Saturday Night Live is an official television institution, on the air for more than 40 years, and almost everyone who is anyone has hosted or performed on the show at some point — with major stars including Tom Hanks, Danny DeVito, Alec Baldwin, John Goodman, Christopher Walken, Drew Barrymore, Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johansson, Melissa McCarthy, and Dwayne « The Rock » Johnson hosting the show a whopping five or more times each.
For every star who’s been invited back numerous times, there seems to be a celebrity that may well never get asked to return to SNL again, including Oscar winners such as Adrien Brody, rock icons like Elvis Costello and Frank Zappa, and even comedy legends who’d seemingly be natural fits for the show. The following celebs were all banned — officially or unofficially — from Studio 8H at Rockefeller Center, be it for ticking off network censors, angering the writers, cursing out the cast, or invoking the ire of SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels, who runs a notoriously tight ship. Read ’em and weep.
Elvis Costello called out corporate broadcasting
Elvis Costello began performing his single « Less Than Zero, » a song about a British politician, on Saturday Night Live in 1977, but pivoted after just a few seconds and launched into « Radio Radio, » a song about censorship in corporate-owned broadcast media. That switch reportedly horrified producer Lorne Michaels and NBC, so Costello was banned from the show for years. He returned in 1989, pretending to crash the Beastie Boys’ set (Don’t worry, it was planned this time) and performed « Radio Radio » with them.
Costello discussed that infamous incident with Details (via Open Culture): « They’ve run that clip forever, and every time anybody does anything outrageous on that show, I get name-checked. But I was copying Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix had done the same thing on The Lulu Show, when he went into an unscheduled number. I remember seeing it and going, ‘What the hell’s going on?' »
Milton Berle showed a writer his private parts
Legendary comedian and actor Milton Berle’s single stint on Saturday Night Live was among its most disastrous. In the book Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, several behind-the-scenes SNL personalities revealed the gamut of Berle’s boorish behavior, including supposedly showing his penis to writer and producer Alan Zweibel, overacting (especially in a sketch in which he played a nursing home patient), arranging his own ten-person standing ovation, and refusing to follow directions from any of the sketch writers or producers.
Rick Ludwin, NBC vice president of late night, said producer Lorne Michaels hated Berle’s performance on the show so much that he blocked it from ever re-airing, even on syndication on Comedy Central. « Lorne was so upset with the way Milton had just steamrolled his way over everyone that he never wanted that show to see the light of day again, » Ludwin said. « I have great affection for old-time show business, » Michaels said. « But it had become corrupt. »
Frank Zappa sabotaged himself to spite the show
Frank Zappa performed on Saturday Night Live in 1976 without a hitch, but when he came back to host in 1978, SNL writer Don Novello described the episode as « one of the worst ever. » In Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, Novello said Zappa « read the [cue] cards like he was reading the cards — he made a point of it … That was his approach to the humor. No one else in the sketches knew it. »
For his part, Zappa told Stereo Review (via Jam Base), « They’re not called skits — they become incensed if you call them skits — and it’s all designed to accommodate the people who are regulars on the show, so anybody who goes on there to host is at a severe disadvantage. Because they never tell you what camera is on, and you’re not supposed to memorize your script because they’re rewriting right up to showtime, » he said. « And so you’re looking at the cue cards, and unless you’re used to acting live on TV, you haven’t got a prayer; you’ll be looking at the wrong camera. It was really hard. » Zappa also claimed the writers wouldn’t let him contribute to the material, didn’t like him, and wanted to replace him — but never told him about it to his face.
Charles Grodin made it too meta
Charles Grodin created a persona that he used on late night appearances, but he got so meta on Saturday Night Live that he was never asked back on the show. During his October 1977 appearance on SNL, he appeared unprepared, bumbling and confused … on purpose. That was the joke, but not everyone understood it (or liked it). He later tried to explain himself to AV Club, « I just got the idea that that would be funny, that I didn’t know it was live, that I had just come in from New York, and then I say, ‘This is live?’ They asked me to do it again, but I chose not to, because I can do two things: I can learn a script, or I can improvise. »
Improvisation, despite many SNL players cutting their teeth in improv, apparently wasn’t welcome at 30 Rock « because it’s all done to time, and you can’t learn a script, because they’re changing it, changing it, changing it, so you’re pretty much forced to read teleprompters, and I just didn’t want to do it again, » Grodin said.
Fear begot itself
John Belushi became friends with punk band Fear and invited them to perform on the Halloween 1981 episode of Saturday Night Live, leaving the censors and the set somewhat traumatized. Rolling Stone reports that punk rockers in the audience started a giant mosh pit onstage, much to the fright of other audience members.
