12 Famous People You Didn’t Realize Were Recjected by SNL

Kathy Griffin

Saturday Night Live has been known as a launching pad and star maker for many actors and comedians. It is also a place where the people making the casting picks don’t always make the best decisions. Many bright and young talented actors, comedians, and all around funny people have been shown the door, or not even let in the room. Fortunately, many great comedians found out that not only is there life after a Saturday Night Live rejection, there are also better opportunities. Which famous people were rejected by SNL, that pillar of sketch comedy on NBC?

If you’re a young or even older comic or actor, getting rejected by SNL is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s kind of a sign that maybe you’re about to blow up. Many of the famous actors and actresses on this list went on to do great things after not making it into the Saturday Night Live cast. Whether they upset Lorne Michaels, or froze in their audition for the television sketch show, people like Stephen Colbert, Mindy Kaling, and Lisa Kudrow all landed on their feet.

1. John Goodman

John Goodman

The year was 1980, and SNL producers chose Joe Piscopo over John Goodman.

Goodman did do something on SNL more often than Piscopo did, though: Goodman got laughs. As 13-time (and counting!) host of Saturday Night Live, Goodman brought class, experience, and his many years as an actor in some of the finest TV and film projects ever made to the sketch show. 

  • Age: 71
  • Birthplace: Affton, Missouri, USA

2. Lisa Kudrow

Lisa Kudrow

Kudrow may have sabotaged herself in her 1990 audition for SNL when producers came to see her live at the Groundlings. On the recommendation of Laraine Newman, Lorne Michaels flew out to Los Angeles to see Kudrow and fellow Groundling Julia Sweeney at the same time.

Besides hating being pitted against a fellow Groundling, Kudrow didn’t feel ready and was a little off the night Michaels and Klein were there. But, as fate would have it, there were bigger things waiting for Kudrow and she got a role on a little show called Friends. Since that explosive start, Kudrow has starred in indie films, produced and directed, and developed a number of other projects like The Comeback and Web Therapy.

  • Age: 60
  • Birthplace: Encino, California, USA

3. Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert

In 1992, Colbert fell short of expectations and failed to wow the producers at Saturday Night LiveSNL writer Robert Smigel was super impressed with Colbert at the showcase at Chicago’s Second City, but the other scouts weren’t. 

  • Age: 59
  • Birthplace: Washington, D.C., USA

4. Kathy Griffin

Kathy Griffin

It’s hard to imagine Kathy Griffin following anyone’s rules, like the ones prescribed by the writers and producers of Saturday Night Live. But she, too, was a young, hungry Groundling and auditioned for SNL scouts the same night as Julia Sweeney and Lisa Kudrow. But Sweeney crushed it, with nerves and sheer fate getting the best of everyone else.

Griffin ain’t mad, though. She’s done just fine since then.

  • Age: 63
  • Birthplace: Oak Park, Illinois, USA

5. Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling

Kaling really wanted to ditch LA, move to New York, and join the Saturday Night Live crew, but it didn’t work out. Greg Daniels, her boss at The Office and a former SNL writer, said that she could break her contract and go if she was offered a cast slot.

Kaling stayed and following The Office even got her own show, The Mindy Project.

  • Age: 44
  • Birthplace: Cambridge, Massachusetts

6. Dane Cook

Dane Cook

Cook auditioned for SNL for season 28 and lost out to Will Forte

  • Age: 51
  • Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, USA

7. Aubrey Plaza

Aubrey Plaza

We get it. Plaza is an acquired taste. Fortunately, Amy Poehler and company saw something in Plaza and she nailed the role of April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation only a year after flunking out at her SNL audition.

  • Age: 39
  • Birthplace: Wilmington, Delaware, USA

8. Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey

Carrey auditioned several timesand never made the cut. The first time was in the early 1980s, but he was not hired. Lorne Michaels has since claimed that he regrets not hiring Carrey, but insists he was not present for his audition.

  • Age: 62
  • Birthplace: Newmarket, Ontario, Canada

9. Bonnie Hunt

Bonnie Hunt

There’s a story out there that Hunt was on track to join SNL during the early ‘90s, but was told she couldn’t improvise. That was enough for her to kick rocks. Hunt believed in improvisation and had her sights set on bigger fish anyway, starring on shows she crafted, including The Bonnie Hunt Show and Life with Bonnie.

  • Age: 62
  • Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, USA

10. Zach Galifianakis

Zach Galifianakis

In his audition in 1999, Galifianakis gave shades of his standup act that a lot of people just didn’t get until much later in his career. Galifianakis had to show off his weird in The Hangover before anyone of note saw what a huge draw he was. There’s no bad blood between Galifianakis and SNL.

He did work as a writer for a couple of weeks on Saturday Night Live around the time he auditioned and he did host the show three times in 2010, 2011, 2013. 

  • Age: 54
  • Birthplace: Wilkesboro, North Carolina, USA

11. Paul Reubens

Paul Reubens

Reubens happened to audition during the same season as Gilbert Gottfried, and he instantly knew that both of them would not be hired. He was correct. Gottfried got the part – but only for one season – and Reubens went on to flesh out his Pee-wee Herman character and enjoy great career success. 

  • Age: Dec. at 70 (1952-2023)
  • Birthplace: Peekskill, New York, USA

12. Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele

Before he teamed up with fellow MADtv cast mate Keegan Michael Key, Jordan Peele auditioned for Saturday Night Live, hoping to play Barack Obama. He was beaten out by Fred Armisen.

  • Age: 45
  • Birthplace: New York, New York, USA