Before they were famous, they were just trying to impress Lorne Michaels like everyone else
Stars like Jimmy Fallon and Dana Carvey make it look easy, but an SNL audition is one of the hardest tests in show business. As former cast member Abby Elliott told Larry King early this year, “They don’t say anything. You just go in, do your thing in silence, and leave.” So it makes sense that even comedians who are incredibly accomplished now didn’t make the cut then. Check out some failed auditions from a few famous faces below.
Jim Carrey, 1980
Carrey may be one of the most famous faces in comedy now, but back in 1980, he was an 18-year-old looking to make it big. Post-nuclear Elvis Presley wouldn’t be his big break, but he soon joined another sketch comedy series, In Living Color, and eventually had a successful movie career, starring in films like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Liar, Liar, and The Truman Show, which earned him a Golden Globe for Best Actor.
Stephen Colbert, 1992
You know him for his news-parody series The Colbert Report, which ran for 11 seasons, so Colbert might be the greatest Weekend Update anchor that never was. Alas, his waiter joke didn’t land him a spot on SNL, but he did serve as a writer for several episodes. In 2015, he succeeded David Letterman as host of The Late Show.
Hart may not have nailed his audition, but at least he knows it. On Conan in 2015, he told Conan O’Brien that in his audition, he did an impression of someone nobody knew (then-San Antonio Spurs point guard Avery Johnson). “If you had seen this tape, you’d understand why I didn’t get it,” he said. Hart has since hosted the show twice, in 2013 and 2015.
Zach Galifianakis, 1999
A pre-beard Galifianakis (do you even recognize him?) may not have landed a spot as a cast member, but he did find a job as a part-time writer for several episodes in 1999 and has hosted the show three times. He’s also proven his comedic chops in movies like The Hangover and The Campaign and his Funny or Die webseries, Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis.
Rachel Bloom, 2012
You know her now as Rebecca Bunch on the CW’s hit show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but you probably didn’t know her in 2012 when she was doing her best Katharine Hepburn. This year, she won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Comedy or Musical Television Series.
To see more clips of current and former cast members auditioning, check out this video that aired in 2015 for SNL‘s 40th anniversary.
Saturday Night Live airs Saturday nights at 11:30 on NBC.
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