For 47 seasons and counting, “Saturday Night Live” has been the weekly bedrock of sketch comedy, musical performance, and hot-button satire. Some of the biggest names in Hollywood have come out of the show’s casts and writing rooms. Despite being on the air for nearly five decades, “SNL” has continued to bring in young, vibrant, and, increasingly, more diverse talent with each passing year.
If you think you have a comedic, creative voice that needs to be heard—and feel ready for a competitive, fast-paced, insomnia-inducing environment—check out this guide to what it takes to get cast on the cultural juggernaut that is “SNL.” Here, you’ll find audition tips from ensemble members and casting directors, plus all the latest information on casting calls and auditions.
- Who is in the cast of “Saturday Night Live”?
- Who is the casting director for “Saturday Night Live”?
- Where can you find “Saturday Night Live” auditions and casting calls?
- How do you get noticed by “Saturday Night Live” producers?
- How did some of the biggest “SNL” stars first get noticed?
- What’s the audition process like for “Saturday Night Live”?
- What are the best audition tips for “Saturday Night Live”?
Lorne Michaels created “Saturday Night Live” and serves as the show’s executive producer (outside of a departure from 1980 to 1985). The first episode aired on NBC on Oct. 11, 1975; it’s now in its 47th season. Recent guest hosts include Kim Kardashian, Kieran Culkin, Billie Eilish, and Jake Gyllenhaal, among others.
The cast of Season 47 includes:
- Aristotle Athari (featured player)
- Aidy Bryant
- Michael Che
- Pete Davidson
- Mikey Day
- Andrew Dismukes (featured player)
- Chloe Fineman
- Heidi Gardner
- James Austin Johnson (featured player)
- Punkie Johnson (featured player)
- Colin Jost
- Kate McKinnon
- Alex Moffat
- Kyle Mooney
- Ego Nwodim
- Chris Redd
- Sarah Sherman (featured player)
- Cecily Strong
- Kenan Thompson
- Melissa Villaseñor
- Bowen Yang
Over the course of nearly five decades, “SNL” has seen many people involved in its casting. Perhaps nobody has been more integral than Marci Klein, who started at the show in 1988 as an assistant; she went on to become head of the talent department and a producer, working on “SNL” until 2013.
Klein’s longtime assistant Lindsay Shookus has since taken the reins of the talent department, with Brittney Bhayana serving as the show’s background casting manager. “We like to think about what we need,” Shookus told Leo. “But the true basis of it is: If someone makes you belly laugh in an audition, that’s a good sign. We don’t overthink; I don’t think Lorne overthinks either. I think he just has a gut for it, and he surrounds himself with people who he trusts to also weigh in, and I think that’s enough. We do have a sense about it.”
When it comes to social media, Shookus still prefers the old-fashioned way of finding new talent. “If I randomly see someone who I think is funny on Instagram, I might come into my office and be like, ‘Look into this person; what’s their deal?’ But I’m not just sitting on Instagram trying to find the next ‘SNL’ cast member,” she explained. “There are still comedy schools: Groundlings, Second City, UCB. There are still comedy schools that we trust, and they’ve trained people really well.”
“SNL” has never held open auditions; instead, the show seeks you out. Since the days of Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner, producers have plucked talented performers from the improv and standup scenes in major U.S. cities. Hubs include Chicago’s Second City and ImprovOlympic; New York’s the Comedy Cellar and the now-shuttered Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (which has tentative plans to reopen under new management); and Los Angeles’ Groundlings, Laugh Factory, and the Comedy Store.
“SNL” producers and scouts invite performers they like to a showcase with a live audience to see how they do. Scouts look for those who have strong improv skills, camera-ready charisma, a fresh and exciting standup presence, and perhaps most importantly, a strong ability to write material.
Here are the best ways to get yourself seen.
