One of the hazards of live television is that it is just that - live. Without the cushion of tape delay, whatever someone says on-mic (and sometimes off-mic) will end up being aired. Slips of the tongue are not uncommon. And when that slip of the tongue results in an F-bomb or other obscenity being heard on-air, it tends to be a very big deal - the audience notices, the media notices, and the FCC notices. The consequences of an obscenity airing on live television can vary. As the history of Saturday Night Live proves, sometimes the person dropping the expletive is let off the hook, while other times the accidental or deliberate slip of the tongue costs the person their job.
Since SNL debuted in 1975, the late-night sketch comedy/variety show has had multiple incidents where some variation of the F-word has been dropped, with the first known time coming back in 1980. Sometimes, the slip-up has been accidental, such as when Jenny Slate dropped the F-bomb on her very first episode as an SNL cast member. Sometimes it is deliberate, such as when Prince refused to change an obscenity-laced lyric in his song "Party Up." In fact, musicians have been common offenders when it comes to dropping F-bombs on this show - more than half of the incidents listed below came during a musical performance. But as individuals such as Kristen Stewart and Norm Macdonald have shown, guest hosts and cast members are not immune from letting an obscenity (or two) slip.
These slip-ups - or deliberate acts - have certainly kept the censors working on SNL busy over the years.
Prince made the first of his three appearances (not including anniversary specials or retrospectives) on SNL on February 21, 1981. He performed his song "Party Up," which contains the line "Fightin' war is such a f***in' bore" - and that's exactly what the artist sang during his SNL performance.
According to Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live, the censor in the control room was asked to confirm that Prince had actually said "f***in'." He reportedly replied, "Nah. He said 'friggin'." So the use of the obscenity pretty much went ignored.
Oddly, this was the same episode that SNL cast member Charles Rocket, while portraying the character of J.R Ewing, dropped an F-bomb at the end of the show.
It would be around 25 years before Prince made his next appearance on a regular episode of SNL (February 4, 2006).
Donald Trump had officially moved into the White House just weeks prior to Stewart's guest-hosting stint on the February 4, 2017, episode of SNL. The show and the actress were well aware that the new president was not a fan of hers and they were more than happy to address this fact.
Stewart's monologue opened by talking about how in 2012 Trump had been obsessed with tweeting about her on-and-off relationship with Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson. She was then joined onstage by SNL cast members Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon - the latter of whom is openly out - as Stewart touched on her own sexuality. At the end of her monologue, she accidently said, "coolest f***ing thing ever," to express how excited she was about the night's show. She immediately covered her mouth then rebounded to ruefully remark, "I'll never come back."
But she did. SNL invited Stewart back, and she made her return as a guest host on November 2, 2019.
Macdonald 's five-year (1993-1998) stint on SNL was highlighted by his work as the anchor on the "Weekend Update" segment. On the April 12, 1997, episode, he was in the midst of the "Weekend Update" when he flubbed a line while trying to do a story, then mumbled, "What the f*** was that."
Immediately recognizing what he had said, Macdonald wryly remarked to the audience, "My farewell performance," and ended the segment with, "Maybe we'll see you next week."
Although the comedian survived the immediate aftermath of him dropping an accidental F-bomb, he was later taken off the "Weekend Update" and was fired after the 1997-1998 season.
Kanye West's SNL appearance on September 29, 2018, got heavy media coverage for what didn't get aired - the rapper gave a pro-Trump rant in front of the studio audience and the SNL cast members who had joined him on stage as the end credits rolled. As SNL had run over its time slot, NBC cut away from the show before West's rant got going, but comedian Chris Rock, who was in the audience, posted it on his Instagram.
But it turns out that West's actual performance was also controversial. Rolling Stone reported that the FCC received several complaints from viewers who stated that the artist (wearing a costume that made him look like a bottle of Perrier) had rapped the line "I'm a sick f***. I like a quick f***" while performing his duet with Lil Pump, "I Love It" - although they did change the original lyric of "You're such a f***in' Ho" to "you're such a freaky girl." Because West rapped the line with the F-bombs in it so quickly, it got past the censor.