With forty-six seasons underneath its belt, Saturday Night Live has become one of the longest running shows in the history of television, and continues to be a staple of late night comedy. The show, which has been ran and produced almost exclusively by Lorne Michaels, has been credited with discovering comedy greats such as Bill Hader, Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell, and Tina Fey— to name just a few— and continues to shape the comedy scene both in front of and behind the scenes. With that being said, after almost fifty years of live shows, it should come as no surprise that there have been some rather uncomfortable moments in the show. Here’s a rundown of some of SNL’s most infamous and controversial moments.
Kristen Stewart Drops The F-Bomb During Her Opening Monologue
Back in 2017, actress Kristen Stewart made one of the biggest mistakes that you can make on live TV— dropping the F bomb. During her inaugural gig, the actress accidentally let the word slip during her opening monologue. The monologue poked fun of then president Donald Trump for Tweeting disparaging things about her relationship with former co-star Robert Pattinson. She then went on proudly announce that she was ‘so gay.’ Unfortunately though, after successfully completing the monologue, Stewart then stated: “OK, so we’ve got a great show,” she said onstage, “and I totally care that I’m here ’cause it’s the coolest (expletive) thing ever.”
Luckily, Kristen Stewart did not have to face the wrath of Lorne Michaels over her expletive. And she later told USA Today that the rest of the cast was really nice about it. “I felt so bad about it. I just came offstage apologizing profusely and being like, ‘I’m so sorry, that’s not something I thought was going to happen.’ And they were really nice about it. They were like, ‘We still have an entire show to do, don’t think about it.’”
Rage Against The Machine Flips The American Flag
During their 1996 performance on SNL, the band Rage Against The Machine earned themselves a lifetime ban from the show, after making a political statement during their set. RATM, which is well known for being outspoken and anti-establishment, was for some reason, booked with the most establishment host they could’ve found— billionaire then-presidential candidate Steve Forbes. Forbes stood for everything that the band was against, and to express their distaste for the host, the band hung a pair of upside-down American flags from their amps shortly before they were supposed to perform their song “Bulls on Parade.” However, a stagehand quickly rushed on and removed the flags before the cameras turned on. And immediately after the song was finished, the band was informed that they had been cut from the rest of the show and were not going to be invited back.
FEAR Starts a Riot
Arguably one of the coolest cultural clashes of all time occurred when the chaotic American punk band FEAR was invited to be the musical guests during the 1981 season of Saturday Night Live. At the time, cast member John Belushi was a big fan of the band, and greased the wheels to get them on SNL. Unfortunately though, the band was more interested in causing chaos than actually performing, and began antagonizing the audience during their set, saying things such as: “It’s great to be in New Jersey’‘ and “New York Sucks!” As a result of this antagonization, pandemonium broke out as fans began to jump around the stage area, attacking each other and causing over $200,000 worth of damage to the studio. Needless to say, FEAR was not invited back to perform again.
Chris Farley Hosts SNL Shortly Before His Death
Arguably one of the saddest moments in comedy occurred after SNL alum Chris Farley tragically died of an accidental overdose in December of 1997. His death was eerily similar to the death of his idol, SNL cast member John Belushi, who died of an overdose back in 1982. Chris Farley’s tenure at SNL was marked by his persistent struggle with addiction problems. Farley was in and out of rehab facilities and sober programs, and yet, nothing seemed to help the comedian. Things only got worse after Farley, and his partner, Adam Sandler, were suddenly fired from the show. In the years which followed, Farley continued to struggle with addiction problems very publicly, even as the rest of the world became very concerned about him.
Less than two months before his death, Lorne Michaels invited Farley to host an episode of SNL during their 1997 season. The episode was a disaster. Farley had lost his voice for the live show, and was noticeably hoarse. He had gained lots of weight since his tenure as a cast member, and his health was noticeably declining rapidly. The cold opening sketch pretty much made the actor’s struggles into a joke, and it consisted of cast members Tim Meadows and Chevy Chase trying to convince Lorne Michaels that Farley was sober enough to perform. While the episode initially was not well received, it developed far darker undertones following Farley’s death soon after. In fact, the episode was so troubling to the cast and crew that they decided to pull it from general circulation shortly after it was filmed.
Sinéad O’Connor Tears up a Picture of the Pope
Arguably the most infamous moment in SNL history, and maybe even live TV as a whole, occurred during singer Sinéad O’Connor’s 1992 SNL performance, in which she ripped up a picture of Pope John Paul II. The singer did so in order to protest the sexual abuse of children by the Catholic church, and specifically ripped up her mother’s own photo of the pope in order to develop an even deeper message. “My intention had always been to destroy my mother’s photo of the pope,” she writes. “It represented lies and liars and abuse. The type of people who kept these things were devils like my mother.”
While Sinéad O’Connor refuses to apologize for the incident, she admits that the backlash it caused was very traumatizing for her. “I’m not sorry I did it. It was brilliant,” O’Connor said. “But it was very traumatizing.” The incident ultimately resulted in the premature death of her career, she became the butt of late night jokes and was condemned by everyone from Madonna to Joe Pesci. However, with that being said, the singer feels vindicated for her actions now, and in the years that have followed, the abuses latent in the Catholic church have emerged and become part of the mainstream dialogue. As these abuses have become impossible to ignore, O’Connors protest has taken on a new meaning… and the singer’s legacy is no longer ridiculed.