From Adrien Brody to Frank Zappa: Every star that has been banned from Saturday Night Live
Saturday Night Live, the now-iconic late-night live television sketch comedy and variety show, has been running prolifically each week since it was launched by Lorne Michaels in 1975.
Having triumphed some of the most legendary comedians over the years, SNL has had a long tradition of welcoming a wide range of eclectic musical artists, actors and television personalities to arguably the most high-profile stage in television. While some have hosted and others have taken special guest spots, all of the names on our list have ended up on the SNL ‘no-fly’ list and have all been banned from the show.
It’s a long list which sees some big names came under fire from the wrath of the notoriously strict Lorne Michaels. While not all of the names on the list remained banned from the show it was often the case that if you crossed Michaels then chances you’d ever grace Studio 8H again were slim to none.
The reasons for the stars being banned range from violent performances, smoking weed on stage and behind the scenes insults to being just plain old boring but whether you agree with them or not, it’s fair to say upset Lorne Michaels at your peril.
Adrien Brody, the critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning actor who achieved recognition in 2002 after starring in Roman Polanski’s film The Pianist, has his name etched in the annals of the film industry for eternity. His ‘Best Actor’ Oscar made him the youngest actor to win in the accolade, a celebration of a quite spectacular performance which established Brody as a Hollywood superstar who very rarely misjudges a cinematic opportunity. However, in the world of television, the actor has had less success.
Brody’s first foray into the world of TV fell awkwardly flat. The actor was booked to host Saturday Night Live on May 10, 2003, and would make the crucial mistake of taking to the stage in an improvised skit which was later criticised as racially offensive.
Going against all the pre-planning and preparation, Brody went off-script and walked on stage to present his intro wearing faux dreadlocks and began to don a Jamaican accent in reference to the fact that the show were planning to welcome Jamaican reggae musical guest Sean Paul to perform. “Ya, ya, ya, ya, you know, man. We got original rude boy Sean Paul here,” Brody begins to say as the crowd falls silent.
He continues: “Respect all respect. My auntie. Respect all aspect, respect me neck, respect me knees, Big up Jamaica massive! Big up Kingston Massive! We got the whole family now, ya here! Big respect to my man Sean Paul the dance floor killer!” The skit, which has largely been removed from the internet despite the short clip below, lasts less than a minute but, in truth, trying to watch it feels like a lifetime.
Rage Against The Machine
Notorious hell raisers Rage Against The Machine were another strange choice for the clean-cut nature of Saturday Night Live so when the group were invited to the mainstream TV show on April 13th, 1996, eyebrows were raised by the loyal fans of both camps.
The programme tried to remain apolitical as much as possible when it came to its musical performances which, all things considered, made the decision to recruit Rage Against The Machine even more baffling. To make things even worse, the show was hosted by Steve Forbes, the two-time Republican presidential candidate and billionaire who epitomises everything Rage detest.
According to guitarist Tom Morello: “RATM wanted to stand in sharp juxtaposition to a billionaire telling jokes and promoting his flat tax by making our own statement.” The band made their statement by hanging American flags upside down from their amplifiers as the took the stage to perform ‘Bulls on Parade’. While it may feel a little tame by the band’s standards, it was enough to enrage the patriotic producers and stagehands were sent in to remove the flags. After the flags were pulled, almost instantaneously, the first performance of the evening concluded officials approached RATM and ordered them to immediately leave the building.
Upon hearing of their expulsion from the building, bassist Tim Commerford stormed Forbes’ dressing room throwing bits of the recently torn flag as he went. Morello said that members of the SNL team “expressed solidarity with our actions, and a sense of shame that their show had censored the performance.” Ever since this incident, Rage Against The Machine have not appeared on Saturday Night Live again and who knows if they will ever return.
Often known for his somewhat erratic behaviour, Lawrence was handed the opportunity to host the show in 1994 and, as is customary, began his opening monologue. However, after days of rehearsals, Lawrence decided to go completely off script on the big occasion—producing controversial comments which were criticised as “grotesque” by some those who witnessed it.
