We’ve seen a ton of great actors go on to great things after a successful stint on Saturday Night Live. The iconic sketch show has been a fantastic jumping off point for so many comedians we know and love. It’s not the only jumping off point, though.
Tons of wonderful comedic actors auditioned for SNL and didn’t make the cut. Their careers didn’t end there. They went on to make Ace Ventura, star in a slew of Coen Brothers movies, and even win Oscars. Keep reading to find out which of your favorite comedians weren’t quite ready for prime time.
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Mindy Kaling auditioned for SNL while she was working as a writer on The Office. She wanted to relocate to New York and join the writing staff at Saturday Night Live.
Greg Daniels, her boss at The Office, told her he would waive her contract if she got a cast slot, but not if she got a writing position. Kaling stayed in L.A., got cast on The Office, and then eventually got her own show, The Mindy Project.
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Jennifer Aniston auditioned for Saturday Night Live in 1990. Apparently, Adam Sandler really wanted her to be on the show, but she chose Friends over the long-standing sketch comedy show.
Julia Sweeney, who actually was cast on SNL that year, said that none of that is true. Aniston was never offered the SNL gig, and if she was, she most likely would have chosen it over Friends.
Donald Glover (AKA Childish Gambino)
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Donald Glover was already working as a writer for 30 Rock when he auditioned for SNL in 2008. He heard that the program was looking for someone to play the newly-elected Barak Obama. Kenan Thompson was the only black cast member at the time, but Fred Armisen ended up playing Obama until Jay Pharoah joined the cast.
Although Glover never made it onto SNL, he had an awesome role in Community, branched out into music with his alter-ego Childish Gambino, and now has his own hit show, Atlanta.
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The casting team at SNL just didn’t get Aubrey Plaza’s whole… thing. Luckily for us, former SNL cast member Amy Poehler saw Plaza’s potential. She got the role of April Ludgate on Parks and Recreation immediately after she bombed at SNL.
Now Aubrey’s starred in a bunch of indie movies, and audiences are in love with her particular brand of deadpan comedy.
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Back in 1990, Lorne Michaels flew out to L.A. to see Lisa Kudrow and Julia Sweeney live at the Groundlings. Kudrow didn’t like competing against a fellow Groundling. She said she was a little “off” that night and she wasn’t ready for that kind of attention.
She got cast on Friends a little while later, and the rest is history.
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I’m actually ok with the fact that Nick Kroll never made it onto SNL. He auditioned for the show back in 2008, but was passed over for some other actors who were hired that year (Bobby Moynihan and Abby Elliott).
If Kroll had gotten cast, he may never have made The Kroll Show, which is a comedic masterpiece. I think it’s even better than SNL, but that’s just my humble opinion.
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Kathy Griffin was a Groundling at the same time as Lisa Kudrow and Julia Sweeney. According to Griffin, Sweeney crushed her SNL audition and totally deserved the spot.
Nobody can say that Kathy’s had the smoothest career, but she’s certainly had an eventful one. She’s even won a few Emmy’s.
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Stephen Colbert auditioned for Saturday Night Live back in 1992, but he failed to impress the producers. However, Colbert did catch the attention of one SNL writer who managed to get him a writing job on The Dana Carvey Show.
Turns out, Stephen Colbert was made for late night after all. Now he has his own show and tons of loyal fans.
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We know and love Jack McBrayer as Kenneth on 30 Rock, but in July of 2001, our favorite page decided to audition for SNL. He auditioned at the same time as Seth Meyers. Seth made it in, and McBrayer didn’t.
Since 2001, Jack has seen his own share of success, and he’s been able to work with a bunch of former SNL cast members.
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I don’t know what the SNL casting directors were thinking when they passed on John Goodman. They obviously realized their mistake because Goodman has hosted SNL 14 times, and he returned to the SNL stage as a guest star this past season.
This guy is iconic. He’s a Coen Brothers staple. He’s Sully from Monsters Inc. But he was never an official SNL cast member.
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I think Zach Galifianakis would have been great on SNL. Sadly, that didn’t quite work out. Zach was made for bigger and better things.
When he auditioned in 1999, his stand-up act was a little ahead of its time. Zach’s career blossomed after The Hangover, and now he stars on the FX show Baskets.
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Jordan Peele auditioned for SNL back in 2008. Peele was a cast member on MADtv, SNL’s rival sketch show, from 2003 to 2005.
When he didn’t get SNL, he teamed up with his former MADtv castmate Keegan Michael Key, and the two of them created the Key and Peele Show. Now Jordan has an Oscar for his movie, Get Out, so take that SNL.
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Kumail Nanjiani was killing it at stand-up before he ever starred on HBO’s Silicon Valley. He auditioned for SNL in 2012. Lorne Michaels produced Portlandia, and knew Kumail from his work on that show.
Ultimately Lorne decided that Kumail wasn’t right for SNL. Kumail was right for pretty much everything else though. He co-wrote and starred in his own Oscar nominated movie, The Big Sick.
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Kevin Hart somehow turned a lively stand-up act into a lucrative comedy career. It seems like Kevin Hart would be perfect for SNL, but producers didn’t see it that way.
For his official SNL audition, Hart did an impression of NBA coach Avery Johnson. Later, when Hart returned to SNL as a host, he said, “I found out that white people didn’t know who Avery Johnson is.”
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Jim Carrey auditioned for SNL twice, in 1980 and 1985. He ran through a whole bunch of crazy characters for his audions but failed to wow producers both times.
Audiences understood Jim Carrey’s unique brand of butt-talking humor, and they embraced his antics in films like The Mask and Ace Ventura.
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Marc Maron has spoken about his SNL audition extensively on his podcast, WTF. He still believes that choosing a Jolly Rancher from a candy dish contributed to his fate as an SNL reject.
Maron kept on keeping on. He worked on his stand-up act, started a podcast, and eventually got his own show. Now he’s killing it on the Netflix original series Glow alongside Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin.
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T.J. Miller brought beer and snacks to his audition to share with fellow SNL hopefuls. He auditioned in 2008, and he said that the atmosphere was so competitive and tense that when he offered people a beer, they just stared at him.
Miller’s career has had some ups and downs, but that’s to be expected given his off-the-wall personality.
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Back in 1980, Paul Reubens auditioned for SNL. Thing is, so did Gilbert Gotfried. Gilbert got the role and Reubens wasn’t too happy about it. He decided to work on something that would be even more iconic than SNL.
He raised some money and created The Pee-Wee Herman Show. He won several Emmy’s for his work as Pee-Wee and became a cultural phenomenon.
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Dane Cook auditioned for SNL in 2002, the same year that Will Forte got cast. Honestly, I would have chosen Forte over Cook too.
I’m still not sure why this guy is so popular, but I guess some people like him. Lorne Michaels probably knew what he was doing with this one.
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After David Cross bombed during his SNL audition, he and Bob Odenkirk teamed up to create Mr. Show, a whole new form of sketch comedy.
Despite being an SNL reject, Cross has gone on to work on several hugely successful projects, including Arrested Development and a whole bunch of voice acting roles. Tobias Funke was just too cool for SNL.