« The real audience at Saturday Night Live was scared to death, » Fear frontman Lee Ving (pictured) told the magazine. « They didn’t know what was happening with all the mayhem. The camera people were trying to protect their cameras. Dick Ebersol, who was stage manager, got hit in the chest with a pumpkin. It smashed all over his shirt. As we finish ‘Let’s Have a War,’ one of the kids grabs the microphone, stuck it in his mouth and screamed, ‘F**k New York!’ And the main NBC guy was at home watching with his wife and freaked out, calling the station saying, ‘Go to stock footage. Cut, cut, cut.’ They swore that night they’d never rebroadcast our footage. As a result, I have become one of the esteemed members of the permanently banned. »
After the incident, the New York Post reported that the band and audience caused $200,000 in damage to the set, but an SNL rep told Billboard they only had to pay $40 in labor penalties.
Cypress Hill’s performance went up in smoke
Rap group Cypress Hill was banned from Saturday Night Live in 1993 after member DJ Muggs lit a joint onstage. Fellow Cypress Hill member Sen Dog told the Village Voice that SNL allowed them to light up in their green room but explicitly prohibited them from smoking weed elsewhere on set.
« It wasn’t just the Saturday Night Live people saying he couldn’t smoke up on air. It was everyone: our record label, our management, our friends, » Sen Dog said. « I felt like, to me, Muggs wanted to make that statement. He asked me to light the joint up on stage, and I said, ‘I’m not doing that, man.’ Before we did that second song, we agreed that we weren’t going to light up nothing. If you look, I was surprised that he did that. »
Sen Dog claimed that many people at the SNL afterparty were impressed with DJ Muggs’ gumption, but the suits at SNL and NBC weren’t among them. « When the hammer swung and we were banned from Saturday Night Live forever, we understood how serious it was, » Sen Dog said. « And understandably so — the world wasn’t ready for anything near that at that time. If he did it now, I don’t know what kind of backlash he’d have, but in the early ’90s, it earned us a kick in the a** from Saturday Night Live, and I haven’t seen that episode in reruns. »
The Replacements were drunk and disorderly
The Replacements made their first and last Saturday Night Live appearance in 1986. According to Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements (via Rolling Stone), guitarist Bob Stinson was in the throes of alcoholism at the time of filming and demanded beer in the green room, which « really, really appalled » the SNL staff. When it was showtime, the band ignored camera blocking, and Stinson accidentally showed his bare butt on live TV. Lead singer Paul Westerberg reportedly shouted « Come on, f**ker » at Stinson off-mic, but it was still audible and made it to air, infuriating network brass. What’s more, the band also « redecorated » its dressing room and hotel room.
« The whole deal with the network, in my mind, is that we operate on a level of trust, » producer Lorne Michaels said. « We have live air. » The situation was so bad that Michaels not only banned The Replacements but reportedly threatened to ban any other Warner Bros. label act from performing on SNL or American TV, in general.
Andy Kaufman was voted off the show
In November 1982, comedian Andy Kaufman convinced Saturday Night Live to host a telephone vote to decide whether to keep him or dump him from the show forever. He and the show’s writers and producers even went so far as to have Executive Producer Dick Ebersol read an « official » statement on the show explaining why the comedy legend had supposedly been cut from two earlier segments, getting an applause break from the crowd when he said, « Andy Kaufman is not funny anymore. » There were a series of pre-taped man on the street segments asking opinions on Kaufman’s fate as well.
The prank apparently went too well. According to the book Andy Kaufman: Wrestling With the American Dream, audiences voted to ban Kaufman from the show –195,544 votes were cast to nix him; 169,186 to keep him. He never appeared in a new episode again.
