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

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.

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 1979-1980 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 1984-1985 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***ing miserable for virtually the the entire season," Shearer admitted in an interview for the "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 the "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 1993-1994. 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***."

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

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 "The Howard Stern 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*** this s***.' 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 2019-2020 season. According to a Deadline report, the decision to leave was hers. Jones subsequently confirmed her exit in an X, formerly known as 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

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 X, 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."

Nasim Pedrad exited SNL to star in a short-lived primetime sitcom

Nasim Pedrad joined "Saturday Night Live" at the start of the 2009 season, making "SNL" history as the first Iranian-born cast member, and exited after five seasons. It didn't take her long to find work. Immediately after leaving the show in 2014, she was cast in "Mulaney," a Fox sitcom starring and created by former "SNL" writer John Mulaney. During an appearance at the Television Critics Association summer press tour that year, Pedrad explained her decision to quit "SNL." "Obviously there's nothing like that show and I was lucky to be there for five years," Pedrad said, as reported by TV Guide. "At some point you have to leave, and I can't think of a better reason to leave than for this particular show and this particular cast."

Despite the talent involved, "Mulaney" was trashed by TV critics. "'Mulaney' is just like 'Seinfeld,' except it's not funny," sniped Slate in one representative review and was canceled after a single season. Pedrad, however, remained a hot commodity in television. She was next cast in the Ryan Murphy-produced horror comedy "Scream Queens" (also axed after just one season). She then joined the cast of Fox sitcom "New Girl," appeared in Disney's live-action remake of "Aladdin," and starred in the quirky TV comedy "Chad" (which she also co-created), playing a 14-year-old boy.

Taran Killam wasn't sure why he was fired from SNL

Taran Killam was hired by "SNL" in 2010. In 2016, his contract wasn't renewed. As the actor explained in an interview with Uproxx, he was surprised by his firing. "You sign for seven years, so I had one more year. I had sort of had it in my head I would make this upcoming year my last year, but then heard they weren't going to pick up my contract. I was never given a reason why, really," Killam said of his exit, insisting the rationale behind his firing remained a mystery to him.

Since then, it's not like Killam has been hard up for work. He appeared in several movies (including "Brother Nature" and "Night School"). He also wrote and directed the 2017 big-screen comedy "Killing Gunther," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as an assassin targeted by other assassins. In addition, Killam starred in the ABC sitcom "Single Parents," which ran from 2018 until 2020.

In a subsequent interview with the "I Was There Too" podcast (as reported by Vulture), Killam claimed the show become less collaborative and more competitive after Seth Meyers exited to host his own late-night show. "When Seth Meyers left the show, the dynamic changed quite a bit," Killam said. "He was the last person there who I witnessed really collaborate with Lorne, as opposed to just kind of do what Lorne says."

Jay Pharoah slammed SNL after his firing

The 2016 announcement of Taran Killam's firing from "Saturday Night Live" was accompanied by that of Jay Pharoah, who, like Killam, had been a cast member since 2010. A year after his firing, Pharoah spoke out about his exit from the show during a radio interview on Hot97. "You go where you're appreciated," Pharaoh mused. "If you have multiple people on the cast saying things like, 'You're so talented and you're able and they don't use you, it's unfair and it's making us feel bad because they don't use you and you're a talent.'"

Pharaoh followed up his "SNL" stint by starring in the Showtime comedy "White Famous," which ran for a single season in 2017. Other gigs have included the film "Unsane," the TV series "Champaign ILL," voicing Kanye West on multiple episodes of "Family Guy," and appearing on the celebrity-bartending competition "Barmageddon." 

Pharoah made headlines in 2020 — not for his acting work, but for being accosted by LAPD officers while out for a run, mistaken for a suspect and detained by having an officer handcuff him and kneel on his neck. "Why does it have to go to that extremity?" Pharoah said during an interview with Gayle King for "CBS Mornings."

Luke Null was axed from SNL before being able to make a mark

Luke Null's time on "Saturday Night Live" was so fleeting that most viewers probably don't even remember him. Null had joined the show at the start of the 2017 season, but was let go before the next one. During his single season, Null did have a few standout moments, such as a sketch in which he played an obnoxious high school student who disrupted class. In another, he portrayed an extreme heavy metal fan who meets with a surgeon in hopes of getting his demon-style horns surgically removed.

