The ‘S.N.L.’ Stars Who Lasted, and the Ones Who Flamed Out

Eddie Murphy, who kept “Saturday Night Live” kicking through four of its bleakest seasons, will return on Dec. 21 to host the show for the first time in 35 years. Murphy has kept his distance from Studio 8H ever since David Spade, then a cast member, made a joke in the 1990s about Murphy’s faltering…

The ‘S.N.L.’ Stars Who Lasted, and the Ones Who Flamed Out

Eddie Murphy, who kept “Saturday Night Live” kicking through four of its bleakest seasons, will return on Dec. 21 to host the show for the first time in 35 years. Murphy has kept his distance from Studio 8H ever since David Spade, then a cast member, made a joke in the 1990s about Murphy’s faltering career. In light of Murphy’s long-awaited homecoming, we plotted the tenures of all 153 comedians who have been officially credited as cast members.

From the choppy early seasons, rife with backstage drama and cast refreshes, to the relatively stable lineups of recent years, “S.N.L.” has long served as an incubator for comic talent. Who did the show, and the executive producer, Lorne Michaels, nurture? And who struggled to find a voice? Some of the names here will be familiar only to die-hard fans; others, like Murphy, defined what was funny for generations of viewers.

Every ‘S.N.L.’ cast member’s tenure

  1. 1975–76
  2. ’80–81
  3. ’85–86
  4. ’90–91
  5. ’95–96
  6. ’00–01
  7. ’05–06
  8. ’10–11
  9. ’15–16

The Big Bang
1975–80


NBC

A mix of money, cocaine, adulation and all-night writing sessions led to explosive success and burnout for the show’s original cast and writers. Five seasons after “Saturday Night Live” began, amid its highest ratings ever, the last of the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players departed, along with the executive producer, Lorne Michaels.

Sophomore Slump
1980–86


NBC

A wunderkind, Eddie Murphy, along with one-year hires Martin Short and Billy Crystal, kept “S.N.L.” alive for the next few years. But the show didn’t begin to stabilize until a year after Michaels returned to the helm in 1985.

Easy Laughs
1986–95


Edie Baskin/NBC

With a boost from the sketch-turned-movie “Wayne’s World,” the show enjoyed a run of popularity in the early ’90s. Skits by Adam Sandler and Chris Farley kept the streak going for a couple of years, until network executives soured on their brand of broad humor. Farley and Sandler were fired, and Michaels set out to rebuild the show once again.

Sobering Up
1995–2011


Dana Edelson/NBC

Twenty years after “S.N.L.” began, a less volatile culture emerged at Studio 8H. “There’s no drugs and there’s no sex at the show now,” Tina Fey told the authors of “Live From New York.” Female representation behind and in front of the camera ticked up, and Amy Poehler and Fey became the first female co-hosts of “Weekend Update.”

New Voices
2011–19


Will Heath/NBC, via Associated Press

The most recent iteration of “S.N.L.” — starting with Kate McKinnon’s hiring in 2011 — has found itself in the news for more than the edginess of its humor. Racist jokes from Shane Gillis and Melissa Villaseñor that surfaced on Twitter disrupted the tenure of some new hires before they began. The show has also responded to widespread pressure to feature a more diverse set of comedians.


NBC

The Big Bang
1975–80

A mix of money, cocaine, adulation and all-night writing sessions led to explosive success and burnout for the show’s original cast and writers. Five seasons after “Saturday Night Live” began, amid its highest ratings ever, the last of the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players departed, along with the executive producer, Lorne Michaels.


NBC

Sophomore Slump
1980–86

A wunderkind, Eddie Murphy, along with one-year hires Martin Short and Billy Crystal, kept “S.N.L.” alive for the next few years. But the show didn’t begin to stabilize until a year after Michaels returned to the helm in 1985.


Edie Baskin/NBC

Easy Laughs
1986–95

With a boost from the sketch-turned-movie “Wayne’s World,” the show enjoyed a run of popularity in the early ’90s. Skits by Adam Sandler and Chris Farley kept the streak going for a couple of years, until network executives soured on their brand of broad humor. Farley and Sandler were fired, and Michaels set out to rebuild the show once again.


Dana Edelson/NBC

Sobering Up
1995–2011

Twenty years after “S.N.L.” began, a less volatile culture emerged at Studio 8H. “There’s no drugs and there’s no sex at the show now,” Tina Fey told the authors of “Live From New York.” Female representation behind and in front of the camera ticked up, and Amy Poehler and Fey became the first female co-hosts of “Weekend Update.”


Will Heath/NBC, via Associated Press

New Voices
2011–19

The most recent iteration of “S.N.L.” — starting with Kate McKinnon’s hiring in 2011 — has found itself in the news for more than the edginess of its humor. Racist jokes from Shane Gillis and Melissa Villaseñor that surfaced on Twitter disrupted the tenure of some new hires before they began. The show has also responded to widespread pressure to feature a more diverse set of comedians.

Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi became so famous as a result of “S.N.L.” that they had to flee through the back window of a cabin they rented in Wisconsin after fans mobbed outside.

Murphy, just out of high school, called the talent coordinator Neil Levy three times a day until he scored an audition.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus felt underused on “S.N.L.” But she did meet Larry David, then a writer on the show. They teamed up on “Seinfeld” five years later.

A 1995 New York magazine cover story on the show’s dissolution featured fart jokes and feuds between checked-out cast members. “They can’t even fake forcing themselves to care,” said one of the show’s writers.

Before the 1999-2000 season, new cast members received more restrictive contracts written to limit them from jumping to Hollywood in the vein of Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers.

Kenan Thompson, the longest tenured “S.N.L.” cast member, appeared on screen more than any other cast member last season, according to an analysis posted on Reddit.

Sasheer Zamata and Leslie Jones were hired following criticism from Thompson and Jay Pharoah about the absence of black women in the cast.

Boys’ Club

Hiring on “S.N.L.” has become increasingly diverse — six of the 10 new players in the past five years have been women or people of color. But looking at the casts over the long run, no season has featured more women than men.

Men

Women

Main cast

Featured cast

1980–81

’90–91

’00–01

’10–11

1980–81

’90–91

’00–01

’10–11

Women

Men

Main cast

Featured cast

Cast members who were promoted to the main, repertory cast midway through a season are marked as main cast members.

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