Sinead O’Connor was blasphemous
Sinead O’Connor was officially banned from Saturday Night Live in 1992 when she tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II during a cover performance of Bob Marley’s « War » while demanding the audience « fight the real enemy. » The cast and crew reportedly weren’t too fond of her even before that incident. Jim Pitt, the SNL booker at the time, told The Hollywood Reporter, « She was difficult, which was no surprise. Two years earlier we booked her to perform ‘Nothing Compares 2 U,’ but early that week she and cast member Nora Dunn announced that they were boycotting the show to protest the booking of Andrew Dice Clay as host. »
While Producer Lorne Michaels praised her bravery in Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, Director Dave Wilson called the incident « unnerving, » in part because O’Connor « railroaded » them — during rehearsals, she’d requested to hold up a photo of starving children, not the pope. « I was angry, » Wilson said. « I made sure that nobody pushed the applause button so we went out on a quiet studio. I gave the order. »
Martin Lawrence ranted about female genitalia
Martin Lawrence was banned from Saturday Night Live in 1994 following a highly controversial monologue. The comedian began by basically saying he was on the run from censors, then launched into a rant about female hygiene and genitalia, which started with a riff referencing Lorena and John Wayne Bobbitt. The whole thing was so bad that online video footage from the show has replaced his bit with a message that reads: « At this point in his monologue, Martin begins a commentary on what he considers the decline in standards of feminine hygiene in this country. Although we at Saturday Night Live take no stand on this issue one way or the other, network policy prevents us from re-broadcasting this portion of his remarks. »
The statement also said, in part: « In summary, Martin feels, or felt at the time, that the failure of many young women to bathe thoroughly is a serious problem that demands our attention … It was a frank and lively presentation, and nearly cost us all our jobs. We now return to the conclusion of Martin’s monologue. » Said « presentation » was also gratuitously sexist and vulgar. You can read a transcript of his remarks here. Maybe all the soap he encouraged women to use could also serve well for his mouth.
Sam Kinison ticked off censors
In October 1986, comedian Sam Kinison hosted Saturday Night Live for the first and last time. Kinison reportedly drove NBC censors mad with his monologue, which included a joke about the crucifixion (which he was asked to cut in rehearsals) as well as other bits about pot and drugs, which producers claim Kinison did not perform during rehearsals. Kinison’s set was reportedly edited over in some markets with just a slide photo of the cast but aired live elsewhere.
Lorne Michaels addressed the mishap, telling The Associated Press, « They [the censors] didn’t consider his drug references negative enough. The policy at NBC now is that the only references to drugs must be negative. » He added, « When you work on network TV, you have to play by the rules and Sam didn’t play by the rules. »
Adrien Brody did a dumb racist bit
Lorne Michaels does not appreciate improvisation on Saturday Night Live, and when Adrien Brody went way off-script in 2003 to introduce singer and rapper Sean Paul — who’s proud of his Jamaican roots — it was widely rumored that the stunt didn’t go over well with SNL brass. Brody should have been riding a career high, fresh off of his Oscar win for The Pianist, but he flopped hard when he donned fake Rastafarian-inspired dreadlocks and spoke with a hokey faux « Jamaica mon » patois accent to introduce the « Temperature » emcee.
Though it was rumored that Brody was banned from the show after that stunt, he told The Huffington Post in 2012 that Producer Lorne Michaels never spoke to him about it one way or the other and that he had a great time. Regardless, Brody has not returned to the show to date.
Baretta star Robert Blake was real mean
Before actor Robert Blake was acquitted of his wife’s murder, the Baretta star was a super-rude Saturday Night Live host. In fact, veteran SNL writer David Sheffield voted Blake the worst host ever, telling Vanity Fair in 2002, « [Blake] was sitting in a room and a sketch was handed to him by Gary Kroeger, who was a writer-actor — a sketch called ‘Breezy Philosopher,’ a one-premise sketch about a lofty teacher who’s kind of a biker tough guy, talking about Kierkegaard. Students kept asking questions while he combed his hair, and he’d say, ‘Hey, I don’t know.’ Blake sat there and read that, with his glasses down his nose, then wadded it up, turned to Kroeger, and said, ‘I hope you got a tough a*****e, pal, ’cause you’re going to have to wipe your ass with that one.’ And he threw it and bounced it off Gary’s face. »
SNL wanted Steven Seagal to just go away
Steven Seagal was, by many accounts, the worst host Saturday Night Live ever had, and he has yet to return since his infamous 1991 hosting gig. SNL writer-turned-Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk told The Hollywood Reporter, « I remember pitching [him] the monologue idea, and he kept saying over and over, ‘I don’t know; I’ve never seen this show. I don’t know what you do here.' »
Norm Macdonald told the New York Daily News that Seagal refused to do any sketches he didn’t write himself, and in Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, Tim Meadows recalled that Seagal complained about jokes he didn’t get, which ended up being most of them. « He wasn’t funny and he was very critical of the cast and the writing staff. He didn’t realize that you can’t tell somebody they’re stupid on Wednesday and expect them to continue writing for you on Saturday. »
According to former cast member David Spade, « He didn’t want to go along with what the plan was that week, and as a result, I think that was the first week that I heard talk about replacing the host and just doing a cast show. »