22 celebrities who got rejected by ‘Saturday Night Live’ and went on to become famous in their own right

Lisa Kudrow, John Mulaney, and Mindy Kaling.
Some of the biggest stars in comedy didn’t make it onto the ‘SNL’ stage as cast members. Michael Kovac/Getty Images; Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP; Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

Legendary comedy actor Jim Carrey didn’t make it onto “SNL.”
Jim carrey
Jim Carrey went on to become a comedy star anyway. Charles Sykes/Invision/AP
In 2015, “SNL” executive producer Lorne Michaels told Vanity Fair that he never got to see Carrey’s audition for the 1980 to 1981 season, explaining that the comedian was rejected by one of the show’s staff members.

“Somebody who was there said, ‘I don’t think Lorne would like it,’ and they were probably wrong, but it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Or maybe they were right — who knows? No one gets it all right.”

Regardless of the rejection, Carrey would go on to have an immensely successful comedy career, with films like “Dumb and Dumber” (1994), and would eventually grace the “SNL” stage.

The star has hosted the show three times and he also appeared in the star-studded lineup for the series’ 40th anniversary special in 2015. He later had a major role as president Joe Biden on “SNL.”

Stephen Colbert never got cast as an actor on “Saturday Night Live,” but he did contribute to the show in other ways.
Stephen colbert
Stephen Colbert did some voiceover work and writing for the show. Kevin Winter/Getty Images
In an interview with GQ, Stephen Colbert said he was rejected by “SNL” in 1992 after he auditioned to be cast member.

That said, he would later go on to be a part of the show through writing and voiceover work for “TV Funhouse,” a series of “SNL” sketches that were adult humor in a cartoon format. 

He would also star on one of the show’s most popular cartoons, “The Ambiguously Gay Duo” as the character Ace, opposite Steve Carell as Gary. 

Following his time at “SNL,” Colbert went on to become famous for his political-comedy persona on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.” 

 

“Friends” star Lisa Kudrow was denied a role on “SNL” even though Lorne Michaels said her audition was “brilliant.”
Lisa Kudrow
Someone else got the part instead of Lisa Kudrow. Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images
In the 1990s, Lisa Kudrow was a part of the Los Angeles-based improv and sketch-comedy school, The Groundlings.

The founder of the school, Laraine Newman, was an original “SNL” cast member and had put in a good word for Kudrow to Michaels, who came to LA to see a Groundlings performance.

Following his visit, Michaels picked actress Julia Sweeney over Kudrow. 

Michaels later told Vanity Fair that he thought Kudrow was extremely talented and her audition was “brilliant” but he knew she wasn’t a fit for the series at the time. 

“I remember being super disappointed,” Kudrow told Vanity Fair. “I was pretty disappointed because I thought, ‘Maybe you’re one of those people for whom good things don’t happen.'”

Of course, good things did happen for Kudrow.

A few years later she became a household name playing Phoebe Buffay on “Friends” and she ended up hosting “SNL,” too.

 

Kathy Griffin performed in the same audition show as Lisa Kudrow and was also denied a role on “SNL.”
Kathy Griffin red carpet
Kathy Griffin has said she’s ‘still not over it.’ Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Another member of The Groundlings, comedian Kathy Griffin was also hopeful that Michaels’ visit to Los Angeles would mean a role for her on “Saturday Night Live.”

Unfortunately, she was also passed over for Julia Sweeney. 

Speaking to Vanity Fair, her fellow Groundlings member Kudrow recalled Griffin crying after realizing Michaels had not picked either of them for “SNL.” 

Griffin confirmed that the loss was a hard one for her. “We are still not over it,” she said. “I don’t care what Lisa says.” 

Regardless of missing out on a “Saturday Night Live” role, Griffin went on to become a famous stand-up comic and comedic actress in her own right. 

Marc Maron jokingly said a piece of candy is the reason he didn’t get cast on “SNL.”
Marc Maron
Marc Maron said he thinks he failed some sort of test. Kevin Winter/Getty
In 1998, stand-up comic, writer, and podcaster Marc Maron wrote an article detailing his experience two years prior when he was called in to meet with “SNL” producer Lorne Michaels about taking over for Norm MacDonald on “Weekend Update.” 

