The real reason why these stars left SNL

Ever since viewers first heard the words, "Live from New York, it's Saturday night!" emanate from their television sets back in 1975, more than 150 talented performers have brought laughter to America as cast members of Saturday Night Live. Over the course of all those decades, it's no surprise that so many actors have come and gone, some fading into obscurity while others have left indelible marks on the world of comedy, gaining even greater fame after leaving the show.

Whether it was to pursue a career in the movies or it simply stemmed from the desire to stretch out and try new things, cast members have exited SNL for a variety of reasons. But in some cases, the decision to part ways was not theirs, and the reasons behind the sketch comedy series' firings have run the gamut. Occasionally, these exits are tinged with controversy; in fact, some former cast members wound up becoming more famous for how they left the show than for anything they actually did in front of the camera.

Let's tune into the real reason why these stars left SNL.

Chevy Chase says he left SNL for love

As the first anchor of Saturday Night Live's faux newscast "Weekend Update," Chevy Chase typically introduced the segments with his signature intro, "I'm Chevy Chase, and you're not." Thanks to "Weekend Update," his show-opening pratfalls, and bumbling impersonation of then-President Gerald Ford, the future National Lampoon's Vacation actor became the first breakout star of the original "Not Ready for Prime Time Players." Chase was also the first member of the OG cast to exit the hit series, leaving partway through SNL's second season.

It was was widely assumed Chase left to pursue a movie career; his first big-screen starring role came in 1978's Foul Play. However, he later revealed the real reason why he bailed on SNL. "I left for a girl that I was in love with," Chase told Today in 2007. "It had nothing to with lucrative film deals awaiting me ... I was very much in love with a girl who just would not leave California."

The comedian offered more details in a 2011 interview with the Los Angeles Times, recalling he was "infatuated" with future ex-wife Jacqueline Carlin, saying, "[She] would not move to New York and insisted that I come there. It was all nuts, looking back on it. But I did regret it."

Charles Rocket was axed from SNL after dropping an F-bomb on the air

Every member of the original Saturday Night Live cast left — along with series creator Lorne Michaels (who, of course, later returned) — after the show's fifth season. This led to NBC hiring a new producer, Jean Doumanian, and a whole new cast. The result was a season that is generally agreed to be one of the show's worst. Yet one moment from that otherwise forgettable season remains legendary, when cast member Charles Rocket, in the midst of a sketch spoofing TV drama Dallas, dropped an F-bomb on live television. 

By that point, ratings had nosedived and it had become painfully clear to anyone watching that SNL had become an unmitigated disaster. Doumanian was fired after the incident, as were several members of the cast. Rocket, predictably, was among them. "That was an excuse," Doumanian told The Hollywood Reporter of the firings. "... I just thought it was quite unfair."

While Rocket (whose real name was Charles Claverie) continued to work steadily in comedy following the infamous incident, appearing in films like Hocus Pocus and Dumb and Dumber, he was tragically found dead in a field near his home in 2005. According to his obituary in The Seattle Times, the medical examiner ruled the death a suicide. He was 56.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

Harry Shearer exited SNL because of 'creative differences' ... twice

These days, Harry Shearer is best known for providing the voices of Mr. Burns, Principal Skinner, and numerous other characters on The Simpsons. He also holds the rare distinction of quitting Saturday Night Live not once, but twice. Hired as a writer-performer for the 1979-'80 season, Shearer wound up quitting shortly after he was hired. "Living hell," he later told IGN of his time on the show.

However, Shearer returned to SNL five years later, during the 1984-'85 season. When asked why he would return given his previous experience, the comedian-actor explained that he and his This Is Spinal Tap co-stars, Michael McKean and Christopher Guest, had performed on the show as their fictional rock alter-egos, and were treated so well he felt things had changed. That feeling proved to be short-lived. "I was pretty f**king miserable for virtually the the entire season," Shearer admitted in an interview for SNL oral history Live From New York

When he finally quit, SNL's then-producer Dick Ebersol put out a press release announcing Shearer had parted ways with the show due to "creative differences." In the book, Shearer declared that when a reporter called asking for comment, he'd quipped, "Yeah, I was creative and they were different."

Paul Shaffer quit SNL to 'see what else was out there'

In a 2018 interview with Closer Weekly, Paul Shaffer recounted being hired by Saturday Night Live musical director Howard Shore to play piano with the show's band. Shaffer eventually began making on-camera appearances, such as his monotone impersonation of music impresario Don Kirschner. When the original cast left en masse at the end of the 1979-'80 season, so did he.

"I did the first five years of SNL and everyone in the original group was leaving, so I decided to see what else was out there," Shaffer explained. After a couple of years working as a studio musician, he was summoned to meet with a young comedian who was launching a new late-night show for NBC.

According to Shaffer, he and David Letterman "hit it off right away." Shaffer was hired as bandleader on Late Night with David Letterman, a role he continued when Letterman exited the network and launched a new show on CBS, The Late Show. "He says now that he never had anyone else in mind for the job, and I believe him," Shaffer said of Letterman, "but I didn't know it was going to be 33 years together!"

