Celebs Who Were Rejected By SNL

"Saturday Night Live" has been launching stars since its first season back in 1975, when several members of the "Not Ready for Primetime Players" went on to Hollywood stardom. Over the years, the show has continually proven to be a reliable starting point on the road to success, and the list of comedy giants to have emerged is a lengthy one. 

Yet, in much the same way that "American Idol" winners typically wind up having less-successful careers than competitors voted off the show, there have been numerous huge stars to have once auditioned for "SNL," only to be shown the door. This list is likewise a long one. It's also surprisingly eclectic. In fact, "Saturday Night Live" rejects have run the showbiz gamut, including several television and film stars (including a future member of the "Friends" cast), a late-night talk show host, standup comics, a superstar podcaster, and even an Oscar-winning movie star. 

For a deeper dive, keep on reading for a look at some celebs who were rejected by "SNL."

Jim Carrey was rejected by SNL more than once

Jim Carrey is one of Hollywood's biggest stars, breaking through in wacky comedies such as "The Mask" and the "Ace Ventura" movies, while later showcasing his flair for drama in acclaimed films such as "The Truman Show." Carrey famously got his start on the Fox sketch-comedy show "In Living Color," making him a breakout star thanks to Fire Marshall Bill, Vera De Milo, and other hilarious characters.

Prior to joining "In Living Color," Carrey auditioned for "Saturday Night Live" on several occasions — and was passed by each time. In fact, Carrey's audition tape was played during the "SNL" 40th anniversary special, featuring a bonkers impression he dubbed "post-nuclear Elvis." 

The first of those auditions was when Carrey was just 18, for the 1980 season, in which exec producer Michaels wasn't involved. For Carrey's subsequent audition, Michaels was back in charge — but didn't see it. "I wasn't at the Jim Carrey audition, but somebody who was there said, 'I don't think Lorne would like it,' and they were probably wrong, but it doesn't matter," Michaels told Vanity Fair in 2015. "Or maybe they were right — who knows? No one gets it all right." Interviewed by the New York Times, Dana Carvey recalled auditioning alongside Carrey. "I thought, 'Oh, you're going to get it, Jim,'" Carvey recalled, remembering that Phil Hartman — then a member of the cast — was also certain Carrey would make it. They were both wrong, and he was rejected again.

Donald Glover is grateful in hindsight that he wasn't invited to join SNL

Donald Glover emerged as a fan favorite on the beloved NBC sitcom "Community" before going on to critical acclaim for his FX series "Atlanta." In parallel with his success as a writer-actor-director-producer, Glover has also established himself as a heavyweight in the music industry under his rap persona, Childish Gambino.

Before landing his "Community" role, Glover auditioned for "Saturday Night Live" for the first time in 2007, and then again in 2009. He was turned down both times. Glover eventually did make it to Studio 8H — not as a cast member, but as a host, in 2018. In his monologue, Glover quipped, "But it truly is an honor to be hosting 'SNL' instead of just auditioning for it — which I did, twice." When the audience laughed, he clarified, "That's not a joke. I'm still pissed."

In retrospect, Glover had come to see being rejected from "SNL" as one of the best things that could have happened to him. In a 2023 interview with GQ, Glover admitted that becoming a member of the "SNL" cast would likely have sent him on a very different path, away from the endeavors he would eventually undertake. "I dodged so many bullets," he said. "Me being on 'SNL' would've killed me. I got friends who made it on 'SNL' and, at the time, I was like, damn. But if I got on 'SNL,' my career wouldn't have happened."

Paul Reubens' SNL rejection led to success with Pee-wee Herman

Paul Reubens, who died in July 2023 at age 70, was best known for playing Pee-wee Herman, first introduced in a Los Angeles stage show before becoming the focus of a Tim Burton movie and then a Saturday-morning TV series, "Pee-wee's Playhouse." Reubens is also among the many famous folks who got their start with L.A. improv troupe The Groundlings, which has spawned numerous "Saturday Night Live" cast members over the years.

Prior to hitting it big with Pee-wee, Reubens unsuccessfully auditioned for "SNL." As Reubens told the San Francisco Chronicle, he auditioned for the 1980 season, the first after the original cast exited — remembered these days for its sheer awfulness. Among the members of that cast was comedian Gilbert Gottfried, with whom Reubens was friendly. In fact, Reubens was under the impression that Gottfried was tight with one of the producers and that he'd be a shoo-in to join the cast. When he was rejected, he was beyond furious.