In the article, he described seeing a bowl of candy on Michaels’ desk and feeling like the sweets were somehow a test. Throughout the interview, he recalled being tense and anxious.

During a self-described “staring contest” with Michaels, Maron said he couldn’t help but break eye contact. 

“I broke and I took a candy,” he wrote. “As soon as I took the candy I swear to God Lorne shot a look at the head writer that clearly connoted to me that I had failed the test. I walked out of there thinking I ruined my career because of a Jolly Rancher. I don’t even like Jolly Ranchers.”

Donald Glover joked about his failed audition attempts in his opening monologue when he hosted “SNL” in 2018.
Donald glover
Donald Glover performed and hosted on ‘SNL.’ Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images
Few stars have both hosted and performed as the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live,” but Donald Glover (also known as Childish Gambino) did just that in 2018.

During Glover’s opening monologue, he said he’d auditioned to be on “SNL” twice.

Even though he didn’t make the cut, he went on to be a successful actor, writer, producer, and musician in his own right. 

Aubrey Plaza interned at “SNL” and dreamed of being on the show.
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Aubrey Plaza auditioned for the series in 2008. Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
In a 2012 interview with The Guardian, actress Aubrey Plaza said she got into comedy because she had hopes of one day joining the “SNL” cast. 

“I became really obsessed with comedy and improv,” she told the publication. “I wanted to be on that show for as long as I could remember.”

In 2005, she interned at “SNL” and in 2008 she got to audition for the show, but she didn’t get cast. However, her luck turned when she was offered a role in the 2009 Judd Apatow film “Funny People.”

That role brought her to Los Angeles, which is where she ultimately landed her breakout roles on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” and in “Scott Pilgrim vs the World” (2010). 

Zach Galifianakis didn’t make it on “SNL” as an actor, but he did write for the show for two weeks.
Zach Galifianakis
Zach Galifianakis went on to star in comedies like ‘The Hangover.’ Charles Sykes/Invision/AP
During the “Saturday Night Live” 40th-anniversary special, the series aired a compilation of audition tapes from some of the show’s most memorable cast members.

The compilation also included clips of auditions from stars that never made the show, including a pre-beard Zack Galifianakis. 

The actor told GQ that after not making the show in 1999 he worked as a part-time writer on “SNL” for just two weeks. 

Although his time on “SNL” was brief, Galifianakis went on to become a massive comedy star, appearing in memorable films like “The Hangover” (2009) and voicing characters on comedies like Fox’s “Bob’s Burgers.”

Kevin Hart has often joked about how bad his “Saturday Night Live” audition was.
Kevin hart
Kevin Hart said he did some terrible impressions. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo
Like Galifianakis, Hart’s audition tape was also included in the “SNL” 40th-anniversary compilation.

Hart, famous now for his stand-up comedy and comedic film roles, has spoken often about his experience auditioning for the series. 

In 2013, Hart joked about how bad his “SNL” audition was in his opening monologue when he hosted the show for the first time.

He said that he did an impression of Robert De Niro using only facial expressions and an impression of Denzel Washington from “Training Day” (2001) even though he’d never seen the film. 

On “Conan” in 2015, Hart said he also did a poor impression of NBA coach Avery Johnson and said it was evidence enough that Michaels was right to not cast him.

 

Jennifer Coolidge did not make it onto “SNL,” but she says it was for the best.
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Jennifer Coolidge said she couldn’t have handled the stress of being on the series. Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Image
Also a member of the improv-comedy school The Groundlings in Los Angeles, Jennifer Coolidge was invited to travel to NYC with her groupmates Will Ferrell, Chris Kattan, and Cheri Oteri to audition for “Saturday Night Live” in 1995

She was the only one of the group who was not cast on “SNL.”

In a 2004 interview with Los Angeles Magazine, Coolidge recalled the experience and said not getting cast was best for her because she didn’t think she could have handled the mental stress of being on the series. 

“I was spared a bullet,” she said. “I think of all the demons, and playing politics… I probably would have self-destructed on ‘SNL.'”

Coolidge has since made her name in comedy by starring in popular films like “American Pie” (1999) and “Legally Blonde” (2001).