Get involved in sketch and improv comedy groups. Becoming affiliated with a major company isn’t impossible. For instance, the Groundlings school’s website offers simple steps to sign up for classes like Improv for Beginners, Sketch Writing Workshop, and Audition for Basic Improv. If paying for classes isn’t realistic for you at the moment, focus on becoming part of a group of funny people that you can collaborate, write sketches, and make videos with. Social media and the internet are your oyster—put your comedy on display.
Try your hand at standup and open mics. Throughout the run of “SNL,” comedy clubs and young, rising comics have gotten massive attention from Michaels and other talent recruiters. Get used to writing and performing original material, getting a feel for what works and what doesn’t, and finding your unique comedic voice.
Speaking on the correlation between standup and auditions, comedian and former “SNL” writer-producer John Mulaney told us, “I just did the standup I had, which was more act-out-y. You just want to give a sense of yourself. The amount of people [cast] who we’ve never used one thing from their audition is numerous. Some people would audition with an impression, and it would be on the first show; a lot of times, it’s not. They’re just trying to get a sense of you.”
Current cast member Chris Redd was already a successful standup comedian by the time he got in the door, which he said helped when it came to the auditions and subsequent waiting game. “For me to deal with something that high-pressure, I had to just be like, ‘Yo, I’m gonna go do this audition, and then I have seven more shows to do later,’ ” he said. “I was at a point where I’d gotten some gigs, and I’ve lost more than I’ve gotten. So nine times out of 10, you’re not gonna get it; so you just do what you can, have fun with it, and then continue to build your career…. Standup helped me deal with it, helped me deal with the waiting process, for sure.”
Want to start your comedy career? Check out these go-to resources:
- Everything You Need to Know About Improv
- 5 Simple Steps to Great Improv
- How to Become a Standup Comedian
- Taking an Online Comedy Course
- 6 Simple Steps for Finding Open Mics
Traditionally, “SNL” talent seekers have asked performers to submit a tape of celebrity impressions and original characters, and asked writer-performers to send a packet of sketches. Most people who make it onto the show are comedians and performers who established themselves through other outlets and were invited based on their previous work—or because they were recommended by another cast member.
Pete Davidson has Bill Hader to thank for landing his role on “SNL.” “It was after Amy Schumer gave me a part in ‘Trainwreck,’ and I met Bill Hader on set, and we talked and kind of hit it off,” Davidson explained. “He called me a week later and said, ‘Hey, I recommended you to Lorne Michaels.’ And I was like, ‘Why?’ I was just so surprised. I didn’t even know that I could audition. And the fact that I got it—I just couldn't believe it.”
Andy Samberg and the Lonely Island crew had been making hilarious videos well before they became integral players on the show. But working as writers on the MTV Movie Awards in 2005, which caught the attention of that year’s host and “SNL” alum Jimmy Fallon, was what got them through the Studio 8H door.
Even in the midst of the pandemic, though adjustments obviously had to be made, the process largely remained the same. Punkie Johnson, the first publicly out Black queer cast member in the show’s history, had already made a name for herself in the comedy world. She started out taking acting classes in L.A., did standup at the Comedy Store, and appeared on Netflix’s “Space Force” and HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show.” Much to her surprise, after moving back home to New Orleans in the middle of lockdown, she got a call to audition for “SNL.” She ultimately went through two rounds of taped auditions, rolling out impressions of Whoopi Goldberg, Kerry Washington, and NeNe Leakes.
“Usually after doing an audition, I forget about it immediately because I don’t want to stress over it,” Johnson told NBC News, reflecting on submitting her second tape. “And I was like, ‘It’s “SNL”—what would they want with me?’ ” After a few weeks without getting feedback, she eventually received a call from Michaels, who said, “We think you’ll be a good addition to the cast.”
The talent department brings promising prospects to New York for a rigorous audition process that includes a filmed presentation of their best five minutes of material (impressions, characters, etc.) in front of a small audience that includes Lorne Michaels—who notoriously doesn’t laugh during auditions. These tryouts are tough and vulnerable, leaving even the best performers feeling uncertain afterward.
