Every Performer Banned from Saturday Night Live
VOICE OVER: Callum Janes
WRITTEN BY: Tori Serpico
Live from New York, it's... not these guys. For this list, we'll be looking at the most notable hosts, cast members, guests, and musicians who were, at one point or another, thought to be barred from the sketch comedy series, either temporarily or permanently. Our countdown includes System of a Down, David Bowie, Adrien Brody and more!
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 People Banned from Saturday Night Live. For this list, we’ll be looking at the most notable hosts, cast members, guests, and musicians who were, at one point or another, thought to be barred from the sketch comedy series, either temporarily or permanently. Would you lift the SNL ban on any of these celebrities? If so, let us know who in the comments!
#20: The Replacements
In 1986, this alternative rock band was tasked with filling a last minute slot as the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live” – replacing the R&B pop group the Pointer Sisters. So, in this scenario, the Replacements were literally the replacements. While they had allegedly performed well in their dress rehearsal, a few too many drinks before the taping made all the difference. When it was time to go live, the band played off key and yelled out swear words. Their poor behavior and showmanship meant that they’d never see the 30 Rock soundstage as a band ever again.
#19: Louise Lasser
You never forget your first… difficult costar! On season one of “Saturday Night Live,'' Louise Lasser of “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” apparently made history as the first person to be banned from the show. She’s claimed this isn’t true, but the rumor still persists. During her opening monologue, she was hard to understand and had an “in-character” nervous breakdown that seemed a little… out of character. As the story goes, it was hard to convince her to participate in many of the sketches that were written for her. We may never know exactly what went down behind the scenes, but that was the last we saw of Lasser on “SNL.”
#18: System of a Down
Who would’ve thought that politically charged heavy metal and network television don’t mix? Well, executive producer Lorne Michaels decided to give the band “System of a Down” a chance regardless– with some restrictions. They were given the green light to perform their song “B.Y.OB.,” even with its strong messaging. The band was asked not to curse during their set, but they refused to censor themselves. While the production team was able to “bleep” out the expected profanities, the band’s guitarist Daron Malakian decided to throw in one last f-bomb. Needless to say, there was no coming back from that.
#17: Cypress Hill
Now this is how you go down in a blaze of glory! Typically, a band being asked to perform on “Saturday Night Live” would be revered as a major opportunity to gain recognition from the show’s massive audience. Instead of keeping their act prim and proper to please the network executives, hip hop trio Cypress Hill did one thing they were asked not to do: smoke. No, we don’t mean off in the green room. The band’s DJ Muggs lit up right on stage during their set! But even though they’re unlikely to ever return to SNL, their performance certainly went down in history.
#16: Shane Gillis
This comedian didn’t even need to step foot on the stage before being asked to leave it. Leading to the show’s 45th season, the cast was set to grow by three– adding Bowen Yang, Chloe Fineman, and Shane Gillis as featured players. However, Gillis was quickly fired after racist and homophobic remarks were uncovered from his podcast. Lorne Michaels’ rep stated that the team wasn’t aware of these comments at the time of his hiring, and that they should’ve investigated the clips sooner. It’s safe to say that Gillis won’t be asked to visit Studio 8H anytime soon.
#15: Milton Berle
Move over, Berle, you’re hogging the spotlight! On season four of “Saturday Night Live,” Milton Berle was invited to host the show– despite Lorne Michaels’ hesitation. Coming from a background in vaudeville performance and having once been the host of his own series, it was understood that Berle would have his way of doing things. But when it came to be showtime, he doubled down on his difficult nature and completely disobeyed any instructions given to him. All of the little bits and gags that he threw into the show were unscripted, giving the rest of the cast a hard time anticipating his next move.
#14: Robert Blake
One important rule for hosting “Saturday Night Live”: don’t disrespect the writers! During a rehearsal of his episode, Blake was given a script for one of the sketches he would be featured in so he could give it a read. After looking it over, he reportedly threw it right into writer and actor Gary Kroeger’s face– and called him a few names while he was at it! Even still, he went through with appearing on his episode. But nobody wants to work with anyone with such a temper, and Blake’s antics are said to have gotten him banned from the show.
#13: David Bowie
Sorry, Ziggy Stardust! The legendary artist apparently had some issues with a song parody he was meant to sing for a sketch. The performance called for him to rhyme “man” with “flan,” but Bowie was staunchly against changing his pronunciation of the word. But that’s not all! As a way to stick it to the producers, he also reportedly changed his band's setlist at the last minute. This move is said to have infuriated Lorne Michaels, and the star was apparently escorted out by security! Bowie was temporarily unable to return to the show, but did eventually perform again as the musical guest– twenty years later.
#12: Charles Grodin
This star’s episode of “SNL” gave the audience a peek behind the curtain– and it wasn’t so pretty! Charle Grodin’s hosting gig was quite unusual, as the cast calls him out in the opening scene for missing his dress rehearsals and they admit that he doesn’t really fit in. The rest of the episode is similarly odd, with Grodin interjecting in sketches and performances seemingly out of character. He even joins the musical guest– Paul Simon– dressed as Art Garfunkel! While many were convinced that this was a genuine performance by Grodin, it was later shared that these behaviors were apparently encouraged as part of his comedic persona. He even said he declined an invitation to come back. Regardless, Grodin never returned to “SNL.”