"I was so bitter and angry, I thought, 'You better think about doing something to take this to the next level,'" he said. During his plane trip from NYC back to the West Coast, he decided to mount the first Pee-wee Herman show that started it all. "So I borrowed some money and produced this show. I went from this 'Saturday Night Live' reject to having 60 people working for me," he continued. The rest, as they say, is history.

Stephen Colbert didn't make the cast, but did land an SNL writing gig

These days, Stephen Colbert is known as host of CBS' "The Late Show," and before that for Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report." Things could have gone very differently had he not been passed by after auditioning for "Saturday Night Live" back in 1992. Colbert spoke with GQ for an oral history of "The Dana Carvey Show" (on which he was a cast member) about not making the cut. "['SNL' writer] Robert Smigel had seen me perform at Second City when he was one of the people scouting for 'Saturday Night Live,'" Colbert said. "So that was in 1992 and I didn't get hired for 'SNL' that time."

That wasn't his only audition. During a "Late Show" episode, Colbert reminded guest Tracy Morgan (an "SNL" cast member from 1996 until 2003) that they'd auditioned for the show at the same time. "Yeah, you and I were both there for the final callback going to network in ... 1996?" Colbert told Morgan, who had no recollection of Colbert being there. "I never worked with you ... oh, you didn't get the job, my bad," Morgan replied. "I'm sorry you didn't get the job!"

"I remember you auditioning, and I thought, 'Well, I'm not going to get this job — we're too alike,'" Colbert joked. However, he revealed that he did wind up with an off-camera job, a one-month gig writing jokes for Norm Macdonald's "Weekend Update."

Aubrey Plaza auditioned for SNL, but wound up as a set design intern

Aubrey Plaza first captured attention on "Parks and Recreation," where she played loveably nefarious staffer April Ludgate. She followed that up by becoming an indie-movie queen in such films as "Emily the Criminal." She then played a deranged supervillain in FX's "Legion" before earning rave reviews for her performance in "The White Lotus." 

Plaza was also a "Saturday Night Live" wannabe, something she shared during an appearance on "The Tonight Show" as she was on the cusp of making her "SNL" hosting debut. In fact, she revealed that she actually interned on the show. "I was an intern in the design department," she said.

During her time as an intern, Plaza soaked in as much as she could while lurking in the background. "I studied like a sponge," she said, revealing she subsequently auditioned — but didn't make it to the next round when executive producer Lorne Michaels would be watching. "I did a preliminary first round showcase at UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade]," she said. She recalled two characters from her audition, one of which was a news anchor who tried to make all the stories sexy. "And then the other one was, I was like a pill-popping housewife that had my own talk show, called 'Celebri-Tails,' where I would just name celebrities and name what kind of tail they would have if they had a tail," she said. "Anyway, I didn't get on the show."

Kevin Hart blew his audition by impersonating someone nobody knew

Before Kevin Hart became one of the all-time most successful standup comics in history and then parlaying that success into movie stardom, he was eager to join the cast of "Saturday Night Live. During an appearance on "Conan," Hart relived the experience. "If you had seen this tape, you would understand why I didn't get it," Hart told host Conan O'Brien. "I did an impression of Avery Johnson," he explained, to which O'Brien asked, "What?" and Hart replied, "Exactly!" 

Johnson, Hart explained, was a point guard for the San Antonio Spurs, who then went on to coach the Dallas Mavericks before becoming an NBA sports analyst. "I did an impression of a person that nobody knew!" Hart joked, recalling that Lorne Michaels looked at him quizzically. "He didn't say he didn't know who that was — but I could tell he definitely didn't know," Hart added. 

When Hart got his shot hosting "SNL," he referenced his failed audition in his monologue. "True story, people. I didn't get it. No, they passed on me ... It's so long ago, you shouldn't think about it. You're talking about something that happened 67 months ago, 22 days, like 6 hours," he joked. "It's fine, I'm over it." Ultimately, Hart admitted that he now marveled at how fate had intervened, taking him from a soul-crushing failure to superstar host. "Everything happens for a reason," Hart said, "that's the moral to that story."

Marc Maron's very odd meeting with Lorne Michaels crushed his SNL dreams

Marc Maron is a standup comic and trailblazing podcaster whose "WTF" podcast is among the genre's most popular. Back in the 1990s, he was invited to a meeting with "Saturday Night Live" creator Lorne Michaels after appearing on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," which Michaels produced.

After waiting outside Michaels' office for 90 minutes, Maron was invited in along with the show's head writer. While making small talk, Maron noticed a small bowl of candy on Michaels' desk. He spiraled into panic mode, surmising the candy was meant to be a test. "I became very self-conscious," he wrote in a 1998 essay for Air America.

