Adam Sandler hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time ever tonight. It might be shocking that he’s never done this before, but remember, he didn’t leave the show on the best terms in 1995. Along with his friend Chris Farley, Sandler was straight-up fired from SNL after the 1994-1995 season, at which point he decided to just go and become the biggest comedy draw in Hollywood for a solid decade or so.
Sandler and Farley were far from the first famous cast members to get canned from NBC’s long-running sketch show. Ben Stiller lasted four episodes, Damon Wayans basically begged to get fired during his one season on the show, and Tim Meadows and Chris Parnell both have the weird distinction of being fired and then rehired before the next season started. Even Chris Rock, the most acclaimed stand-up comedian of the last 30 years, was fired by the show after a few seasons. Lorne Michaels and his team might have a solid eye for talent, but they don’t always know the best way to use or manage that talent.
If you didn’t know Sandler was fired, well, he told you tonight. His monologue turned into a song (we can give the show a pass for another monologue song, since songs have always been a part of Sandler’s deal) where he sang openly about his firing. Rock even made a surprise appearance and chipped in with a verse. For Sandler it was a little bit of vindication and a little bit of self-mockery, and for SNL it was admission that it’s not always the big happy family they try to present during the show-ending goodnights.
Check out Sandler’s monologue below, and then keep reading for some more thoughts on Sandler’s tenure and firing.
Despite his massive box office success (and despite his early films all being legitimately great), firing Adam Sandler was the right call for SNL in 1995. It was coming off on one of the worst seasons in the show’s history, both critically and in terms of ratings, and the show caused NBC a public relations headache when Janeane Garofalo accused it of sexism and a hostile working environment after abruptly quitting in February 1995, less than a year after joining the cast. As hilarious as Chris Farley was, and despite Sandler’s memorable characters and movies, it’s well-known that they were part of a deeply unprofessional and inhospitable workplace culture at the show. NBC was considering cancelling SNL altogether, and part of the compromise to give the show another chance involved firing Sandler and Farley (along with much of the rest of the cast) and restarting with fresh faces. Dumping Sandler and Farley wasn’t just a symbolic step towards rehabbing the show’s image after Garofalo’s revelations, but something Lorne Michaels had to do to literally keep SNL alive.
I was a big comedy nerd growing up, had watched the show regularly since way too young of an age, and caught as many reruns as possible when those started airing regularly in the 1980s. I was well-acquainted with every era of the show at that point (except the disastrous 1980-1981 season), but despite being a teenage boy (and thus presumably the target audience for Sandler and Farley’s schtick) I had stopped watching regularly before that 1994-1995 season even started. Sandler helped reinvigorate the show in 1990, but by 1995 he had worn out his welcome even with people like me, people who loved his albums and went on to love his movies. There were a lot of things wrong with that 1994-1995 season—Chris Elliott is probably the funniest person who has ever lived but he did not work out on SNL one bit—but the main thing that turned me off of SNL at the time was the lazy repetition of Sandler’s material. I’m sure getting fired hurt him at the time, and probably caused some weirdness in the relationship that might’ve kept him from hosting at any point before tonight, but it was the best thing that could’ve happened in 1995 for both Sandler and the show. They got to rebrand with a new cast that included Will Ferrell, Darrell Hammond and Cheri Oteri, and Sandler got to go make a few billion dollars in Hollywood, as he points out in this monologue.