Speaking with Vulture after his "SNL" exit, Null reflected on his brief tenure with the show. "I was only ever there one year. I had one season, and you definitely have a lot of questions looking back: Did I do something wrong? Was I not writing good enough stuff? Honestly, looking back — knowing how the show works, the mechanisms and the politics, and its energy — it's a very tense and stressful place. No one there is 'having fun.' Air quotes," he said.

While Null was quick to admit that it was tough to break out in cast packed with insanely talented performers, he also wondered why he hadn't been given more of a chance. "So it was hard to leave and not think I didn't get much of an at bat," he mused.

Bobby Moynihan exited SNL to pursue primetime TV stardom

Bobby Moynihan joined "Saturday Night Live" in 2008, quickly becoming a fan favorite thanks to such popular characters as Drunk Uncle and "Jersey Shore" star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi. Moynihan left the show of his own accord in 2017, and immediately landed the lead role in CBS sitcom "Me, Myself & I." While promoting the show at the 2017 edition of the Television Critics Association summer press tour, Moynihan opened up about his decision to leave "SNL." "The day you get 'SNL,' you start worrying about your exit from 'SNL,' that was always on my mind," he said, as reported by USA Today. "I was an acting major in college," he explained. "I would like to show people I can play a grown man instead of just dressing up like Rosie O'Donnell."

"Me, Myself & I" wasn't the hit Moynihan had hoped for, and was yanked off the air after just six low-rated episodes. Moynihan, however, landed on his feet. In addition to numerous TV guest spots, Moynihan subsequently became a series regular on the Ted Danson-starring NBC sitcom "Mr. Mayor." He has also proven to be a prolific voice actor, with credits including "Star Wars Resistance" and "DuckTales." 

There were clearly no hard feelings on either side about Moynihan's "SNL" departure; Moynihan returned in 2022 for a surprise appearance on the show's Halloween episode, reprising Drunk Uncle and other characters.

Vanessa Bayer felt seven years at SNL was long enough

Vanessa Bayer became a "Saturday Night Live" standout during her seven-season stint on the show, beginning in 2010 and concluding in 2017. That was largely due to her likeable onscreen persona and such characters as her hilariously heightened take on Jennifer Aniston's "Friends" character, Rachel Green. Her decision to leave the show, Bayer told The Hollywood Reporter, came about from the realization that she'd been there long enough. "It felt like it was time for me," Bayer said. "I had seven seasons and just felt like it was time for someone else to do that job." The absolute favorite of all her characters, she told THR, was Jacob the bar mitzvah boy. "He feels the closest to my personality," she said. "The shyness and awkwardness is at the core of me."

Bayer's post-"SNL" roles have included multi-episode guest spots on "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," NBC's "Will & Grace" revival, and fellow "SNL" alum Taran Killam's sitcom "Single Parents," in addition to headlining her own Showtime comedy "I Love That For You," which was loosely based on her own experience as a survivor of childhood leukemia.

As for how her fellow cast members responded to her exit, Bayer told HuffPost, "I feel like everyone was supportive and we'll miss you, but we understand. It's a very hectic schedule so it's like, after seven years, I want to take a nap."

Sasheer Zamata left because she'd become disenchanted with SNL

In August 2015, Entertainment Weekly was among the outlets to report that Sasheer Zamata had been hired for the upcoming season of "Saturday Night Live." The first Black woman to be a full-time cast member since Maya Rudolph left the show a decade earlier, Zamata's hiring was seen as a response to criticism that had long been levelled at "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels for the show's lack of Black female cast members.

Zamata wound up quitting the show after four seasons, and explained why during a 2019 panel discussion hosted by New York magazine's The Cut. "It was not what I thought it was going to be, and I don't think anyone really thinks it's going to be that way because it's not like any other job," Zamata said (via The Hollywood Reporter). "So it was a couple years of figuring out, 'Am I okay with this?' Do I want to just accept it as is and be like, 'That's just a job and I guess I'll just stay and take it like everybody else?' Or do I want to try something else that makes me feel really good and work with people who excite me and who are excited about me and want to create things that make us feel fulfilled?" Zamata's post-"SNL" credits have included roles on the TV series "Corporate," "Robbie," "Woke," and, since the ABC sitcom "Home Economics."

Beck Bennett felt the time had come to leave SNL

Beck Bennett was one of six actors hired for the cast of "Saturday Night Live" in 2013, and quickly established himself as the go-to guy for quirky impressions, whether it was drunken Tom Brady or perpetually shirtless Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. During host Scarlett Johansson's 2019 monologue, Bennett poked fun at the niche he'd carved out by jokingly lamenting, "You need me! Who's gonna play the dumb idiot?"

