9 Famous Actors People Forget Were SNL Cast Members

Ben Stiller

With its ever-changing cast, Saturday Night Live has introduced audiences to a pantheon of comedic talents—from iconic figures like John Belushi and Gilda Radner to contemporary stars like Kate McKinnon and Pete Davidson. However, not all of its cast members have taken a permanent place in the public’s collective memory. In fact, there’s an entire roster of famous actors who briefly graced the SNL stage, only to slip away quietly from the annals of Studio 8H history. Some of these actors went on to achieve fame and recognition in other areas of film and television, making it all the more surprising to recall their tenure on the legendary sketch show.

Regardless of how long they spent in Studio 8H, these stars will forever be part of a legacy with no end in sight.

1. Laurie Metcalf

Laurie Metcalf

Laurie Metcalf worked as a featured player for Season 6 (1980-1981). Unfortunately, Metcalf only appeared in one episode during a season plagued by writer’s strikes and a major management change from producer Jean Doumanian to executive Dick Ebersol.

In her short film skit “Laurie Has a Story,” Metcalf plays a confused dinner party attendee who never knows the right time to continue her interrupted story – despite encouragement from co-star Catherine O’Hara’s character. Metcalf went on to star in TV hit Roseanne, and earn an Academy Award nomination for her performance in Ladybird.

2. Damon Wayans

Damon Wayans

Damon Wayans served as a featured player during Season 11 (1985-1986). Some of his most memorable characters include Little Richard and a Seinfeld-esque standup comedian who doesn’t understand the concept of daylight savings time.

As the season progressed, Wayans grew increasingly frustrated due to creative differences with the show’s writers. He eventually snapped, going off-book as a background police character he decided to give a flamboyant edge. As improv is a no-no on SNL, Wayans was fired after the show. Still, the comedian returned to perform standup on the season finale that year. And a short time later, he made a name for himself as a founding cast member on In Living Color.

3. Robert Downey Jr.

Robert Downey Jr.

Robert Downey Jr. served as an SNL cast member during Season 11 (1985-1986). His biggest turn in the Studio 8H spotlight came from his infamous “Suitcase Boy” sketch, where a self-described “confrontational monologue” about life as a found piece of luggage doesn’t go as planned.

Downey’s one-season stint on the show ended with a massive recasting following poor reviews. Only two cast members returned, and RDJ was not one of them. After a rough time battling drug addiction, Downey managed to bounce back and become one of Hollywood’s most successful film stars, working with David Fincher in Zodiac and becoming the centerpiece of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Iron Man. 

4. Ben Stiller

Ben Stiller

Ben Stiller served as a featured player on Season 14 (1988-1989). Stiller came in mid-season, along with Mike Meyers, and appeared in only four episodes before leaving the show. He cited creative differences as his reason for his departure. Stiller managed to get a fair amount of screen time in his four episodes, though, including a Weekend Update segment with Meyers where the pair gave a very hesitant review of the film Rain Man.

After SNL, Stiller became a major comedic film star, director, and producer, with hits like ZoolanderTropic Thunder, and Meet the Parents under his belt.

5. David Koechner

David Koechner

David Koechner served as a cast member during Season 21 (1995-1996). While Koechner only lasted a single season, he produced recurring character Gerald “T. Bone” Tibbins: a well-intentioned but intrusive executioner and hospital orderly. Despite creating several successful characters, Koechner didn’t continue to the next season when executives got skittish over low ratings.

Since his SNL days, Koechner has co-starred in cult hits like Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Snakes on a Plane, along with appearing in popular shows like The Office

6. Joan Cusack

Joan Cusack

Joan Cusack worked as a cast member during Season 11 (1985-1986). At the time, audiences knew Cusack because of a small role in Sixteen Candles, and thanks to her brother, ’80s heartthrob John Cusack. Her campy sense of humor helped punch up the traditionally reserved female characters she played on the show, including a knick-knack store clerk in the “Cute Shop” sketch.

Most of the performers from Season 11, including Cusack, didn’t return for Season 12. After SNL, Cusack received two Best Supporting Actress Academy Awards nominations – one for Working Girl and the other for In & Out.

7. Randy Quaid

Randy Quaid

Randy Quaid joined the SNL cast for Season 11 (1985-1986). Similar to his Season 11 costar Joan Cusack, Quaid came from an acting family. He also boasted recognizable roles in National Lampoon’s Vacation and The Last Picture Show already.

Quaid often played thick-headed but well-meaning characters, like stinky furniture salesman Rudy Randolf Jr. After being cut from the show alongside several other Season 11 cast members, Quaid reprised his role in the Vacation series and starred in several acclaimed films, including King Pin and Brokeback Mountain.

8. Gilbert Gottfried

Gilbert Gottfried

Gilbert Gottfried served as a cast member for Season 6 (1980-1981). In addition to a number of Weekend Update segments, Gottfried starred in a pre-taped sketch where he roamed the streets of New York as an urban matador, and one where he told the “story” of how he got on the show called “Who Is Gilbert Gottfried?”

Gottfried revealed in a 2006 interview that being part of the first group to replace the original cast members proved a stressful task. And critics lambasted the season before it even began. Gottfried, though, later became an accomplished standup comedian and used his unique voice for roles in Family Guy, Disney’s Aladdin, and other animated projects.

9. Rob Riggle

Rob Riggle

Rob Riggle worked as a featured player on Season 30 (2004-2005). A transitional period for SNL, heavy-hitters like Jimmy Fallon and Tracy Morgan had just departed, and future stars like Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig had yet to arrive.

Although Riggle got a decent amount of screen time – he played an overly excited Howard Dean – he never discovered his place on the show. Luckily, Riggle quickly found a new gig as a correspondent for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and went on to steal scenes in films like 21 Jump Street The Hangover, and Step Brothers.