Opening up with a serious discussion about the story of Lorena Bobbitt cutting off her husband’s penis, which included several jokes that already pushed the boundaries of SNL’s strict rules, Lawrence descended into a bizarre tirade about the female’s private parts and the personal hygiene of women. The comments, in which the footage of has been completely removed from existence, resulted in over 200 complaints and, according to some reports, caused protests from several SNL sponsors and resulted in being Martin Lawrence permanently banned from the show.
While SNL have since released clips of Lawrence’s monologue—which you can find below—the show has decided to completely remove the comedian’s comments about female hygiene. The full transcript can be found here but we’d suggest that the few lines including, “Um… some of you are not washing your ass properly,” which is how he begins the monologue before saying, “I’m watching douche commercials on television, and I’m wondering if some of you are reading the instructions. I don’t think so. Y’know, ’cause I’m getting with some of the ladies, smelling odours, going ‘Wait a minute’. Girl, smell this! This you! Smell yourself, girl.”
“Smell yourself! I tell a woman in a minute, douche! Douche! Some women don’t like it when you tell them that, when you straightforward with them. ‘Douche!”
It doesn’t get much better form there as the crowd pulls back from the conversation Lawrence is now having with himself, “I’m sorry, y’all. You got to wash properly. You know, and then, you know, ’cause I’m a man, I like to kiss on women, you know, I like to kiss all over their bodies, you know. But if you’re not clean in your proper areas I can’t.”
There’s lot of reasons that people have been banned from SNL but, in 1992, Sinéad O’Connor did it with a picture of the pope.
Taking to the Studio 8H stage, the camera panned to O’Connor who, staring directly down the barrel, delivered an a cappella rendition of Bob Marley song ‘War’. The track choice was a poignant one and was delivered as an attempt to protest against sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church. It was intended to flip Marley’s original war on racism and train its crosshairs on child abuse.
O’Connor, who started to sing the lyrics: “We have confidence in good over evil,” the singer held up a photograph of Pope John Paul II to the camera at the very moment she sang the word “evil” and with a flash of intensity began tearing it up in pieces, throwing them at the camera and stating: “Fight the real enemy”. Apparently, the photo was one that had been situated on her own mother’s wall since 1978.
SNL had no idea about the stunt O’Connor was planning and, during rehearsals, she instead held up up an image of a refugee child. Following the sudden switch, NBC Vice-President of Late Night, Rick Ludwin stated that after seeing the religious protest from the singer he “literally jumped out of [his] chair”, the crew scrambled while the production team contemplated cutting the feed.
O’Connor has often discussed her actions in the years that followed, the singer then later explained that the plan was inspired by Bob Geldof: “When the Boomtown Rats went to No. 1 in England with Rat Trap, [Bob] Geldof went on Top of the Pops and ripped up a photo of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, who had been No. 1 for weeks and weeks before,” she told Hot Press. “And I thought, ‘Yeah, fuck! What if someone ripped up a picture of the pope?’ Half of me was just like: ‘Jesus, I’d love to just see what’d happen.’”
“It’s not the man, obviously—it’s the office and the symbol of the organisation that he represents,” she said in an interview with Time. “In Ireland, we see our people are manifesting the highest incidence in Europe of child abuse. This is a direct result of the fact that they’re not in contact with their history as Irish people and the fact that in the schools, the priests have been beating the shit out of the children for years and sexually abusing them. This is the example that’s been set for the people of Ireland. They have been controlled by the church, the very people who authorised what was done to them, who gave permission for what was done to them.”
Cypress Hill, the now-iconic Californian hip-hop group, hit the headlines in 1993 when DJ Muggs smoked a joint during the live broadcast. Now, in reflection, Muggs’ actions hold less levity. But in 1993, when weed was still illegal in the state, Cypress Hill managed to cause quite the stir.