When he left the show in 2021 (making the announcement via Instagram), he wrote, "Thank you for 8 years of remarkable people and incredible experiences that completely changed my life." Speaking with Time, Bennett recalled performing onstage, glimpsing his wife, Jessy Hodges, sitting in the front row while series creator Lorne Michaels looked on smiling. "It really felt like the universe was telling me, 'This is in fact time for you to leave. You're not gonna do better than this,'" he said.

In fact, he added, one big reason for his departure was that fact that his wife lived in Los Angeles while "SNL" broadcasts from New York City. "It's been eight years of basically long distance with my wife, and if we are going to start a family at any point, I think we have to start that at some point soon," Bennett said. The couple didn't wait long before setting that plan in action; in May 2022, Hodges announced via Instagram that they'd welcomed their first child.

The pandemic affected Aidy Bryant's decision to leave

Aidy Bryant's "SNL" journey began in 2012, and ended a decade later. After her departure in 2022, Bryant discussed her decision to leave during an interview with Variety, revealing the pandemic led her to stick around longer than she'd anticipated. 

"If it weren't for COVID, I probably would have left a few years earlier," she said. "But it was such a huge change. When COVID hit, it was so jarring that we were all like, 'I'm definitely going to come back next year.'" However, Bryant's commitment to her Hulu series "Shrill," on which she was star and co-creator, forced her to miss several episodes that season. "I kept trying to seek one last normal year," she explained. "This year wasn't the normal year that I hoped for, but it was closer to that. It was like, 'Okay, it's really time now.' And 10 felt like a nice, solid round number."

In addition to "Shrill" (which launched in 2019 and ran for three seasons, until 2021), Bryant's subsequent work after "SNL" included a voice role on the Netflix animated comedy "Human Resources." As for what lay ahead, Bryant explained why fans were more likely to see her in a self-generated project than as an actor for hire. "I'm not comfortable waiting for roles because I haven't had great success there," Bryant told Variety. "Everything that has worked for me has been by writing it myself."

Kate McKinnon felt she'd accomplished everything she'd set out to do on SNL

Kate McKinnon was a "Saturday Night Live" MVP during her 10-year run on the show, thanks to brilliant impressions of celebs ranging from Justin Bieber to Hillary Clinton. During her stint, McKinnon had also established herself as a sought-after actor outside the show, in films such as "Ghostbusters" and "Office Christmas Party," even showcasing her dramatic chops portraying Carole Baskin in the "Tiger King"-inspired TV series "Joe vs. Carole." Other credits included voicing Ms. Fiona Frizzle in Netflix's update of "The Magic School Bus."

Her decision to leave the show in 2022 didn't come lightly. "I thought about it for a very long time, and it was very, very hard because all I ever wanted to do in my whole life was be on 'Saturday Night Live,' and so I did," McKinnon told Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest during an appearance on "Live with Kelly and Ryan." "I loved it. I had the best decade, and then I was just like, my body was tired, and I felt like it was time."

Asked what she planned to do with her Saturday nights, McKinnon admitted that it would probably be some time before she tuned in to watch any new episodes. "I don't know what I will do. I don't know if I can watch the show yet," she admitted. "I think I'm just going to tape 'The Bachelorette' and watch that instead."

Melissa Villaseñor left SNL to protect her mental health

Joining "Saturday Night Live" in 2016, Melissa Villaseñor quickly became a standout for her eye-popping array of celebrity impressions — many of which she showcased in a single sketch that saw her nail impressions of Kristen Wiig, Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, Julia Louis–Dreyfus, Kathy Griffin, and even "SNL" co-star Kate McKinnon.

Her time on the show came to an end in 2022 after six seasons, and she revealed that her decision to leave was spurred by anxiety attacks she'd been experiencing since becoming part of the "SNL" cast. Exiting the show, she admitted during an interview with Daily Beast's "The Last Laugh" podcast (as reported by Rolling Stone), was something she felt was necessary to preserve her mental health. "Last season, I had a couple of panic attacks. I think it was just ... I was struggling," she said. "I always felt like I was on the edge of a cliff every week. And I was like, I don't want to be doing that to myself anymore. And it's not like the show was mean toward me or anyone. It was just how I handle things." 

After her "SNL" exit, Villaseñor branched into new territory by releasing her first book, "Whoops ... I'm Awesome." "I like telling people, 'It's a book for an adult's inner child,'" she told Entertainment Weekly.

