Weird Facts About Saturday Night Live

With 42 seasons and counting under its belt, Saturday Night Live is a television institution. But things haven't always been smooth sailing. Throughout the show's iconic run there have been plenty of bizarre sketches, odd missteps, backstage shenanigans and other colorful moments. Join us as we explore the weirder corners of Studio 8H.

Milton Berle was banned after his awkward episode

When Milton Berle hosted SNL in April of 1979, it was seen as comedy's old guard passing the torch to the new class. But "Uncle Miltie" was famous for his tendency to upstage other performers, something which didn't exactly ingratiate the randy comedian with the Not Ready for Primetime Players.

Berle's episode proved to be one of the most notoriously awful in SNL history, with the comic's Catskills-honed routine working against SNL's edgy material. Writer Rosie Schuster revealed in the book Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of SNL that Berle's mugging, pratfalls and spit takes during sketches was like watching a "comedy train accident in slow motion on a loop." Writer Alan Zweibel even got confirmation of the size of Berle's much-discussed anatomy when the comedy legend pulled out his "anaconda" in the dressing room. "It was enormous. It was like a pepperoni," Zweibel recalled. At that moment, cast member Gilda Radner walked into the dressing room, creating a moment as awkward as Berle's episode.

But what most bothered Lorne Michaels was the finale, where Berle sang a maudlin version of "September Song." Before the show, Berle told Michaels that "the standing ovation is all arranged." Michaels refused to cut to Berle's audience plants during the live show, and the comedian never returned to host again. The episode, in fact, didn't even re-air until 2003.

Bill Hader based Stefon on a coffee barista

Weekend Update's resident New York City club expert/Furkel (Fat Urkel) aficionado is one of former cast member Bill Hader's most popular characters. Hader created Stefon with comedian and SNL writer John Mulaney, of Oh, Hello fame, who would frequently crack Hader up by giving him new lines for the character right before he went on air. The pair drew inspiration in part from an email Mulaney received from a club promoter that included Stefon's now classic line, "This club has everything." (One of the things in this promoter's club was a room filled with broken glass.)

Hader also revealed at the New Yorker festival that he based Stefon's mannerisms and speech patterns on a barista at Joe's Coffee in Manhattan. The SNL star found the barista — who would say very Stefon things like how he lived on the "lower, lower East Side" — amusing, and would ask him questions during his morning coffee runs. Hader says he never got to talk to the barista about Stefon, but assumes he's "thrilled" to be the basis for the character. And we assume the coffee shop had everything — creamer, sugar, ALF wearing a trenchcoat ...

Tina Fey fled 30 Rock during the 2001 anthrax scare

The weeks following September 11, 2001, were understandably difficult ones in New York City and at SNL's Studio 8H, where live shows still needed to be put on. Tina Fey recalls in her book Bossypants that her breaking point came during the anthrax scare at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

After hearing MSNBC's Lester Holt say that anthrax was in the building, Fey writes that "I put on my coat, walked downstairs past my friends and co-workers without saying anything. I walked right past the host for that week, sweet Drew Barrymore, without telling her what I had heard. I just went to the elevator and left. Then I walked home and waited to die."

Fey recalls that Lorne Michaels coaxed her back by calling her up and saying, "We're all here. You and Drew [Barrymore] are the only ones who left. And Drew came back a few hours ago, so ... we're ordering dinner, if you want to come back in." Fey says it was a humbling moment: "It was the kindest way of saying, 'You're embarrassing yourself.'"

Nora Dunn refused to perform with host Andrew Dice Clay

SNL has had its share of controversial hosts (one of which is currently in the White House), but only one caused a cast member to bow out of the show. When shock comedian Andrew Dice Clay hosted in 1990, cast member Nora Dunn and musical guest Sinead O'Connor publicly refused to perform in the episode. As Dunn told Salon, "My objection to Andrew Dice Clay was that his character was only about one thing: abusing women and laughing about abusing women. There was nothing else behind it."

Fellow cast members Jon Lovitz and Victoria Jackson took issue with Dunn's stance, with Lovitz saying she wasn't going to be asked back for the following season and was boycotting the episode for publicity. While Dunn will be forever remembered for her beef with The Diceman, we choose to remember her hilarious contributions to the show as one-half of the singing Sweeney Sisters duo.