“Well, there’s a lot of stories behind why Muggs lit that joint,” Sen Dog later told Village Voice. “I remember Saturday Night Live gave us a green room and said, ‘Do whatever you want in here, just don’t light up out of here’. Muggs felt like he needed to make a statement with his performance. It wasn’t just the Saturday Night Live people saying he couldn’t smoke up on air. It was everyone: our record label, our management, our friends. I felt like, to me, Muggs wanted to make that statement.
“He asked me to light the joint up on stage, and I said, ‘I’m not doing that, man’. Before we did that second song, we agreed that we weren’t going to light up nothing. If you look, I was surprised that he did that. People loved it—people at the show loved it, because at the after-party they said, ‘That was so cool’. But when the hammer swung and we were banned from Saturday Night Live forever, we understood how serious it was. And understandably so — the world wasn’t ready for anything near that at that time. If he did it now, I don’t know what kind of backlash he’d have, but in the early ’90s, it earned us a kick in the ass from Saturday Night Live, and I haven’t seen that episode in reruns. It would have been cool to do Saturday Night Live again, but me personally, I didn’t think it was a great thing to do for our first time on SNL, but we paid the price and we moved on.”
Not a compromising figure, the star of In Cold Blood Robert Blake would take his role as host very seriously. Arriving in 1982 ready to command his role as host, Blake set about abusing almost all of the cast members.
SNL writer David Sheffiled remembered the disastrous moments: “My vote for worst host is Robert Blake. He was sitting in a room and a sketch was handed to him by Gary Kroeger, who was a writer-actor – a sketch called ‘Breezy Philosopher,’ a one-premise sketch about a lofty teacher who’s kind of a biker tough guy, talking about Kierkegaard. Students kept asking questions while he combed his hair, and he’d say, ‘Hey, I don’t know.'”
“Blake sat there and read that, with his glasses down his nose, then wadded it up, turned to Kroeger, and said, ‘I hope you got a tough asshole, pal, ‘cause you’re going to have to wipe your ass with that one.’ And he threw it and bounced it off Gary’s face.”
Naturally, with such an attitude, Blake was never invited to return to the show.
You know when you’re really excited for a birthday party when you’re a kid and as soon as you arrive you chow down on cake and fizzy drinks until you inevitably spew? That’s kind of what happened to The Replacements on their appearance on SNL.
The previous year saw the band attempt to move from the underground scene into the mainstream as they released their major-label debut, Tim, and hired an established New York management company called High Noon. The cleaning up of their image came at a time when guitarist Bob Stinson’s drug and mental health issues were spiralling out of control and internal tensions were ripping the band apart.
The Replacements arrived as a last-minute guest, replacing scheduled act, the Pointer Sisters, who had been forced to cancel just days before the show. But their catastrophic show would see SNL producer Lorne Michaels banning them from ever returning to 30 Rock. The band performed ‘Kiss Me on the Bus’ whilst being completely out of their face then played ‘Bastards of Young‘—completely out-of-tune—during which frontman Paul Westerberg yells out: “Come on fucker” which, as you can probably imagine, didn’t go down well with NBC bosses.
In a 2015 interview recorded for the Archive of American Television, G. E. Smith recalled that although the band had performed well for the early evening pre-taped dress rehearsal performance, one of their crew then smuggled alcohol into their dressing room and they spent the next few hours drinking with the guest host, Harry Dean Stanton while taking drugs.
According to Smith, by the time of the late-night live broadcast they were so intoxicated that on their way to the stage to perform, Bob Stinson tripped in the corridor, fell over onto his guitar and broke it—a fumble that led to Smith to hurriedly loan him one of the SNL house band’s spare instruments. The Replacements would eventually return to NBC in 2014 when they appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon almost 30 years on from that fateful night in 1986.
A recurring theme on this list is that of a bad attitude. The facts are that if your arrive to 30 Rock without your attitude aligned and tuned into the kind of show the cast were making, you were going to fall foul of their expectations and, in turn, Michaels’ temper.
