Saturday Night Live has become a television institution, launching the careers of some of the biggest stars in comedy. SNL smartly combines high-brow, socio-political commentary with base, sometimes even crude, humor, pulling it together and presenting it in a way that is both wholly accessible and hilariously funny. In honor of the show’s 36 years, here are 36 little-known facts about SNL.
1. SNL wasn’t the first SNL. Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell first aired on ABC in 1975. Originally titled Saturday Night, Saturday Night Live’s naming of its famous “Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Players” was a direct shot at the Cosell variety show’s cast who were known as the “Prime Time Players.”
2. Don Pardo has been SNL’s announcer since the first episode on October 11, 1975 with the exception of the notoriously ill-fated 1981-1982 season, which was announced by Mel Brandt. In 2004, Pardo officially retired from NBC and moved to Arizona. However, he continued to be the voice of SNL, flying from Arizona to New York each week. In 2009, at age 90, Pardo announced he would record all of the shows from his home studio in Arizona.
3. Before The Muppet Show launched in 1976, Jim Henson had a featured segment on SNL called "The Land of Gorch."
4. The 1982-1983 season was the only season not to feature the customary “Live, from New York, it’s Saturday night” opening.
5. Paul Shaffer, bandleader for David Letterman, began in the SNL house band before becoming a featured player for just 13 episodes. He returned as a guest host in 1987, making him the only house band member to ever host the show.
6. Randy Quaid is the only cast member to be nominated for an acting Academy Award before joining the show.
7. In 1984, Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld and star of Curb Your Enthusiasm, was hired as a writer; however, only one sketch he wrote ever made it to air.
8. Many famous actors have unsuccessfully auditioned for the show. In 1990, Friends star Lisa Kudrow lost a spot to Julia Sweeney while Dane Cook lost out to Will Forte in 2002.
9. There have been three sets of brothers who were cast members: Jim and John Belushi, Bill Murray and Brian Doyle-Murray and Dan and Peter Aykroyd.
10. Cold air is pumped into the SNL studios, as studies show audiences are less likely to laugh when they are physically comfortable.
11. After unsuccessfully auditioning for the show early in his career, John Goodman went on to host the show at least once a year for 11 years in a row.
12. Some of the biggest stars have had some of the shortest careers on the show – Robert Downey, Jr., Sarah Silverman and Janeane Garofalo all lasted just one season while Ben Stiller quit the show after just four episodes.
13. Eddie Murphy was the only SNL cast member to host the show while still a member of its principal cast. When scheduled host Nick Nolte was too ill to make it to rehearsals, Murphy took over, much to the chagrin of fellow cast members who already felt as if he was taking over the show.
14. The show has had only four directors in its history: Dave Wilson, Paul Miller, Beth McCarthy-Miller and Don Roy King.
15. Despite the show's live nature, some opening monologues were not truly "live." Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison and Andrew Dice Clay were all required to have a five-second delay to allow censors time to bleep any expletives.
16. Conan O’Brien appeared uncredited in many sketches from 1988 to 1991 while he was a writer for SNL.
17. Drew Barrymore holds the record as youngest guest host, having been just 7 years, 271 days old the first time she hosted the show. Betty White is the oldest guest host, clocking in at 88 years, 111 days old at the time of her first gig.
18. Anthony Michael Hall was just 17 years old when he joined the cast, making him the youngest cast member in the show’s history while Michael McKean was the oldest, joining the cast at age 46. McKean also holds the distinction of being the only SNL cast member to host and be a musical guest before becoming a cast member.
19. Jack Handey is an actual person. “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey” initially appeared as a column in National Lampoon in 1984 before being introduced as a filler sketch on the show in 1991.
20. While Chevy Chase has hosted the show more times than any other alumni, he has been banned from the show since his last hosting gig in February 1997 due to ongoing verbally abusive behavior toward cast and crew members.
21. Other banned artists include Adrien Brody, Martin Lawrence, Steven Seagal and, most famously, Sinéad O'Connor.
22. Tim Meadows and Chris Parnell are the only cast members to be fired and then rehired the following season.
Darrell Hammond holds the record as longest tenured cast member (14 seasons), as well as the record for number of times saying "Live, from New York, it's Saturday night!" (69 times).
24. The shortest tenure on the show goes to Emily Prager who, despite being credited, never appeared on a single episode of the show.
25. In 1995, married actors Steve Carell and Nancy (Walls) Carell auditioned for the show. While Walls secured a spot as a featured player, Carell was passed over for his future Anchorman co-star Will Ferrell.
26. Tickets to SNL are notoriously difficult to obtain with random drawings being held each summer. However, if you do win, don’t expect to be sitting front and center. Floor seats are reserved for friends and family of the host, cast, crew and musical guest. Ticket winners sit in the balcony.
27. However, the balcony seats have an interesting history to them. They are actually on loan from Yankee Stadium. George Steinbrenner initially loaned the show the chairs in 1975 under the assumption that the show wouldn’t remain on air that long. Since then, NBC has had to pay annual fines to the city of New York to keep them. The bright yellow seats remain intact and original to the studio to keep the tradition and abide any superstition.
28. Tina Fey was the first, and only, female head writer in the show's history.
29. Will Ferrell became the highest-paid cast member in SNL history in 2001, earning $350,000 for the 2001-2002 season.
30.Although SNL’s lead makeup artist, Josh Turi, often only has minutes to create elaborate works, an actor has never once missed his or her mark on Turi’s watch.
31. Rob Riggle, Jr. was the only U.S. Marine Corps member to be cast on SNL. He is now the third former SNL cast member to become a correspondent on The Daily Show joining A. Whitney Brown and Nancy (Walls) Carell.
32. In 2003, Kenan Thompson became the first cast member who was born after the show premiered in 1975.
33. During the writer’s strike in November 2007, Arrested Development and Superbad star Michael Cera hosted a live version of the show – without cameras – at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. Proceeds from the show went to benefit crewmembers that were laid off due to the two-week strike.
34. In 2008, Abby Elliot, daughter of former cast member Chris Elliot, became the first second-generation player.
35. The most recent cast member added to the lineup, Taran Killam, was previously the youngest cast member in history on rival late-night sketch comedy show MADtv, joining that show’s cast at just 19. Now 28, he is only the second cast member to make the jump from MADtv to SNL, the first being Jeff Richards.
36. As of today, all of the main cast members of the television show Friends have guest hosted, except Matt LeBlanc.