Arnold Schwarzenegger almost starred in a Hans and Franz movie

The success of 1992's Wayne's World opened the floodgates for SNL movies, with everything from classic sketch characters (The Coneheads) to not-so-classics (Pat) headlining their own would-be blockbusters. Several characters were developed for the big screen, included Mike Myers' German talk show host Dieter and the Superfans of "Da Bears." But the strangest abandoned SNL project was a film for Hans and Franz, the bodybuilders played by Kevin Nealon and Dana Carvey, that would've featured their idol, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

A script for the film, called Hans & Franz: The Girly-Man Dilemma, was penned by Nealon, Carvey and then SNL writers Robert Smigel and Conan O'Brien. Smigel, best known these days as the hand and voice behind Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, revealed on Late Night with Seth Meyers that Arnold himself proposed the idea of a Hans and Franz movie after appearing in a sketch with the characters.

The film was to have been an absurd road trip musical that saw Hans and Franz leaving the fictional "Little Austria" section of New York City for Hollywood stardom. The Governator would've played a dual role as himself and Hans and Franz's grandmother. Smigel recalls a scene where Arnold sings a song about "playing it cool" with Hans and Franz while their bulging muscles danced.

According to Kevin Nealon, who reminisced about the project with Conan O'Brien, Arnold eventually got "cold feet" and dropped out of the project after a film where he parodied himself tanked, which was obviously 1993's Last Action Hero. So you can thank that turkey for the demise of the potentially hilarious Hans and Franz movie.

We almost got SNL: The Movie

While characters ranging from beloved (Wayne and Garth) to yeah-I-guess-that-was-funny-for-five-seconds (The Ladies Man) have scored movies, there was a time when SNL itself was going to be the subject of a big screen outing. Developed in 1990 by a writing staff that included future comedy luminaries Conan O'Brien, Robert Smigel, Al Franken, Greg Daniels (The Office), and George Meyer (The Simpsons), The Saturday Night Live Movie would've been an anthology-style sketch comedy film in the vein of The Kentucky Fried Movie and Amazon Women on the Moon.

Among the sketches in the script discovered by Hitfix's Drew Mcweeny are a parody of E.T., a series of PSA-style spots where celebrities like Christopher Reeve and Clint Eastwood argue about what their charity is actually raising money for, and a musical spoof co-written by former SNL writer/current senator Al Franken called "Crack Rap," which Mcweeny describes as "one of the least funny and most unintentionally racist things I've ever read."

Like a typical episode of SNL, the sketches in the abandoned movie project sound like a mixed bag. An E.T. parody would've been dated in 1990, but a short film called "Young Bush at Yale" — which would've featured Dana Carvey's George H.W. Bush in a college love triangle with his future wife Barbara and Jack Kennedy — sounds like a lost gem. Mcweeny also has high praise for "Tip Stealer," an absurd George Meyer-penned sketch about a professional tip thief, and a riff on '80s movie tropes called "Dad's Car."

None of these sketches ended up being used on SNL, which is a shame, since we really want to see Franken's dated rap about crack.

Most of the Season 11 cast "died" in a fire

The '85-'86 season was a rough year for SNL. Lorne Michaels returned to the show after five years in Hollywood working on the failed sketch series The New Show and movies like Three Amigos, replacing exiting producer Dick Ebersol. The ship was sinking: Ebersol had pitched the idea of abandoning the live format and using pre-taped segments for season 11, and NBC was planning to cancel the show unless Michaels returned.

Michaels attempted to boost ratings by stocking the cast with established Hollywood stars like Randy Quaid, Anthony Michael Hall, Robert Downey, Jr., and Joan Cusack. Newbie performers Nora Dunn, Dennis Miller and Jon Lovitz were standouts, but the cast (which included some holdovers from the Ebersol years) failed to gel, and the show floundered, with lackluster sketches and a bizarre episode "directed" by Francis Ford Coppola. For the season finale, Robert Smigel wrote a sketch playing on dramatic TV cliffhangers where host Billy Martin sets fire to the studio and the entire cast is trapped in a burning dressing room. In the end, Lorne Michaels chooses to save only Jon Lovitz, while everyone else is left to a fiery "death." That didn't sit well with the rest of the cast.

