Who Are The Most Famous People ‘Saturday Night Live’ Actually Rejected?

It’s no secret that NBC’s ‘Saturday Night Live’ has jumpstarted a ton of careers for comedic actors and actresses over the years, but what about the now-successful entertainers who were once turned down by Lorne Michaels and the show?

Thankfully, these acts found their own way into the limelight and onto our TV screens in due time. However, it is pretty fascinating to see a shocking amount of faces you know and love today were once told by SNL, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

1. Lisa Kudrow

Photo: Lan Bui/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 2.0

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.

2. John Goodman

Photo: Alan Light / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

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. 

3. Kathy Griffin

Photo: nrkbeta / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

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.

4. Stephen Colbert

Photo: Montclair Film Fest / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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. 

5. Aubrey Plaza

Photo: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

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.

6. Mindy Kaling

Photo: Kristin Dos Santos / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

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.

7. Dane Cook

Photo: Courtney Cook / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

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

8. Jim Carrey

Photo: Ian Smith / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

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.

9. Zach Galifianakis

Photo: CleftClips / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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. 

10. Paul Reubens

Photo: Daniel Benavides / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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. 

11. Jordan Peele

Photo: Peabody Awards / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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.

12. Jennifer Coolidge

Photo: Thibault / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Groundlings Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, and later Chris Kattan all got on in 1995. Coolidge, from the same Groundlings group, didn’t. 

Far from falling flat, Coolidge went on to appear in a slew of TV and film projects, including joining the cast of Christopher Guest’s awesome spoof documentaries, A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration. She also had memorable performances in Legally Blonde and American Pie.

13. Donald Glover

Photo: Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY)

Glover was already working as a writer for 30 Rock in 2008 when he heard that Saturday Night Live was looking for someone to play the newly-elected President Obama in sketches. Some critics have since noted that it was kind of strange when Fred Armisen got that gig over Glover or another African-American comedian.

Glover emerged unscathed and had a very successful run on Community and Atlanta as well as a flourishing career as his musical alter ego Childish Gambino.

14. David Cross

Photo: Fred Benenson / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

David Cross and Bob Odenkirk practically invented a new form of sketch comedy with Mr. Show with Bob and David in the ‘90s. So it’s a good thing that Cross bombed his audition for SNL or Mr. Show might not have ever happened. Cross brought his special brand of offbeat comedy from Boston but found that it was way too crowded during the showcase to stand out.

Cross certainly survived the experience, appearing in hugely successful projects, including Arrested DevelopmentThe Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, and myriad voice acting roles.

15. Geena Davis

Photo: itupictures / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

When Geena Davis was just establishing her career in 1984, she decided to try her hand at Saturday Night Live.

The thing is, Davis just didn’t seem like a natural fit for the sketch comedy show. The Oscar-winner definitely found her footing, appearing in films such as Beetlejuice, Thelma & Louise, and The Accidental Tourist.

16. Kevin Hart

Photo: Adam Bielawski Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Hart seems like he’s made for Saturday Night Live, but alas, it was not meant to be.During his audition, Hart did his impression of NBA coach Avery Johnson, but realized that none of the producers knew who Johnson was.

17. Nick Kroll

Photo: David Shankbone / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

Kroll auditioned in 2008 and was passed over. 

18. Bonnie Hunt

Photo: John Mathew Smith / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

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.

19. Kumail Nanjiani

Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr / CC BY-SA 3.0

Saturday Night Live’s loss is Silicon ValleyPortlandia, and Franklin & Bash’s gain. Nanjiani auditioned in 2012 but had stated that he didn’t expect a callback. Still, he was glad for the experience, saying, “I mean, you can’t not audition for SNL.”

20. John Mulaney

Photo: Dominick D / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Mulaney said that he felt he gave SNL a decent audition in 2008, but he didn’t make the cut. As a consulation, Mulaney did write for the show from 2008 to 2012. 

He and Bill Hader created the “Weekend Update” hit character Stefon for Bill Hader. He was nominated for an Emmy for his work on SNL.