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Cast Members Who Were Controversially Fired From 'SNL'

Since Saturday Night Live debuted on NBC on October 11, 1975, the weekly late-night live sketch/variety show has had more than 150 cast members. Some of the actors have remained on the show for years - for instance, Kenan Thompson is the longest-tenured cast member in show history, having been with SNL for 17 seasons (2003-present). Others have lasted for just one season, if that.

And when cast members do leave SNL, the breakup can be messy or confusing. Shane Gillis never even got to appear on an episode before public backlash over the comedian's history of offensive comments led to the show letting him go. Unlike Charles Rocket, Jenny Slate didn't get fired in the immediate aftermath of accidentally dropping an F-bomb during a broadcast. But when she did get fired at the end of the season, she only found out about it when she went online. Even cast members who became breakout stars on SNL have been let go. Adam Sandler still isn't sure why he and Chris Farley were let go following the 1995 season.

Here are some of the more unusual, confusing, or controversial reasons why SNL cast members have gotten fired.

  • Photo: NBC

    Chris Rock Wasn't Interested In Stereotypes

    Chris Rock had been on SNL from 1990 until he was let go in 1993. The comedian may not have returned anyway, as he already had expressed interest in joining the sketch show In Living Color. In fact, he became a cast member on that show after being fired from SNL, only to see ILC get canceled a few weeks later.

    On WTF with Marc Maron in 2011, Rock said the main reason he had interest in moving on from SNL was that the show asked him to play stereotypes such as an Ubangi tribesman. Because he was the only Black cast member, those roles felt narrow-minded to him, even though he knew that wasn't the show's intent. In contrast to SNL, which he thought of as pretty much a "white" show, Rock thought In Living Color was "blacker" and "...just hip. The sh*t was hot. I wanted to be in an environment where I didn't have to translate the comedy I wanted to do."

    There must not have been any hard feelings on either side about the comedian's departure from SNL, as he has been a guest on the show many times, beginning with a guest host appearance on November 2, 1996.

    • Age: 56
    • Birthplace: Andrews, South Carolina, USA

    The Best Chris Rock Albums of All Time#225 of 264 The Best (Male) Actors Working Today#438 of 838 The Best Actors In Film History

  • Photo: NBC

    Adam Sandler 'Kind Of Quit,' But 'Who Knows?'

    When Adam Sandler served as the guest host of Saturday Night Live on May 4, 2019, he opened the show with a singing confession - he had been fired from the show in 1995. 

    Or was he? As Sandler explained in a 2014 interview with The Daily Beast:

    Yes, we [Sandler and Chris Farley] were [fired]. We kind of quit at the same time as being fired. It was the end of the run for us. The fact that me and him got fired? Who knows. We were on it for a few years, had our run, and everything happens for a reason.

    In a 2019 interview with Howard Stern, the comedian said he thought NBC was responsible for SNL letting him go: "At the time, it wasn't [SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels's] decision. The NBC head dude, I know he didn't like [us]. Me and Farley."

    Dennis Miller had recommended Sandler to Michaels after seeing the comedian's stage act. Sandler made his first appearance on the show in 1991 and had been promoted to a full-time cast member in 1993.

    • Age: 55
    • Birthplace: New York City, New York

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  • Photo: NBC

    Damon Wayans Made Unapproved Script Changes

    Damon Wayans lasted just one season on SNL before being fired in 1986 for making changes to the script without permission, turning his character of a straight male police officer into an over-the-top gay one. Years after being booted from the show, Wayans explained that he had been rebelling against the restrictions he felt the show was placing on his work.

    "I was angry. That's the reason why it wasn't funny, because I do a funny flamboyant character..." the comedian told The Weekender. "They didn't let me do what I wanted to do on SNL, which I came to learn was Lorne Michaels's way of protecting me from looking like I was trying to be the next Eddie Murphy."

    The comedian explained that, because Murphy had left the show just prior to Wayans's hiring, the show wouldn't let him do the type of roles or skits Murphy had done. So out of frustration, he made the unauthorized change to the skit.

    Wayans said he didn't regret his action but admitted that Michaels "did the right thing" in firing him.

    • Age: 61
    • Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States of America

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  • Shane Gillis's Insensitive Remarks Doomed Him 

    In September 2019, Shane Gillis was announced as one of Saturday Night Live's new cast members. But shortly after the announcement, troubling videos from a 2018 episode of Matt and Shane's Secret Podcast surfaced on Twitter. In one clip, Gillis and his co-host, Matt McCusker, made a number of racially insensitive remarks about Chinese people, while in another clip, they used homophobic epithets to refer to two other comedians.

    SNL's response to the harsh public backlash over Gillis's hiring was quick; just days after being announced as a cast member, Gillis was fired. In announcing the firing, a spokesperson for SNL claimed the show's producers hadn't been aware of Gillis's remarks prior to these clips surfacing on social media: "The language he used is offensive, hurtful, and unacceptable. We are sorry that we did not see these clips earlier, and that our vetting process was not up to our standard."