Michaels declared, "You know, comedians are like monkeys." Maron chuckled awkwardly but considered the remark to be an insult. "People go to the zoo and they like the lion because it's scary. And the bear because it's intense, but the monkey makes people laugh," Michaels continued. Maron couldn't help himself and fired back, "Yeah, I guess, if they're not throwing their s*** at you." That was the moment Maron knew he'd never be on "SNL" and snagged a piece of candy from the bowl. "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," Maron wrote. "I walked out of there thinking I ruined my career because of a Jolly Rancher."

Lisa Kudrow was crushed to be rejected after being recommended by an SNL star

Lisa Kudrow hit comedy pay dirt when she was cast as Phoebe Buffay on "Friends," becoming one of television's highest-paid stars in the process. Before that, Kudrow vied to become a member of the "Saturday Night Live" cast. Her audition, however, did not result in an offer to join the show, something "SNL" exec producer Lorne Michaels addressed in an interview with Vanity Fair. "There were lots of people who you'd see how brilliant they were, but you knew on some level that it wasn't going to work," he explained. "Lisa Kudrow gave a brilliant audition, but it was at the time when it was Jan Hooks and Nora [Dunn]."

Lisa Kudrow earned her improv comedy stripes with The Groundlings, and in Vanity Fair's oral history of the L.A. improv troupe, she recalled auditioning for "SNL" alongside fellow Groundlings Kathy Griffin and Julia Sweeney. Kudrow and Griffin were both turned down. "I remember being super disappointed," Kudrow recalled, admitting she was particularly crushed because she'd been personally recommended to Lorne Michaels by original "Not Ready for Prime Time Player" Laraine Newman, who'd been her instructor at The Groundlings.

"Then they picked Julia Sweeney," Kudrow recalled. "I was pretty disappointed because I thought, 'Maybe you're one of those people for whom good things don't happen.'"

Kathy Griffin joked that she's 'still not over' her SNL rejection

During her Vanity Fair interview about The Groundlings, comedian Kathy Griffin revealed that "Saturday Night Live" head honcho Lorne Michaels would regularly check out shows as he scouted for talent. "You never knew when Lorne Michaels was going to show up and pluck somebody out of the show — like the night that Lisa and I were there and got passed over for Julia Sweeney," Griffin said in the aforementioned Vanity Fair interview. Kudrow added "Kathy may have been crying afterward."

Sweeney, who wound up spending several seasons on the show, also recalled that fateful night. "They were looking at me, Lisa Kudrow, and Kathy Griffin, and I remember that after I got ['SNL'], I remember hoping that Lisa and Kathy find some kind of career," she said with a laugh. "'They deserve to win too!' I was very naïve. Look at them now."

As Griffin jokingly added, that rejection continues to sting. "We are still not over it," she quipped, "I don't care what Lisa says."

Jennifer Coolidge now believes she dodged a bullet by being rejected by SNL

Jennifer Coolidge was also a one-time member of The Groundlings, whose comedy credits include "Legally Blonde," "2 Broke Girls," and winning pretty much every award Hollywood has to offer for her two seasons on HBO's "The White Lotus." Interviewed by Los Angeles Magazine, Coolidge recalled the time that she and fellow troupe members Will Ferrell, Chris Kattan, and Cheri Oteri were flown to New York City to audition for "Saturday Night Live."

"They chose Will and Cheri and not Chris and I, and six months later they called up Chris," she said. "I was the one who got rejected." However, that disappointment was eventually blunted when she came to understand more about the backstage dynamics at the show. In fact, she came to see that rejection as a blessing. "I was spared a bullet," she said. "I think of all the demons, and playing politics. ... I probably would have self-destructed on 'SNL.'"

In May 2023, Coolidge was set to become one of the many actors rejected for "SNL" to make triumphant returns to the show as hosts. Unfortunately, that didn't happened, with the show going dark due to the Hollywood writers strike.

Tiffany Haddish nailed her audition, but still wasn't chosen for SNL

Tiffany Haddish was an up-and-coming standup comic when she auditioned for "Saturday Night Live." She wasn't chosen, but soon after, she landed a role in the raucous comedy "Girls Trip," which proved to be a star-making one for her. 