That’s exactly what happened to martial artist turned action-movie star Steven Seagal in 1991 when he appeared as a guest host on the show. Not necessarily known for his affable nature, Seagal struggled to make sketches work with a rather wooden persona. He not only flattened some lines but his ideas on how to make them better were distinctly unfunny.
“He just wasn’t funny and he was very critical of the cast and the writing staff,” former cast member Tim Meadows later recalled. “He didn’t realize that you can’t tell somebody they’re stupid on Wednesday and expect them to continue writing for you on Saturday.”
Looking back, we’re not sure we can think of anybody worse to host a show than Seagal. Bring down an entire terrorist organisation that all happen to be in a building susceptible to a hefty karate chop? Yes. Host SNL? Not a chance.
In the storied career of Andy Kauffman, there is one title which he holds that no other comedian, musician, actor or otherwise has ever held in connection to Saturday Night Live. He is the only star to have ever been banned from the show by the audience at home.
Kauffman had been a long standing feature artist for the show and had been a part of as many as nine different episodes in his career since the show began in 1975. But, in 1983, the show held a poll to determine whether or not Kauffman was allowed to make more appearances on the show. The votes came in and Kauffman lost out.
The vote, split between “Dump Andy” and “Keep Andy”, saw a mammoth amount of entries and the ballots split 195,544 to 169.186 respectively. The show, never a series to avoid public demand, bowed to the votes and Kauffman never returned to the show.
Sadly, there wouldn’t have been many opportunities to overthrow this as Kauffman died of lung cancer a year later.
While starring in a documentary about the L.A. punks Fear, frontman Ving caught the attention of comedian, actor, singer and all-round SNL legend John Belushi who became fascinated by Fear. After becoming so enamoured by the band, Belushi went out of his way to see the group perform live multiple times in varying different dive bars before ultimately reaching out with a collaboration proposal.
After striking up a dialogue between the band, Belushi brought them to Cherokee Studios to record songs for a movie he was working on with the hope that the film’s closing credits would be soundtracked by Fear. However, the producers decided against using the group. Wanting to make it up to Fear, who had now become his friends, Belushi decided to pull some strings behind the scenes on SNL for their Halloween special which ended up being total carnage.
What ensued was total chaos. Upon entering the stage, boos rang around immediately as the New York natives who took offence to the band opening up with the words, “It’s great to be in New Jersey” which didn’t go down well. Undeterred, Fear played three songs: ‘I Don’t Care About You’, ‘Beef Bologna’, ‘New York’s Alright If You Like Saxophones’, before a member of the mosh pit screamed into the microphone: “New York Sucks!” which resulted in their fourth song, ‘Let’s Have a War’ being pulled from the broadcast.
Later, a report in the New York Post would go on to claim that Fear caused $200,000 worth of damage to the SNL studio that night, destroying the green room, a mini-cam camera, two viewers and a viewing room. Unsurprisingly, the band were never invited back on to the programme but their performance lives down in punk folklore.
One thing you make sure you don’t do when working with Saturday Night Live is to arrive with needed airs and graces but you should still show some respect, even if you are acclaimed TV legend, Milton Berle.
When Berle arrived on set in 1979 he wasn’t beyond letting everybody within earshot just what a big deal he was, in fact, he went as far as to even pitch jokes and skits to the acclaimed comedy show with the preface of “Now this might be over your heads.”
It was enough to provoke the cast to turn on Berle but they were still professionals and keen to see the project out. But when Berle got on stage, thingsgot worse as he repeatedly lost the cameras, plugged his own autobiography and insured that a member of his team lead a standing ovation for the star.
He never returned to the show.
Charles Grodin may well be an acclaimed actor but in the wacky halls of SNL, that fact doesn’t carry much weight. Performing with such an impressive cast as SNL had in 1977 meant you had to come with A-game, something Gordin could barely be bothered to do.
