,’” Ruffin recalled on Hot 97 last year. “Boy oh boy, you cocky little turd, that is exactly what you get!” she quipped.
Saturday Night Live, Season 47, Saturdays, 11:30/10:30c, NBC