Breakout star Pete Davidson left to pursue bigger opportunities

At age 20, Pete Davidson was one of the youngest-ever "Saturday Night Live" cast members when he joined the show in 2014. He quickly made a mark from his hilarious "Weekend Update" appearances (as himself), but eventually became a tabloid staple thanks to a string of relationships with famous women including Ariana Grande, Kate Beckinsale, Phoebe Dynevor and Kim Kardashian. Thanks to his breakout status on the show, Davidson hit the big screen with roles in "The Suicide Squad" and a star turn in "The King of Staten Island," the 2020 Judd Apatow-directed feature loosely based on Davidson's real life as the son of a Staten Island firefighter who died on 9/11.

In May 2022, Davidson announced via Instagram that he was leaving. "I owe Lorne Michaels and everyone at 'SNL' my life," he gratefully acknowledged. However, he had previously hinted that his exit was in the works. "It is my seventh year and that's what the contract is usually for," Davidson told Gold Derby in June 2021, quipping, "I started there with acne and left with tattoos."

However, earlier in 2021 he also got candid about the harsh competition behind the scenes. "As far as everyone else, it's a cutthroat f***ing show," Davidson confirmed during an appearance on "Live Your Truth: An Honest Conversation With Charlamagne Tha God" (via The Hollywood Reporter). "Everyone's trying to get their s*** on. Everyone wants to be the next thing." 

SNL was never Chris Redd's dream

After joining "Saturday Night Live" in 2017, Chris Redd parted ways with the show in 2022. "Being a part of 'SNL' has been the experience of a lifetime," Redd said of his exit in a statement to Entertainment Weekly

While five years is hardly one of the show's lengthier stints, it was a year longer than Redd had envisioned. "I was screaming 'four years' forever," Redd said during an appearance on the "WTF Podcast with Marc Maron." He also admitted he'd always had mixed feelings about being part of "SNL." "I always loved that job as much as I hated the job," he said. In fact, Redd had always maintained a certain level of ambivalence toward "Saturday Night Live." "It is dream work and I did have a lot of fun," he told Gold Derby. "But nah, man, I'm not going to sit here and be like [it was my dream] — because I feel like it takes away from the people who were really dreaming about this when they were kids, you know what I'm saying?"

During his five years on "SNL," Redd also juggled a few other jobs, including NBC sitcom "Kenan" (co-starring opposite fellow "SNL" star Kenan Thompson), and the 2022 comedy series "Bust Down." Following his "SNL" departure, Redd returned to his standup comedy roots with his own HBO Max special, "Chris Redd: Why Am I Like This?"

Cecily Strong left SNL after a decade on the show

When Cecily Strong appeared in her final episode of "Saturday Night Live" in December 2022, she'd been a cast member since 2012. During the show, Strong referenced her departure, as recurring character Cathy Anne during Weekend Update, of course, in which the character announced she was ending her run on Update because she was being sent to jail. "Everybody has to go to jail at some point, and it's just my time now, but I feel really lucky that I got to spend so many of the best moments of my life with these people that I love so much," Strong said (as reported by Variety), only partly in character.

Strong shared a statement on her exit in a subsequent Instagram post, reflecting on her decision to leave. "I am ready to go, but I'll always know home is here. I've had the time of my life working with the greatest people on earth." Strong also apologized for keeping the news under wraps until the last minute, but offered a poignant explanation. "I'm sorry I've been a little quiet about it publicly," Strong shared. "I didn't want the extra pressure on something already so emotional for me."

Thankfully, Strong's fans didn't go hungry for long, as she and co-star Keenan-Michael Key starred in the movie musical spoof series, "Schmigadoon!" for Apple TV+.

Aristotle Athari felt out of place

Aristotle Athari may have lasted only one season on "Saturday Night Live," but the show's first male Middle Eastern player at least made his mark with characters like android standup Laughingtosh 3000 and artsy improv crooner Angelo. Athari had legit chops first honed doing standup in Los Angeles, eventually scoring a 5-episode role in HBO's "Silicon Valley."

But the Texas native found it difficult to get a toehold in the New York-based TV sketch comedy when he joined in 2021 for Season 47, especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic precautions and the size of the cast. "It was a very large cast; It was like 21 people in the cast," Athari explained on the "Saturday Night Network" podcast. "There's a finite number of spots that you can get for dress rehearsal, and ... the table reads I think at the time, they were difficult in a lot of ways because we were still masked and separated and there were growing pains in that regard."