The star of Rosemary’s Baby, Grodin regularly skipped rehearsals for the show and even tried to ad-lib lines after arriving late—both huge mistakes in the world of Saturday Night Live.
But perhaps his biggest mistake was not assimilating himself with the riotous cast, namely John Belushi who said the biggest problem with Grodin was that “He doesn’t smoke dope,” confirming, “He’s not one of us.”
In 1977, Elvis Costello released his debut album My Aim Is True and not only earned a name for himself in Great Britain, but also a growing fanbase over in America. However, he wasn’t a superstar by any stretch of the imagination so an opportunity to catapult his career Stateside was one that Costello needed to grab with both hands.
The young upstart had never even toured in America and was relatively unknown to the masses before his appearance. However, with a slice of fortune, he would find himself in the most coveted slot in television and this was his chance to become a household name overnight. After Sex Pistols pulled out, he was drafted in at the last minute and was performing to tens of millions on primetime American television.
Costello, his label and the show’s producers had agreed prior to the live show that band would perform their catchy single ‘Less Than Zero’, a track which was written about disgraced British politician Oswald Mosley who, at the time, was the former leader of the British Union of Fascists. However, as the lights of the famous studio glared down upon him, Costello wouldn’t miss his opportunity. While it certainly was considered the band’s biggest opportunity to date, Costello put a stop to the performance mid-intro, yelling: “Stop! Stop!” in the direction of his band. “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen,” he added, “but there’s no reason to do this song here.”
Instead, Costello and his band rolled into a performance of the song ‘Radio Radio’ which, controversially, includes lyrics that criticised the commercialisation of the airwaves in both television and radio as well as pointed the finger at corporate-controlled broadcasting.
This move angered Michaels who was beside himself with rage with some reports stating that Michaels stood with his middle finger raised at the singer during the entire performance. Costello’s punk spirit that was front and centre of his performance endeared himself to the American audience even if Micheals wasn’t a fan, it would take 12 years before he would lift the ban and eventually invite Costello back.
It didn’t take Louise Lasser long to get her name on this list and was promptly banned from the show as she hosted the penultimate episode of the first season in 1976. The ex-wife of Woody Allen, Lasser’s features in his earlier films couldn’t save her from the quick temper of Michaels.
It may have been this temper or the fear of it that kept Lasser from completing any of her duties as a guest host—but more likely it was the impending pressure of a mammoth audience at home that shocked her. She never really got around to standing in front of the camera after she locked herself in her dressing room before the show could begin.
The rest of the cast were forced to pick up the scenes and roles they had planned for Lasser until she finally agreed to come out and perform. Even when she did she only completed one sketch with a cast member, Chevy Chase. It’s a painful viewing made even worse by the knowledge of her off-stage struggles.
#OnThisDay, in 1976, SNL tried an experiment by airing two summer episodes. The first was hosted by Louise Lasser, who’s real life breakdowns and erratic behavior became the basis for her bizarre monologue. She chose to mostly perform in sketches opposite Chevy…or a dog. pic.twitter.com/DlozYwKrJ5
David Bowie, not one to be ordered around, was once banned from performing on Saturday Night Live after an act of defiance resulted in him being escorted off the premises. After planning to do a number of comedy sketches and performances, Bowie’s rocky relationship with executive producer Lorne Michaels ended in a three-year ban for the Starman who couldn’t resist taking a swipe at his old friend.
“The gist was that I was somehow roped into a low budget telly advert for a Brooklyn bakery,” Bowie later explained. “They wanted me to sing about their pastries or what have you. One of the things they came up with was a version of my song, ‘Watch That Man’. But instead, in the chorus, I would sing, ‘Try our flan’.”
While signing off on the humorous lyrical adjustment, Bowie had an issue with how the producers wanted him to pronounce the word “flan” which sparked a troublesome back and forth which developed into numerous different issues through the week’s planning. “David is a man of the world,” producer Lorne Michaels would later say of the issue. “He’s seen it all. And he takes food very seriously. I get that. But when you are running a big, live production like we are, last second changes can be complicated.”