#11: Elvis Costello
Always stick to the script, or the set list! Elvis Costello– a singer and songwriter known for making statements through his music– was a last minute slot filler after rock band the Sex Pistols dropped out. And he kept the SNL crew on their toes. After starting to perform the scheduled song “Less Than Zero,” he promptly stopped his band and instructed them to start playing “Radio, Radio” instead. He felt he needed to rebel against his record label’s wishes, and temporarily got himself in trouble with “Saturday Night Live” in the process. All’s well that ends well, though, as he later returned to Studio 8H.
#10: Frank Zappa
Not everyone is cut out for the hosting gig. Frank Zappa wasn’t a total newbie at “Saturday Night Live,” as he had been a musical guest back in season two of the show. But when he returned a couple of seasons later to both host and perform, he just couldn’t deliver. Nope, no edgy rebellion to make a statement– he reportedly simply didn’t have the energy and attitude for the job. Zappa also apparently wasn’t keen on making connections with the cast or crew while he was on set, which made for an awkward show altogether. It’s been said that he was subsequently blacklisted from appearing on the show as a result.
Have no fear… actually, maybe have a little bit of fear. California punk rock group Fear was brought onto “Saturday Night Live” to perform on their Halloween special episode. As a true, hardcore punk group, live network television’s standards weren’t exactly up their alley. But former cast member John Belushi was a fan, and vouched for them to be on an episode. This ended up being a horrible decision, as the group notably started a violent, angry mosh pit during their set. Their antics reportedly ended up costing “SNL” tens and potentially even hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages all across the studio. With that kind of price tag, it’s easy to see why they weren’t invited back.
#8: Adrien Brody
Always leave the impressions to the professionals. More importantly, leave them to the culturally appropriate professionals. Actor Adrien Brody made the age old mistake that we’ve seen several of the hosts on this list make: seemingly going off script. With the musical act of the episode being reggae artist Sean Paul, Brody thought it would be funny to introduce him with a Jamaican accent while wearing fake locks in his hair. Obviously, he thought wrong– it wasn’t funny at all. It was offensive and uncalled for, and he reportedly earned himself an SNL ban, though he claims to know nothing about that.
#7: Martin Lawrence
Let’s keep it family friendly! It’s not shocking that some comedians struggle to clean up their act to perform on live TV, but their failure to do so still causes lots of trouble! Actor and comic Martin Lawrence went way too far during his opening monologue, making extremely graphic jokes about women and their cleanliness. Some of his statements were deemed so outrageous that they were later wiped from the episode altogether! As you may have already guessed: these parts of Lawrence’s speech are thought to have been improvised, and he got banned from NBC altogether for a time.
#6: Rage Against the Machine
These guys were set on sticking it to the man, even if it cost them future “SNL” gigs. Rock band Rage Against the Machine is yet another group that famously puts out politically charged music. So when the “Saturday Night Live” producers stacked them next to politician Steve Forbes for their episode, they were determined to take a stand. Prior to their set, they hung the American flag upside down from their amps. Crew members came out and ripped them down almost instantly, and the band was reportedly asked to leave the studio once they were finished performing.
#5: Steven Seagal
This actor was once titled the “worst host ever” by Lorne Michaels, which tells you everything you need to know about his apparent ban! But how did he do it? The short answer is, he wasn’t funny. A drama and action film star, Seagal was a hot celebrity at the time he hosted in 1991, but that didn’t change the fact that he had almost no comedic instincts whatsoever. He also had very little chemistry with the cast members, and was said to have been critical of their talents as well. A great host needs to be willing to contribute some kind of material to the show– or at least deliver on what’s written for them!
#4: Kanye West
There are few performers out there that are more polarizing than rapper Kanye West. Having performed on “Saturday Night Live” seven times as the musical guest, it looks as though he’s a longtime friend of the show. But during a 2018 appearance, he decided to make an unprompted speech about his support of Donald Trump. This ruffled many feathers, but ultimately isn’t the reason why he hasn’t been back. The artist has since made a slew of aggressive comments towards Pete Davison– aka his ex Kim Kardashian’s then-boyfriend. Though the claims weren’t fully verified, there were rumors that this prompted a ban. Davidson has since left the “SNL” cast, but no word on whether West will ever be back.
#3: Andy Kaufman
This one may have been a bit uncalled for! Comedy legend Andy Kaufman was known for his odd sense of humor and out there performances– some folks just weren’t fans of his work. His bits were always unique to him and his comedic sensibilities, but unfortunately the reviews weren’t always kind. This led to “Saturday Night Live” launching an on-air campaign: should Andy stay or should he go? To the shock and dismay of many, the people chose to vote him off the show. And so, he never returned to perform on the series again.
#2: Sinéad O'Connor
What have we learned about being a “good” SNL guest so far? Be nice to the cast and crew, read from the script, and… no politics! O’Connor came onto the show to perform her own version of Bob Marley’s song “War.” But she made it clear who the target of her performance was: the Catholic Church and Pope John Paul II. She brought the Pope’s photo on stage, and ripped it up during the song as a statement against child mistreatment. This was obviously not a move approved by the “Saturday Night Live” team, who were flabbergasted. Her appearance wasn’t well-received, and it marked the end of her time at Studio 8H. Still, there’s no denying she sent a message!
#1: Chevy Chase
As a cast member on “Saturday Night Live,” you have to behave pretty outrageous to be banned from returning. Chevy Chase, who was part of the series from its very first season, is notorious for being a difficult co-star. Although he could be charismatic in front of the cameras, behind the scenes he was an absolute menace. As such, legend has it he’s been barred from appearing on the show in a meaningful capacity. He has had a few guest stints in the years since though, and Lorne Michaels once denied the show was on the outs with him. Still, Chase has been known to harass his fellow cast members and colleagues, leaving very few to be sad about his apparent split from the show.