If you get cast on Saturday Night Live, you're well on your way to a successful comedy career. But first, you have to survive your SNL audition, which is one of the toughest in show business. For starters, it's an incredibly selective process. The show has had only 153 official cast members since it debuted in 1975. Staffers review hundreds of candidates every year, from all around the country, before narrowing it down to just a handful of potential hires. So, your odds of making it through that screening to become one of the "Not Ready for Primetime Players" are about as good as your odds of becoming an astronaut. Then, the stakes are high. Although getting cast on SNL isn't a guarantee that you'll become a multi-millionaire, the show has made its cast members famous from the very beginning - everyone from Chevy Chase and Bill Murray to Kristen Wiig and Andy Samberg has gone on to become superstars. Finally, once you get the call to audition at 30 Rockefeller Center, it's one of the toughest rooms - mainly because your potential boss, SNL creator Lorne Michaels, notoriously doesn't like to laugh.
With so much pressure and such high stakes, it's no surprise that many SNL cast members have great stories about their auditions. Here are some SNL audition stories that range from hilarious to terrifying.
When it comes to comedy auditions, it can be tempting to try something unconventional in order to stand out. But this is also risky, because there's a chance your gimmick will backfire. For his audition, Will Ferrell thought it would be hilarious to pretend to bribe Michaels.
"I [had come] in with a briefcase full of counterfeit money that I’d bought at a toy store," Ferrell told The New York Times. "And in the middle of whatever Lorne was going to say, I was going to start stacking the equivalent of $25,000 on his desk. 'Listen, Lorne, you and I can say whatever we want to say. But we really know what talks, and that’s money. I’m going to walk out of this room, and you can either take this money or not. And I can be on the show.'"
But when Ferrell actually got into the meeting with Michaels, he was too intimidated to try the joke and backed down.
Ferrell's audition experience was also harrowing because his prepared material was too similar to what Michaels had already seen other performers do, forcing Ferrell to stay up all night coming up with a new audition. During his audition, Ferrell played a businessman who liked playing with cat toys when he was alone. It was met with total silence, but as we all know, Ferrell got the gig anyway.
Molly Shannon moved to Los Angeles after graduating from NYU's drama school to pursue comedy. She had previously auditioned for SNL and never heard back, so she kept honing her craft and her characters until she got another opportunity. When that opportunity arrived, the audition coordinator told her not to use one of her strongest characters. "Whatever you do, please don't do that Mary Katherine Gallagher character. You'll never get hired. Lorne won't like that, he'll think it's disgusting and dirty," the coordinator apparently said. Shannon ended up heeding the advice and didn't do the character, but the rest of her audition went so well that she didn't even mind being mugged in Tribeca later that night.
Luckily for us, once Shannon got the job, she did manage to convince Michaels to give the armpit-smelling Catholic schoolgirl a shot. The character would end up being one of Shannon's most popular.
For Cheri Oteri, the circumstances going into her SNL audition were about as far from ideal as possible. The night before, she went to an Italian restaurant and developed food poisoning. She spent all night vomiting and never slept, and when she arrived the next morning, all the blood vessels in her face were broken. It was so bad that she apparently looked like she'd been in a car accident, and her appearance shocked the makeup person.
But when it came time to perform, Oteri's adrenaline was pumping so much that the night before didn't matter. She even managed to coax a laugh out of Michaels. "I saw him out of the corner of my eye, laughing his very subtle, subtle laughter. Almost regal laughter," she later recalled.
Eddie Murphy was one of the youngest cast members ever, being hired at the age of just 19 in 1980. But it took persistence to get there. Murphy had auditioned and been rejected earlier that year. But he was so determined that he called talent coordinator Neil Levy every day to ask for another chance, pointing out that he needed the job to feed his 18 siblings. Eventually, Levy agreed to let Murphy be a background extra.
The night Murphy appeared as an extra, the show was running five minutes short. Needing to fill out the running time, Levy suggested they allow Murphy to perform the monologue he'd used months earlier in his audition. With no other choice, Michaels allowed it. Murphy did so well that he was promoted to full cast member two weeks later.
Murphy would never have a chance to audition again because, as he revealed on Live with Kelly and Ryan, his SNL audition was also the first and only audition of his entire career - meaning SNL helped him become so famous that he never needed to audition again. It's understandable why many consider him to be one of the best SNL cast members of all time.