David Bowie is not about to let somebody tell him what to do creatively and, knowing of the tensions between him and the producer, hatched a last-minute plan of his own. “I was scheduled to perform a single from my ‘Earthling’ album called ‘Telling Lies’,” Bowie explained. “Just before the band took the stage I decided to take the piss out of Lorne a bit because I knew he wasn’t happy with me.” Instead of playing ‘Telling Lies’, Bowie instructed his band to perform 1981 effort ‘Scary Monsters’.
Bowie who, at the time, knew how much Lorne Michaels had grown “terrified” of the song because of his past life issues. “We got to talking about this and that at dinner one night and Lorne’s SNL hiatus in the early ’80s came up,” Bowie explained.
“He [Lorne] told me how it was the darkest period of his life and he described how much cocaine he did while listening to my ‘Scary Monsters’ album. Just mountains and mountains of the stuff. Sometimes straight off the record sleeve. Those were his words. I want that to be clear about that.”
Michaels, clearly furious about Bowie’s surprise move, took immediate action and had security escort him and his band off the premises immediately. “They didn’t waste any time,” he explained. “The real shame of it was there was a lovely fruit basket in my dressing room that I wanted to take back to my hotel. I obviously didn’t get to. I was very sore about that. Still am, to tell you the truth.”
“We’re mates,” Bowie explained about why he was allowed to return and describing his relationship with Michaels. “We have been since the ’70s. He knows now that I was just trying to get a rise out of him. Maybe I could have done it less, I don’t know, showy. But the air has been cleared, obviously.”
System of a Down
Let’s be honest, booking System of a Down for Saturday Night Live was always going to be a gamble. Then again, Johnny Knoxville was scheduled to host so the whole event was shrouded in an air of anxiety for the producers.
The band, already refusing to perform an edited version of their song B.Y.O.B., had sensors on high alert. The track, which is actually entitled ‘Bring Your Own Bombs’, was written in protest against the Iraq War and was already heavily leaning on the stringent rules set out by SNL. With the show operating on a five-second delay, NBC censorship was able to bleep out the word ‘fuck’ five times as the band ran through their usual lyrics which proudly belt out: “Where the fuck are you?”
However, the idea of being held back did not sit well with System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian. With production staff breathing a sigh of relief after making it through the majority of the song without a single swear word making it onto the air, Malakian turned to the microphone and proudly shouted “fuck yeah” in protest.
Ah well, you tried your best SNL.
In truth, Frank Zappa’s addition to this list is nothing more than a little bit sad. The mercurial talent, the pioneer of counterculture and experimental free-form improvisation, fell flat on his face after being invited onto Saturday Night Live for the October 21, 1978 episode.
Welcomed to the show as the featured musical guest, Zappa also took up hosting duties in what can only be described as a cringe worthy scenario. Looking like a fish-out-of-water, Zappa struggled to interact with the production staff of SNL prior to the show. In fact, the musician seemingly made it his overall goal to avoid contact with anybody associated with the show in the build up to his big moment. Unsure how to conform to SNL’s strict guidelines, Zappa decided the best approach for him to take on the biggest stage was one of nonconformity — a stance that goes in line with his prolific career of avoiding the mainstream.
Kicking things off, Zappa starts the show by reminding the audience to “keep in mind” that he is reading off of cue cards and, from there, continued to hammer home the fact that he is not taking the position as host of the show with any sincerity. While it may have been an attempt at ironic humour, Zappa’s efforts fell flat across all aspects.
His refusal to make an effort with SNL staff in the week of rehearsal prior to the recording would go on to become a major downfall. While some of the specific details of what happened behind the scenes have yet to surface, a number of cast members eventually refused to take part during the “goodnight” segment at the end of the show in protest of Zappa’s role.
The eventual line from SNL was that Zappa was banned after doing a “disastrous job of hosting the show” 1978.