“Reno 911!” star Kerri Kenney-Silver discussed her “Saturday Night Live” audition on Marc Maron’s podcast.
Kerri Kenney-Silver
Kerri Kenney-Silver had been on a different sketch show prior to her audition. Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
On “WTF with Marc Maron,” Kerri Kenney-Silver said that after appearing on the MTV sketch-comedy show “The State,” she auditioned for “SNL” even though she’d previously thought “The State” was the superior show. 

“The first time it was suggested to me to audition to ‘SNL’, I said, ‘No, thanks, guys. I don’t need that sinking ship … I’m on ‘The State’ on MTV.'”

Following the cancellation of “The State,” she said she ” went back with my tail between my legs and actually did audition.”

She described the audition as “terrifying” and said she didn’t get any laughs from the staff and wasn’t cast. 

Kenney-Silver went on to star on shows like Comedy Central’s “Reno 911!” instead. 

John Goodman was not cast on “SNL” but he ended up hosting the show 12 times.
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John Goodman starred on other famous shows instead. Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images
In James Andrew Miller’s book “Live From New York,” actor John Goodman said he auditioned for “SNL” in 1980 when producer Jean Doumanian was in charge.

He was not cast, but this was perhaps for the best since it freed Goodman up for a major role on ABC’s comedy “Roseanne.”

After becoming a household name and starring in numerous films and television shows, Goodman eventually ended up on the “SNL” stage at least 12 times as a host. 

If she’d gotten cast on “SNL,” Mindy Kaling said she probably would have left the hit comedy “The Office.”
Mindy Kaling
Mindy Kaling went on to star on a few comedy series. Presley Ann/Patrick McMullan via Getty
On “The Last Laugh” podcast, actress Mindy Kaling said that during season two of “The Office” she was offered a chance to audition for “Saturday Night Live.” 

Since being on “SNL” was her childhood dream, Kaling said she made a deal with “The Office” showrunner Greg Daniels, who said he would let her out of her contract if she was offered a role as an actress on the show. 

Kaling went to New York to audition for “SNL” and was denied a role as a performer.

Michaels did, however, offer her a job as a writer and Kaling hoped that she could take the position and work behind-the-scenes long enough to eventually become a performer. 

But Daniels said this wasn’t the deal they’d made — and Kaling stayed with “The Office,” which successfully ran for nearly a decade. 

“It was really a life-changing thing,” Kaling said. “I think the course of my career would have gone really differently had I left ‘The Office’ and done that instead.”

 

 

Paul Reubens of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” fame said he knew he wouldn’t be cast as soon as he saw one of the other actors who was auditioning.
Paul Reubens
Paul Reubens produced his own show instead. Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP
Another member of the improv group The Groundlings, Paul Reubens had perfected the art of his famous character Pee-Wee Herman by the time he auditioned for “Saturday Night Live” for the 1980 to 1981 season. 

But in 2006, Reubens told Entertainment Weekly that he knew he wouldn’t get cast as soon as he saw actor Gilbert Gottfried in the audition room. 

“It really seemed like I was going to be on ‘SNL’… I walked in the room, [saw comic Gilbert Gottfried], and I said, ‘It’s not going to be both of us. We’re the same type of performer.’ I knew then I wasn’t going to get it,” he told the publication. 

The rejection fueled Reubens to produce his own comedy series, “The Pee-wee Herman Show” — and the rest is history. 

 

Long before starring on Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and NBC’s “The Office,” Kemper auditioned for “SNL.”
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Ellie Kemper was ‘worked up’ during her audition. Amanda Edwards/Getty Images
In a 2019 interview with Seth Meyers, Kemper recalled her audition when she was 27 years old, telling the host she was “worked up” over meeting Michaels.

As a part of her audition, Kemper was asked what era of “SNL” she grew up with, to which she almost responded with a wrong answer out of nervousness.

Thankfully, Meyers intervened and helped jog her memory, though she did not end up landing a role as a cast member. 

John Mulaney had low expectations and thought it would make for a “cool story.”
John Mulaney arrives at night one of the Creative Arts Emmy Awards on Sept. 14, 2019, in Los Angeles.
John Mulaney wound up writing for the show instead. Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
In a 2020 interview with the YouTube channel Off Camera Show, Mulaney spoke to Sam Jones about his successful “SNL” tryout. 

