Brooks Wheelan, we hardly knew ye… and now we may never get the chance to. The blue-eyed comedian revealed Monday night that he won’t be returning for a second year at Saturday Night Live this fall—and that the decision wasn’t his to make. In a fairly delightful tweet, Wheelan said that he’d been let go. (His exact words: “Fired from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” Which is funny enough to make me wish things hadn’t ended this way.)
Clearly, getting canned from television’s most august comedy institution must be a bit of a bummer. But at least there’s a silver lining: Plenty of former SNL cast members have found major success after undistinguished tenures on the series that ended with pink slips. So Brooks, if you’re listening, buck up: Follow one of these post-Saturday Night blueprints, and you’ll be just fine.
1. Make a viral video
Jenny Slate had the misfortune of being cast on SNL alongside Nasim Pedrad, who may as well be her fraternal twin—their resemblance made it difficult for either one to stand out that year, especially in an era when SNL refused to give screen time to any woman not named Kristen Wiig. (The f-bomb loosed during Slate’s first big appearance as an original character didn’t help matters, either.)
But as it turns out, getting fired after one season was a blessing in disguise. It freed Slate to nurture her absurdist streak, which is fully on display in her massively popular YouTube short “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” (which has been viewed nearly 23 million times in the past four years). “Marcel” put Slate back in the public eye—or got her there for the first time—and helped establish her as a unique comic voice. Since then, she’s become a valuable utility player with scene-stealing roles on everything from Parks and Rec to House of Lies—and a starring part in the R-rated rom-com Obvious Child.
2. Snag a sitcom role
Casey Wilson is the first to admit that her brand of alt-comedy wasn’t a great fit for SNL, where she muddled along for a year and a half before getting the ax. Two years after her time on the sketch show ended, she was cast on ABC’s Happy Endings, which quickly became a quirky critical darling—and the most vociferous praise was reserved for Wilson herself, whose idiosyncratic, happy sad sack Penny was the sitcom’s breakout character. (It may have helped that she was also the only one with a catchphrase.)
Happy Endings was too beautiful for this world, but its cult success opened the door for Wilson; she’ll star in another rom-sitcom this fall (NBC’s Marry Me, created by her now-husband David Caspe), and can currently be seen on Hulu’s Hotwives of Orlando, a Burning Love-esque Real Housewives spoof. (Another fired castmember who followed this route, and would have found success with it, if there were any justice in the world: Michaela Watkins, one of the best things about ABC’s dearly departed Trophy Wife.)
3. Submerge yourself in standup
Talk about adding insult to injury: After spending one year as a little-seen writer/performer on SNL, Sarah Silverman was unceremoniously fired via fax. Of course, she got the last laugh by embracing the very quality that got her canned in the first place. Silverman’s strong personality, which prevented her from ever disappearing fully into a character on SNL, made it much easier for her to carve out her own niche in the standup community. After getting the boot from NBC, Silverman appeared in several onscreen roles but mostly returned to the stage, making a name for herself with her signature caustic, foul-mouthed, surprisingly sweet brand of comedy. Nowadays, she’s one of the most successful standups out there. This route may be especially appealing to Wheelan, who also got his start in standup.
4. Create your own sketch show
Damon Wayans clearly believes it’s better to burn out than fade away. Twelve weeks into his unsatisfying SNL tenure, he decided to sabotage a sketch by playing a straight cop as flamboyantly gay—and improvising his lines as well. Lorne Michaels was not impressed, and Wayans was let go after the live show aired. Four years later, Wayans teamed up with his brother Keenen to create In Living Color, an SNL-esque sketch show that approached comedy from a predominantly black perspective. The series was hugely influential, launching the careers of performers including Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, and Jennifer Lopez—and establishing the Wayans family as comedic dynasty.
5. Be Iron Man
Robert Downey Jr. joined Saturday Night Live during its notoriously troubled 11th season, which featured a crazy hodgepodge of randos (a sampling: Randy Quaid, Joan Cusack, Anthony Michael Hall). All but a handful of them were fired before season 12 began in 1986—including Downey, who went on to do absolutely nothing of note. (Kidding.)
6. Hold out hope for Lorne Michaels to change his mind
If all else fails, maybe Wheelan can hope to emulate Chris Parnell—fired after three seasons in 2001, then re-hired in the middle of 2002. Yes, Parnell was subsequently fired again due to budget cuts before season 32 began in the fall of 2006—but between 30 Rock, Suburgatory, Archer, Rick and Morty, and numerous (presumably lucrative) commercial voiceovers, he hasn’t exactly been hurting for work since then. See? Silver lining, people.
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