Martin Short and Billy Crystal only signed on for one season of SNL

Arguably one of Saturday Night Live's most beloved seasons was the 10th, which brought heavy-hitters Billy Crystal and Martin Short into the fold. While Crystal delivered memorable characters ranging from suave Fernando to talk-show host Joe Franklin, Short resurrected such SCTV favorites as Ed Grimley and Jackie Rogers Jr.

Despite their success on the show, neither returned for the 11th season. As it turned out, they never intended to. "I had a one-year contract," Short explained in oral history Live From New York. "I certainly approached that show not as someone who was going to be around, obviously, for more than one year. So I felt that I had to do a lot and be in as many interesting things as possible, because it was just a limited time."  

Crystal, who also exited at the end of his single SNL season, said, "I never put a time limit on how long I would be there or what it would give me or get me ... I just felt personally as a performer and as a creative person I had to give it my shot."

Dennis Miller left SNL to host a failed talk show

Dennis Miller joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in its 11th season, taking over the "Weekend Update" anchor desk. With his wry delivery and endless string of obscure pop-culture references, Miller's quirky comedic style proved to be a hit with viewers until his exit in 1991.

Miller's next move was to host a late-night talk show, The Dennis Miller Show, which debuted in January 1992. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune to promote the show, Miller explained why he left SNL. "I was very happy where I was,” he admitted, but said the arrival of his son made him reset his priorities and cast a wider net career-wise. "I'm not trying to sound too maudlin, [but] something about his birth reacquainted this urge in me to strive for things. When I had the kid I thought, 'Why don't you see what you can do, why don't you test it a little? Make the boy proud.'"

That test, unfortunately, was not successful: by July of that year, The Dennis Miller Show was cancelled. Speaking about the show's failure with the Los Angeles Times, Miller was circumspect, musing, "People lose their jobs every day."

Norm Macdonald's SNL firing may have come from mocking O.J. Simpson

Norm Macdonald joined Saturday Night Live for its 19th season in 1993, taking over the "Weekend Update" anchor duties. One of Macdonald's most frequent targets was former NFL great O.J. Simpson, who was then on trial for murder. Longstanding rumors claim that Macdonald's jokes about Simpson were ultimately what led to his firing in 1998.

Macdonald's barbs often went for the jugular, which reportedly rankled powerful NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer, who was good friends with Simpson. Interviewed for SNL oral history Live From New York, Macdonald recounted being told he would no longer be anchoring "Weekend Update." The reason, he was informed, was because "Ohlmeyer [wanted him] out." Since nobody had come out and told him he was actually fired, Macdonald decided to call Ohlmeyer, who confirmed Macdonald was done. No mention was made of Simpson, however; Ohlmeyer reportedly told Macdonald he was let go because the faux-news segment was "just not as funny as it should be."

In hindsight, Macdonald said he "was never bitter," and was simply happy that he was able to be on SNL at all. "To me, just getting there was the thing."

Ben Stiller left SNL because he 'wasn't good live'

Ben Stiller joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1989 ... but quit after just six episodes. During a 2018 interview with The Howard Stern Show, the actor-director explained he left the series because his primary ambition at that point was to direct short films. When Stiller was hired for the comedy series, he was under the assumption that's what he'd be doing, making comedic short films that would air between live sketches. Instead, he found himself performing on live television — and hated it. 

"I knew that I wasn't good live because I would get nervous," Stiller told Stern. "... I just felt I couldn't do well in that situation." However, there were no hard feelings about his abortive SNL experience. Stiller subsequently returned to host the show twice, and in 2018 appeared as President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen. This came about when Stiller emailed SNL exec producer Lorne Michaels asking for tickets to the show: "He sent me back an email the next day, saying, 'Sounds fun, great, and oh, by the way, do you happen to have a Michael Cohen impression lying around?'"

Sarah Silverman was fired from SNL through a fax

Another short-lived Saturday Night Live cast member is Sarah Silverman, who was a featured player for a single season in 1993-'94. Despite her subsequent success in film, TV, and stand-up comedy, her tenure on the show was as forgettable as it was brief. In a 2005 interview with The Believer, Silverman even didn't want to discuss the experience, because she felt it was "boring," but did reveal she learned she'd been fired in a fax. Ouch.

Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk, who was an SNL writer at the time, shed some light on Silverman's brief time on the show during her profile in The New Yorker that same year. "I could see how it wouldn't work at SNL because she's got her own voice, she's very much Sarah Silverman all the time," he explained. "She can play a character but she doesn't disappear into the character — she makes the character her. She doesn't really do character voices. She puts out stuff that she would appreciate and then you can like it or not — she doesn't give a s**t."