Athari believes he might have stayed if he were as connected as players like James Austin Johnson and Sarah Sherman, who also made the cast that year. "I just didn't know anybody," he added. "I think that would have also helped a lot if I was familiar with some of those people." Athari wasn't out of work long after leaving in 2022, having snagged a role in the sci-fi-rom-com "Molli and Max in the Future."

Robert Downey Jr. wasn't quite ready to handle SNL

Robert Downey Jr. might be immortalized as Iron Man, but the actor hardly had a metallic grip on comedy when he joined "Saturday Night Live" for just one season back in 1985. Back then, "SNL" was low in ratings while NBC tried to retool a show that had seen better days a decade earlier. Enter original producer Lorne Michaels, who returned after a five-year hiatus, bringing a fresh roster of players that included Downey.

There was only one problem: Downey was too green a talent to take on something as frenetic as a weekly live sketch comedy program. "I really learned a lot, it was also just crazy. I mean I guess I was like 19 or 20," he said in a 1991 interview archived on YouTube. "It was tough and I learned a lot and I don't complain on film sets nearly as much as I should because of that experience."

The good news for the show was that the addition of cast members like Nora Dunn, Jon Lovitz, and Dennis Miller helped steer "SNL" out of troubled waters. By his own admission, Downey had nothing to do with that turnaround given his lack of grounding in improv or sketch comedy. "But I would still say to this day that there's not a more exciting 90 minutes you can have whether you are any good or not," he said on "Off Camera with Sam Jones." "It's just amazing."

Gilbert Gottfried's tenure was doomed from the start

In comedy, timing is everything, especially in how standup comedians tee up a punch line in a cabaret atmosphere. The same apparently goes for landing what seems like a good thing, like when late comedian Gilbert Gottfried scored a spot on "Saturday Night Live" in 1980. It turned out to be a disastrous career decision for Gottfried and five other freshly-scrubbed players, especially since this was the first season without executive producer Lorne Michaels and a number of OG "SNL" castmembers.

"The idea back then of 'Saturday Night Live' with different cast members?" recalled Gottfried on "The Joe Rogan Experience." "That just wasn't ... Now it's like the cast changes every five minutes. But back then, it was like 'No!' It would be like saying like in the middle of Beatlemania, that, 'Oh, we're getting four other guys to be The Beatles.'"

It didn't help that the show's brain trust avoided taking advantage of Gilbert's wild antics that aced his initial audition. "I remember I didn't like the writers and the writers hated me," added Gottfried. "One time to prove how much they hated me, they wrote a funeral sketch where I was the dead body, so I just had to lie there in the coffin." The sketch served as a suitable allegory for the fate of that cast, as most of them were purged after that horrific season. Ironically, Gottfried's comedic career flourished after that experience.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus was miserable after three years on SNL

There's little doubt that one of the most prominent celebrities on television over the past three decades has been Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whose award-winning roles in groundbreaking sitcoms like "Seinfeld" and "Veep" have solidified that status. Those achievements alone would be more than enough for Louis-Dreyfus to forget that for three seasons, starting in 1982, the comedic actress was part of the cast of "Saturday Night Live."

However, Louis-Dreyfus remembers that those years weren't particularly enjoyable. "I didn't have tons of fun ... but I did learn a ton," she said on "Radio Andy." "I was really super-young; I was 21 and I went into it very naively." Telling Bustle that "SNL" was "not a female-friendly environment at all," the comedian recalled it was difficult to get her sketches aired on the show.

One saving grace was that her tenure on "SNL" enabled her to work with castmate and boyfriend Brad Hall, whom she would eventually marry. Louis-Dreyfus discovered another silver lining during her time on the show: meeting writer Larry David, who would later co-create a star vehicle for the actress in the form of "Seinfeld" a few years later. "He was there my third year, his one and only year, and we bonded because he was super miserable and I was super miserable and you know how misery loves company."

Alex Moffat was seduced by the prospects of Broadway

"Saturday Night Live" made the most of Donald Trump's turbulent presidential tenure, and cast member Alex Moffat was one player who relished that opportunity, joining in 2016. Besides playing President Joe Biden, the Chicago native and Second City alum particularly elicited guffaws as a particularly dimwitted version of Trump's son, Eric. While his departure from "SNL" in 2022 was part of a grand exodus that included stars like Kate McKinnon and Pete Davidson, he was also less vocal than most cohorts about why he jumped ship.

