By the mid-1990s, Saturday Night Live was a mainstay of popular culture, one entering its third decade of programming. Despite some ups and downs over time, SNL introduced viewers to famous characters like Jake and Elwood Blues, Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar, and a host of others. The show's "Weekend Update" segment offered comedic takes on the news, infusing some laughs into current events.
Some of the show's funniest and most beloved performers were part of SNL's Season 20 cast, including Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, and Kevin Nealon. The SNL cast, however, drastically changed from the last episode of Season 20 to the debut episode of Season 21.
What happened during SNL Season 20 could have broken the show entirely. While viewers watched and (sometimes) laughed, critics panned SNL Season 20, calling it anything but funny and relevant. Off-screen, the writers, crew, and performers struggled to work together, much less produce content that wowed weekly audiences. When all is said and done, the ins and outs of the drama that took place during the 1994-1995 season might make you go back and see some of your favorite sketches in a whole new light.
Though The Cast Produced Memorable Sketches, They Also Made Some Of The Biggest Bombs
As morale and ratings declined at SNL during the 1994-1995 season, writers noticed the subject matter took a downhill trajectory, as well. Writers Bonnie and Terry Turner, who had penned skits like "Wayne's World" and the Church Lady sketches, were disappointed to see "less about relationships... Unless the relationship is between a man and his shoe, rather than actual people."
Similarly, sketches like "Gay Stripper Theater" indicated to Janeane Garofalo that, "They love the anal sex here... that's considered incredibly funny." It wasn't something she found amusing, nor was an alien skit that included anal probes and the word "b*tch" written across male cast members' chests in lipstick. Garofalo, who later said she "wanted to quit after the first week," found it nausea-inducing instead.
There were some bright points during the season, however. Al Franken continued to appear as Stuart Smalley, Chris Farley as Matt Foley remained popular, and the Gap Girls - featuring Farley, Adam Sandler, and David Spade - brought lots of laughs.
Several Cast Members Left Mid-Season, While New Blood Came On The Scene
Janeane Garofalo left SNL in March 1995, weeks before the season officially ended. She later stated she "did not think we were doing a quality show, and if you mentioned that, you found you were an extremely unwelcome guest."
The addition of Molly Shannon and Morwenna Banks during the season accompanied the additional exit of Mike Myers, who left in January. Paralleling writer Anne Beatts's description of the early days of the show as "a combination of summer camp and concentration camp," Myers called it "a cross between Love Boat and Das Boot" at the time of his departure.
Tension Between Writers And Performers Developed For Numerous Reasons
Most of the writers on SNL were former Ivy Leaguers, including Harvard grads like Lewis Morton, David Mandel, and Steve Lookner. Cast member Ellen Cleghorne saw this as problematic because there were "no Black writers on the show." Cleghorne lamented, "I feel like I'm in a bad sci-fi movie where all the Black people already got killed and I'm next."
While cast members were also expected to write, there was a disconnect between who would and would not have sketches appear on the show. Chris Elliott found that the pressure to write and perform could be bothersome: "If you wanted to get on the air, you had to write some material for yourself."
The tensions and animosities, in Lorne Michaels's opinion, were natural. When it came to how writers viewed the performers, Michaels noted writers may have been "dismayed at the fortunes amassed by some performers once they left the show," acknowledging that the show "was apparently being looked upon even by some of its cast and creative team the way the network regarded it - as an ATM rather than a learning experience or a creative challenge."
Thing Could Get Incredibly Personal And Ugly
Laura Kightlinger, a new addition to SNL that year, tried to play into some of the more immature and raunchy sketches, even suggesting that a line like, "I'm gonna give ya the wood" - sung by Michael McKean to Sarah Jessica Parker - go even further. When Kightlinger tried to broach the subject, however, her fellow writers turned on her "with these really vicious, mean sexual things," according to one of the actress's friends. "She's one of the strongest people I know. Very tough to faze. And it made her cry."
Kightlinger had writing experience, having written for Roseanne, and learned at that moment to "pare down my sarcasm big-time. In the writers' room at Roseanne, you could sh*t on each other and everybody would laugh. But here... it gets personal in a hurry."