Jay Mohr left SNL after plagiarizing a sketch

In Jay Mohr's Saturday Night Live tell-all book, Gasping for Airtime, he recounted his tumultuous two seasons on the show as an anxiety-ridden, self-medicating mess who struggled, mostly unsuccessfully, to get his sketches on the air.

One of those sketches that did make it into the show, however, ultimately led to his downfall. As Mohr explained, he wrote a sketch about father-and-son innkeepers after watching a stand-up routine from comedian Rick Shapiro and admittedly pretty much cribbed it word for word. After the episode aired, Mohr was called into a meeting with SNL exec producer Lorne Michaels and supervising producer Ken Aymong, who asked if Mohr had ever heard of Shapiro. "I told him I did not," Mohr recalled lying, with Aymong then playing Mohr a VCR recording of Shapiro's bartender bit, which was nearly identical to Mohr's sketch. Michaels once again asked Mohr, "You've never heard of this guy or seen his act?" Mohr continued claim he had no idea who Shapiro was.

Shapiro ultimately sued, receiving an undisclosed settlement that included the sketch being edited out of all future broadcasts. "Undoubtedly I should have been fired, but I wasn't," Mohr wrote. He was, however, let go at the end of the season. "What I did was inexcusable, and no apology in the world could ever make up for it."

Adam Sandler was unexpectedly fired from SNL — and still doesn't know why

Adam Sandler and the late Chris Farley (who tragically died in 1998) were among the new talent brought aboard Saturday Night Live in the show's 16th season, and during their five years on the show, they both proved to be standouts. Despite being two of the series' most popular cast members at the time, Sandler and Farley were both fired before the 21st season — leaving them both feeling blindsided.

Sandler discussed the experience during an appearance on Howard Stern's radio show. "At the time, I was hurt because I didn't know what else I was gonna do," he told Stern, placing the blame on NBC execs. "... But I remember when I saw Farley, he said to me, 'Me too, they don't want me either.' We were both like, 'F**k this s**t.' We got mad together, pretended we weren't sad, and pretended this was for the best." 

Sandler also addressed being axed when he hosted SNL in May 2019 — marking the first time he'd been back since being let go. "I was fired, I was fired, so sad to tell," he sang in a hilarious monologue song. "Well I never saw it coming. I got fired from SNL."

Al Franken left SNL to enter politics

Al Franken was part of the writing staff of Saturday Night Live's first season in 1975, and remained on the show as a writer-performer for decades — before leaving when he lost out on the "Weekend Update" anchor spot to Norm Macdonald. According to a timeline in The New York Times, Franken then turned to political satire, writing his bestseller Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations in 1996, and in 2004 began hosting a political radio show. In that show's final episode in 2007, Franken made a big announcement: he was running for a Senate seat in his home state of Minnesota.

In 2009, Franken was elected to the Senate, reported The New York Times, declared victorious after a recount in what was a very tight race, and was re-elected in 2014. However, it all infamously came to an end in 2017, when Franken announced he would be resigning after several allegations of sexual harassment were leveled against him. In his resignation speech, Franken said he remembered some of those accusations "very differently," claiming, "Some of the allegations against me are simply not true ... I know in my heart, nothing that I have done as a senator, nothing, has brought dishonor on this institution."

Leslie Jones quit SNL to host a game show

Fans of Saturday Night Live were saddened to learn in the summer of 2019 that Leslie Jones wouldn't be returning for the show's 2019-'20 season. According to a Deadline report, the decision to leave was hers. Jones subsequently confirmed her exit in a Twitter thread, while expressing her hope that fans would "be as excited as I am when you see some of the amazing projects and adventures that I have coming up very soon."

The first of those projects was Leslie Jones: Time Machine, her first-ever Netflix stand-up comedy special, which dropped in January 2020. In addition, Jones also signed on to do something she'd never done before: host a game show. As Deadline reported, Jones had been tapped to host ABC's revival of the classic TV game show, Supermarket Sweep, set to debut in fall 2020.

Speaking with The New York Times, Jones explained why she decided to exit SNL when she did. "I'm 52 and tired," she said. "SNL is a hard job. It's 100 hours a week. Also, it's an institution. I get bored. And I want to do different things."

Shane Gillis was fired from SNL for using racial slurs — before he even appeared on the show

In September 2019, a Saturday Night Live press release announced three new hires, one of whom was comedian Shane Gillis. Almost immediately after the announcement, reported CNN, journalist Seth Simon posted video of Gillis taken from a podcast on Twitter, in which the comedian uses racially insensitive terms for Asian-Americans. Backlash ensued, while more examples of Gillis using offensive language emerged.

SNL exec producer Lorne Michaels acted quickly and decisively. Within days of Gillis' hiring announcement, Michaels revealed that he was unhired. "After talking with Shane Gillis, we have decided that he will not be joining SNL," a spokesperson for Michaels said in a statement to CNN. "We were not aware of his prior remarks that have surfaced over the past few days. 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."

Gillis responded in a since-deleted tweet (via CNN), writing in part, "I'm a comedian who pushes boundaries. I sometimes miss."