Moffat offered a couple of clues in the following year, one of which was to entertain a desire to do some live theater. "I've been looking forward to this for a really long time so it's super exciting for me," said Moffat on "The Broadway Show" in July 2023, before he was set to star in the Broadway production of "The Cottage," directed by "Seinfeld" actor Jason Alexander.

Moffat also cherished the time it took the production to perfect the project. "We've rehearsed this play more than we ever rehearsed like a cold open, for example," explained Moffat. "This is a different process, it's a learning process for me too, and it's been a ton of fun." The career change also meant more downtime with his wife, Caroline Rau, and their recent arrival. "I got a toddler who I get to see a lot of," he noted.

Cheri Oteri tried to jump to the big leagues

In 1995, Cheri Oteri joined "Saturday Night Live" at a very opportune time in the show's history. In response to dwindling ratings the previous season, producer Lorne Michaels got rid of the bulk of the show's cast, replacing them with Oteri and memorable players that included Will Ferrell and Darrell Hammond. Filling those voids meant that Oteri and company were entering a workplace far less toxic than previous seasons. 

"Everybody came in at the same time and there was this appreciation and energy and we just all hit the ground running," she recalled on the "Fly On the Wall with Dana Carvey and David Spade" podcast. "There wasn't anybody that was sitting around intimidating ... and wondering if you were gonna take their spot or anything." Oteri thrived in that revitalized workplace, showcasing characters like spunky cheerleader Arianna and a spot-on portrayal of journalist Barbara Walters. 

Five years later, confident from being nominated for a Primetime Emmy in 2000 for her guest appearance on the sitcom "Just Shoot Me!" and landing a role in the horror satire flick "Scary Movie," Oteri left "SNL" with hopes of becoming a major star. Sadly, that prospect never truly materialized, as she settled for bombs like "Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd." Still, she managed scores of TV cameos that included "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Boston Legal," "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," and even the Broadway hit "NEWSical the Musical."

Colin Quinn felt cursed anchoring Weekend Update

Arguably, the most coveted gig on "Saturday Night Live" is anchoring the satirical news segment "Weekend Update," a gig that turned previous players like Chevy Chase, Tina Fey, and Seth Meyers into household names. But Colin Quinn found that his time behind the iconic news desk left a sour taste in his mouth. "I should have just left after a few shows," Quinn said on "The Howard Stern Show." "I should have said I can't do this. Whatever the energy was that I was bringing ... I couldn't enjoy it. I loved my first two and a half years of 'Saturday Night Live,' loved it more than anything. And doing the Update thing was just ugly."

Quinn's unhappiness had a lot to do with the circumstances surrounding how he landed that spot. His predecessor and best friend on "SNL," Norm Macdonald, was fired from the show in 1998, and Quinn was quickly ushered in to take his place. TV pundits often rate Quinn among the segment's worst hosts, in sharp contrast to Macdonald, who is frequently rated among the best. It turns out that this is a sentiment that Quinn wouldn't challenge.

"I feel like I even sabotaged it because I felt so guilty, even though I had nothing to do with Norm leaving," he said. "But it was still, wow, I'm taking Norm's thing after they fire him for this whole thing." Quinn left "SNL" in 2000, and found new life converting his comedy into Broadway productions.

Chris Rock made noise about jumping to another show

For years, "Saturday Night Live" made waves for its irreverent take on culture and politics, but few players were as subversive as comedian Chris Rock, who joined the cast in 1990. At his best, his in-your-face delivery elicited hilarity and paranoia among unsuspecting viewers, via characters like black activist Nat X and unhinged news correspondent Buster Jenkins.

While Rock made a huge impact on the show after only three seasons, being the only Black cast member made him a novelty that prompted "SNL" creatives to put him in stereotypical roles. Meanwhile, Rock admired the largely Black-dominated cast of their rival sketch comedy show, "In Living Color," which not only delivered edgier comedy, but it featured players doing more diverse characters. 

"The people at 'SNL' are the nicest people ever," Rock said on "WTF with Marc Maron" in 2011. "I'm friends with everybody there. So it wasn't that ... The reason for wanting to be on 'In Living Color' was just hip, man ... History showed that I had a sense of humor in me, but I was never going to be able to do that stuff at 'SNL.'" Whether he was fired or left "SNL" on his own accord is still debatable. But suffice to say, he managed to land a spot on "In Living Color" in 1993 for the final season before the series was canceled.