Even after Lorne Michaels called him, Pete Davidson wasn’t sure if he’d landed the gig. “I got a call from NBC,” Davidson said during a “Late Night With Seth Meyers” appearance. “And it’s Lorne Michaels, and he goes, ‘Hello.’ And he was like, ‘I don’t know what to do with you, but you got the show.’ I went home and was like, ‘I think I got “SNL.” I think [Lorne] is already mad at me, too.’ ”
Jimmy Fallon remembers his audition well. “In makeup, they go, ‘Hey, Jimmy, some advice: Lorne Michaels doesn’t laugh when you audition, so don’t let that throw you,’ ” he recalled. “Then the audio guy, he goes, ‘Hey, little advice—Lorne doesn’t like to laugh.’ I’m like, ‘OK.’ Then Marci [Klein] comes out: ‘Jimmy, they’re ready for you. But hey, a little advice for you. If Lorne doesn’t laugh, be cool.’ I’m like, What is this guy’s problem? He’s doing a comedy show. Why does he not like to laugh?” Turns out, Davidson did end up making Michaels laugh by doing an impression of Adam Sandler, who had recently left the show.
Speaking about his nerve-wracking audition, Will Ferrell told the New York Times, “I did a sketch where I was a guy, alone in my office, who, in between taking calls, would play with cat toys. There’s a point where I’m rolling around on the ground, in complete silence, playing with cat toys. And I’m thinking, Oh, it’s over.”
Kate McKinnon described her own big moment to People. “The first time you walk in the building, it’s like you’re seeing the Wizard of Oz. Except he’s not fake—he’s real, he’s sitting at a table, and you’re doing comedy for him. It’s a defining moment in a life,” she said. “You’ve got five minutes to do whatever you want. So I did, like, five impressions and a couple of characters. I honestly don’t remember all of them. Penélope Cruz was one of them.”
Despite being a star since he was a kid on Nickelodeon’s “All That” and its spinoff film “Good Burger,” Kenan Thompson was hustling for jobs. When he finally got an audition for “SNL,” which he had been after for quite some time, he told us that the process was “fucking horrible.” However, he added, “I gave it my all and did some voices and shit, and I guess they leaned into that.”
Here are some words of wisdom from “SNL” cast members and writers:
Use what you know. “Do your best stuff. I knew going into the audition that I wasn’t going to get it,” Mulaney told us. “I was like, there are so many male, caucasian brunettes; there’s no need for me. So I didn’t try to learn a Gordon Ramsay impression in 24 hours.”
Cecily Strong echoed this advice. “Make sure whatever you’re showing is the best of you,” she said. “Don’t do what you think ‘SNL’ wants.”
Don’t try to be someone you’re not. “Write what you like and perform what you like, because if you do get hired, that’s what you know how to do,” Aidy Bryant advised. “And if you don’t get hired, at least you did what you love. You didn’t try to bend yourself into a pretzel to be something you think they want. Just be yourself, do what you like, and hold strong on that. It really was my guiding light, even when I got hired for the show.”
Trust yourself. “The hardest thing with auditions is trusting that you know it,” Heidi Gardner told us. “I remember the days leading up to it, I was like, ‘How many times is enough?’ I even do that to myself now. When do I just trust I know this thing? But you know how to be this person. You just start trusting yourself more. You’re a professional; you can get through anything.”
Be persistent. “I was trying to get to ‘SNL’ as soon as I left Nickelodeon back in 2000,” Thompson said. “I kept sending tapes but getting rejected. A couple years later, Tracy Morgan left the show, so I think they were getting serious about hiring new African Americans, and I got a chance to finally audition in New York. I had never done standup before, but I did an impression of Al Sharpton and Arnold Schwarzenegger talking on the phone. It wasn’t very good, but I was having fun, and I think they could see that. I ended up getting the job in 2003. Now I’m the oldest current cast member!”
Looking to put your comedy skills to good use? Check out these auditions!