In 2019, she and fellow comic Ali Wong were promoting their animated Netflix comedy "Tuca and Bertie" at the Tribeca Film Festival when Wong recalled meeting when they were still relatively newcomers to comedy. The next time they met, Haddish had auditioned, and it reportedly went really well. "I saw her the next time in New York when she had auditioned for 'SNL,'" Wong said, as reported by Decider. "Everyone around town said she killed it. She knew she killed it. And she was like, 'If they don't give it to me, it's f***ed up.'" At that point, Haddish stepped in to clarify her words. "No, I said, 'If they don't give it to me, f*** them,'" Haddish said, earning applause from the audience. "Yep, I said next time I'll be hosting and that's that."

That prophecy came to pass in 2017 when Haddish made history as the first-ever Black female standup comic to host the show. Appearing on "Late Night with Seth Meyers," Haddish revealed that while she was hosting the show, she cornered Lorne Michaels and told him, "You know, I auditioned for this show a couple of times. Thank you for not hiring me!"

Rachel Bloom was an SNL wannabe and former intern

Not only did Rachel Bloom audition for "Saturday Night Live" back in 2012, the future star of The CW's "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" actually posted her audition tape on Facebook. In her audition, she impersonated screen legend Katharine Hepburn — which morphed into Hepburn auditioning to play Bugs Bunny in "Space Jam." 

Not only did she audition for the show, but, like Aubrey Plaza, Bloom was also an "SNL" intern, something she brought to Seth Meyers' attention during a 2016 appearance on "Late Night." While Meyers had no memory of Bloom — even though she and the other interns were usually in the vicinity of his office, he asked how the other interns felt about him. "Here's what I have to preface this with: nobody remembers when someone's pleasant to them," Bloom began. "I hate how you're prefacing this!" Meyers responded.

Bloom then proceeded to recount an incident when an intern brought Seth a salad for lunch — but it wasn't the salad he'd requested. "They gave you the salad and said, 'Oh my God, I'm so sorry, it's the wrong salad — do you want me to get another one?' You went, 'No I guess we can work with this,' and you slammed the door," she continued. Meyers saw that as vindication. "So I didn't make them get a second salad!" quipped Meyers, beginning a round of applause for himself. "Give it up!" he declared.

Zach Galifianakis landed an SNL writing gig after being rejected for the cast

Beginning his career as a standup comic, Zach Galifianakis went on to big-screen success with the "Hangover" movies and also starred in his own FX series, "Baskets." He also wanted to become a member of the "Saturday Night Live" cast. A brief snippet of his audition — which took place on the famed "SNL" stage — was shown during the "SNL" 40th anniversary show. In the clip, Galifianakis speaks into a microphone, declaring, "I'm getting a new headshot. It's a scratch-and-sniff, and it smells like failure and onions."

He didn't land a spot on the cast, but Galifianakis was hired to be a writer, working part-time on a few episodes in 1999. During an appearance on the "Literally with Rob Lowe" podcast (via Entertainment Weekly), he admitted writing sketches did not come easily for him. That was evident in an idea he pitched for an episode hosted by Britney Spears. Feeling that Spears' belly button was constantly exposed, Galifianakis theorized that it could use some protection, and imagined Will Ferrell playing a security guard who's shrunk down, "Fantastic Voyage" style, in order to stand watch.

The sketch idea was not well received. "It felt like a tumbleweed went right across the writers' room table, and a cricket riding it," he recalled. "I'm not offended that no one liked it. It was probably bad." He was fired after just two weeks on the job.

Geena Davis wasn't cast after a 'weird' lunch meeting

These days, Geena Davis is best known as an Oscar-winning actor whose hit films include "Thelma & Louise," "A League of Their Own," and "The Accidental Tourist." Interviewed by the Daily Beast, Davis was asked to confirm she auditioned for "Saturday Night Live" in 1984. 

"Oh, I didn't remember what year it was, but yes, I did!" she replied. "I made a stupid videotape of myself doing hopefully funny things. It was the year Billy Crystal, Chris Guest, and Harry Shearer were on the show, and I had a lunch meeting with them. Obviously I didn't get cast, but I've always loved the show." Davis reportedly lost out to Pamela Stephenson.

Shearer recalled that lunch in an excerpt from the book "Live From New York," via Vulture, explaining that he was tasked by producer Dick Ebersol to find a female cast member for that season. "Well, we went through this elaborate process of meeting people," he said. "Geena Davis met with us in the lobby of the Century Plaza Hotel. And Geena had just been on a couple of sitcoms and it was all quite awkward and uncomfortable for everybody involved." Davis recalled the meeting similarly: "The lunch was pretty awkward because it was like, 'Okay, what's funny about you?! Just prove to us that you're funny,' and it was this lunch, and so it was definitely weird!"