Season 12 kicked off the following September with Madonna (who had hosted the previous season's premiere) reading a "statement" from NBC that Season 11 was all a "horrible, horrible dream." Jon Lovitz, Dennis Miller and Nora Dunn were the only cast members to return, while new players Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Victoria Jackson and Kevin Nealon helped ignite a creative renaissance for the long-running show.

Damon Wayans was fired for purposely bombing a sketch

Before he rocketed to fame on In Living Color, Wayans spent a year on SNL during the '85-'86 season. As he explained in the book Live From New York, Wayans struggled to get his sketches on the show and was tired of playing stereotypical roles. It was this frustration that led him to purposely bomb a sketch, playing what should have been a straightforward cop role in a "Mr. Monopoly" sketch as flamboyantly gay. Lorne Michaels was displeased at Wayans for pulling focus in the sketch, and fired him after the episode aired. (Though he would return for the season finale to perform stand-up.)

Wayans told the Breakfast Club radio show that his lack of screen time had to do with Eddie Murphy. "What happened was, Eddie Murphy had just left. And so, Lorne Michaels was trying to — he thought — protect me from being compared to Eddie Murphy," Wayans said. "And I'm like, 'Look. You give me the ball or let me go. Fire me from the team.' So, he wouldn't give me the ball, so I just switched characters during a live taping. I wanted to get fired."

Of course, Wayans had the last laugh, with his success in movies and TV. He doesn't harbor any bad blood for Lorne or SNL (he even came back to host during his '90s heyday), telling The Weekender in 2015, "I knew I was going to get fired for it. Lorne did the right thing." Now he just needs to apologize to Jon Lovitz's Mr. Monopoly.

Eddie Murphy hosted an episode for a hungover Nick Nolte

Eddie Murphy holds a unique honor as the only Not Ready for Primetime Player to host an episode of SNL while he was still a cast member. When Nick Nolte couldn't host the ninth episode of Season 8 due to illness, Murphy subbed in for his 48 Hours costar as host. (Turns out Nolte was hungover from a night out at Studio 54.)

Already a rising star on his way out of the show, Murphy taking over as host for an episode didn't exactly sit well with the rest of the cast. (The way he kicked off the episode by announcing "Live From New York, It's the Eddie Murphy Show!" certainly didn't help either.) Joe Piscopo, who felt he was equally as important to the show as Eddie at the time, took particular issue with his pal hosting. You don't want to run afoul of '80s Piscopo. Dude was tight with Sinatra. That's a one-way ticket to a pair of cement shoes.

Chevy Chase was hated by three generations of SNL

It's no secret that Chevy Chase isn't exactly the world's nicest guy. (See his infamous Comedy Central roast for proof of how the comedy community feels about the Fletch star.) Chase was a breakout star during SNL's first season, thanks to his Gerald Ford "impression" and snarky Weekend Update hosting, where his catchphrase ("I'm Chevy Chase, and you're not...") and movie star looks set him apart from the rest of the Not Ready for Primetime Players. Hollywood beckoned, and Chase left SNL after only one season.

When he came back to host in Season 3, the cast was still stinging from Chase leaving. Bill Murray, who was hired as Chase's replacement, felt protective of the cast and started a fight with the host backstage. As Murray told Empire, "We all felt mad [Chase] had left us, and somehow I was the anointed avenging angel, who had to speak for everyone." The two came to blows, with Chase comparing Murray's face to the surface of the moon and Murray dubbing Chase a "medium talent." Things got so heated that Murray's brother, Brian Doyle-Murray, had to break the two up.

Chase returned to host in 1985, and being at the height of his movie fame did nothing to temper his ego. The cast and crew recalls that Chase was terribly abusive, the most notorious example being when he suggested that openly gay cast member Terry Sweeney should star in a sketch where the cast weighs him every week to see if he has AIDs. He also ripped on then cast member Robert Downey Jr., asking the future superstar, "Didn't your father used to be a successful director? Whatever happened to him? Boy, he sure died, you know, he sure went to hell."

The '90s were not kind to Chase, and he in turn wasn't kind when he hosted SNL during the 1996-1997 season. Tim Meadows compared Chase's hosting week, where he sexually harassed a female writer and was cold to the cast, to a "car accident." Rising star Will Ferrell wondered if Chase had perhaps "taken too many back pills that day or something."

Sadly, this wouldn't be the last time Chase caused trouble on the set of a beloved comedy series, yet another reminder that we're lucky we're not Chevy Chase.