For half of the 1990s, Saturday Night Live was propped up by one of the strongest yet most turbulent creative groups in the show’s long and illustrious history.
Between 1990 and 1995, the now-iconic show would usher in a new decade with a host of new talent, the likes of Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, David Spade, Chris Rock and more were shoehorned in to revamp the show and take the comedy into a bold new direction.
While the 1990s began with vigour and creativity, by 1995 personal tensions and faltering ratings would see the once prolific group of comedians looking tired, disinterested and, at times, a little bored. While longtime producer Lorne Michaels attempted to put a brave face on the situation, it was rumoured that even his job was on the line if results didn’t improve.
With ratings plummeting a terrifying 19 per cent, the wage bill of the production staff and talent was soaring through the roof. Backed into a corner and in need of tough decisions, Michaels decided to bring in a host of new talent which included the likes of Will Ferrell and Darrell Hammond. However, in reaction to that, big names were shown the door with Adam Sandler and Chris Farley at the top of the list.
Sandler, with a budding career in Hollywood waiting in the wings, continued to play down the true reason he left SNL in the years that followed. “See, I don’t even know if I was fired,” he said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. “I don’t know how it was handled. I just remember feeling like, ‘Did I quit, or did I get fired? I have no idea.’ But all of a sudden I wasn’t on the show anymore.”
Sticking to the plan, Sandler would later explain to The Daily Beast that he “kind of quit at the same time as being fired,” before adding: “We were on it for a few years, had our run, and everything happens for a reason,” he said. “We kind of understood because we did our thing. It hurt a lot at the time because we were young and didn’t know where we were going, but it all worked out.”
However, the situation with SNL and the somewhat mysterious circumstances around his departure was one that left a void in Sandler’s life for a number of reasons. After committing so much time and effort to the project, and working alongside his closest friends, the relationship between show producers and Sandler had brought out the ugliest side to his personality, and it began to show in his output.
Furthermore, and certainly more poignantly, Sandler’s closest friend on the planet, Chris Farley, would spiral into a chaotic life away from SNL, one that would ultimately result in his death after a four-day bender culminated in a drug overdose. In fact, it was Farley who broke the news to Sandler that the duo had been fired from the show two years prior. After being told to “look for something else to do” by his management, to which Sandler reportedly replied “I like it here,” Farley bursts in the room and states: “We’re getting fired.”
Sandler would famously return to Saturday Night Live an astonishing 24 years after he was let go, this time to host the show in what was an emotionally charged opening of old wounds. Given time to reflect on past mistakes, Sandler began to revisit the real reason in which he parted ways with his big break: “At the time, I was hurt because I didn’t know what else I was going to do,” Sandler said on reflection while speaking to The Howard Stern Show. “I know it wasn’t Lorne [Michaels’] ‘s decision. The NBC head dude, I know he didn’t like our gang.”
Detailing the moment he found out of his firing in more detail, Sandler continued: “He was talking to me, and I said ‘Yeah, next year on the show, blah blah blah.’ And he was like, ‘Maybe you don’t go back next year.’ And I was like ‘I don’t know man. I still got a few more things.’ He’s like ‘Yeah, but you did it already.’ I was like ‘I did, but you know… I’ll think about it,’ and he was like ‘I think you thought about it.'”
Sandler added that walking out of the studio “put a lump in my throat”.
He continued: “I was probably sad, covering up the sadness up with being mad, saying ‘yeah fuck you.’ But I remember when I saw Farley, and he said ‘Me too, they don’t want me either,’ we were both like ‘fuck this shit.’ We got mad together, pretended we weren’t sad, pretended this was for the best.
“I am fucking old enough now. I realise what ‘Saturday Night Live’ did for me… Everything turned out great.” Looking back, Sandler added: “Maybe I would’ve never left because I’m not good at saying goodbye. They had to get rid of me somehow.”
Sandler, walking back onto the stage in Studio 8H for his return in 2019 would masterfully mix his classic stand up comedy gems with moments of true sincerity, none more so then when he paid tribute to his late friend Farley: “He was a tour-de-force on the show and dominated,” Sandler said. “He could dominate anybody. There’s nobody that can walk into a room and take over better than Farley, I haven’t seen anyone since he’s gone that’s taken that spot. He’s the strongest presence I’ve ever seen.”
With the heartfelt emotion etched across his face for all to see, Sandler moved away from the topic to comically sing a song about his firing: “I was fired, I was fired,” he says. “NBC said that I was done. Then I made over 4 billion dollars at the box office, so I guess you could say I won.”