He auditioned feeling like there was no way he would be cast because the show was “flush with white male brunettes, they had the best in the business …”

He added that he was a stand-up comedian and didn’t think he could perform the way the rest of the cast could. Still, even though he had no expectations he said the audition went great and people laughed. 

Two days after Mulaney’s audition, he was offered a job as a writer on “SNL.” He worked on the show for four seasons.

Mulaney later went on to have a deal with Netflix, producing multiple comedy specials. He also hosted “SNL” four times.

David Cross auditioned for “SNL” but bombed his audition.
David cross
David Cross went from Boston to New York to audition. Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images
Cross is best known for his humor and wit as Tobias Fünke on Fox’s “Arrested Development.” Prior to this role, Cross was part of a Boston-based collective called Cross Collective.

In a 2013 conversation with Michael Cera at the 92nd Street Y, the comedian recalled going down to New York to audition for “SNL” in the early 1990s and bombing his audition.

He told Cera he didn’t have long-term goals at the time, he simply enjoyed having fun.

Geena Davis was a huge fan of the show, but thought her audition was “weird” and “awkward.”
Geena davis
Geena Davis had a strange time auditioning. Getty/Nicholas Hunt
The Oscar-winning actress hardly remembers her “weird” audition for “SNL.” In a 2020 interview with The Daily Beast, Davis said she barely recalled sending in an audition tape to the show.

“I made a stupid videotape of myself doing hopefully funny things,” she said. Davis said she later had a “pretty awkward” lunch with then-stars of the show including Billy Crystal, Chris Guest, and Harry Shearer.

She added, ” … It was like, ‘OK, what’s funny about you? Just prove to us that you’re funny,’ and it was this lunch, and so it was definitely weird!”

Regardless, she said, she’s “always loved the show.”

Adam Devine had a “weird and unsuccessful” audition after impersonating a Beatle.
Adam DeVine attends the 71st Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 22, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.
Adam Devine impersonated Paul McCartney. Jeff Kravitz / Getty Images
You may recognize Devine for his prankster role in Comedy Central’s “Workaholics” or more notably, for his a capella riffs in “Pitch Perfect.”

During a 2020 comedy show to SUNY Syracuse students, he shared that once auditioned for “SNL.” 

He joked it was “unsuccessful” after he poorly impersonated Paul McCartney in front of Michaels, who turned out to be a huge Beatles fan.

Nick Kroll always dreamed of being on the show but didn’t make the cut.
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Nick Kroll still does comedy. Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
In a 2018 interview with The Dan Patrick Show, Kroll spoke about his lifelong dream of being on “SNL” and his relatively normal audition, which happened in the same year Mulaney and Jordan Peele tried out. 

“It went OK,” he said, adding that the room was pretty quiet.

According to a 2019 interview with The Daily Beast, he practiced his audition with Mulaney. He thought he was going to hear high praises from Michaels, but did not end up booking the gig.

In the end, he felt it “all worked out,” because a year later, he ended up on FX’s “The League.”

Kroll also went on to star on Comedy Central series and even produced hit Broadway comedy, “Oh, Hello!” with Mulaney. 

Jordan Peele auditioned to play President Barack Obama on “SNL.”
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Jordan Peele didn’t get cast to play the former president. Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP
Peele has made waves in the horror realm with his film “Get Out.” Before his directorial debut, he already had a name in the comedy business with his work on Fox’s “Mad TV” and Comedy Central sketch series “Key & Peele.” 

At the time of his audition in 2008, “SNL” was looking for someone to play Obama, and Peele auditioned to fill in the presidential shoes.

He did not get cast, and then-cast member Fred Armisen played the president instead.

Kumail Nanjiani auditioned, but he ended up writing for the show for a week.
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Kumail Nanjiani wound up being a writer for the show. Gershoff/Getty Images
The actor, comedian, screenwriter, and podcaster is known for his role in HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” AMC “Portlandia,” and romantic comedies such as “The Big Sick” and “Lovebirds.”

In a 2012 interview with Vulture, Nanjiani said he took the leap to audition because “Portlandia” was run by Broadway Video, a company Michaels owns. He was hesitant at first because he never did characters, but the company wanted him to do it so he auditioned with standup comedy.

“I did this audition and they asked me to come and write for a few weeks, and I could only do one week, so I went in and wrote for a week,” he recalled.