In a big “ouch” moment, Saturday Night Live fired two cast members — Michaela Watkins and Casey Wilson — just before the premiere. (Watkins told the New York Daily News that Lorne Michaels explained this to her by saying that she’s so good she deserves her own show. Oh, Lorne.) Watkins had been there for a year, Wilson for two. I didn’t like Watkins much. Wilson was regularly pilloried, but she wasn’t usually the worst cast member; she just projected the personality of an eager amateur slightly out of her depth (I’m not saying that’s what she is, just that that’s how she comes across) and couldn’t turn that to her advantage.
When SNL dumps a cast member after only a year or two, it must be pretty humiliating, unless it’s someone who came into the show after already becoming famous, like Janeane Garofalo and Chris Elliott. Although SNL is kind of a talent-sucking vacuum in many ways — look at how much more consistently funny Tina Fey is, as a writer and performer, on another show produced by the exact same person — for a performer to join the cast of the show is to “make it,” so getting booted off means you’ve un-made it.
Looking at the list of cast members, though, it’s not uncommon for someone to have a solid career after lasting only a year or two. Not counting the people who were added during the “all-star” season of 1984-5 (by the way, I am one of those people who prefers the Dick Ebersol years of SNL to most of what Lorne Michaels has turned out since returning), Gilbert Gottfried, Joan Cusack, Randy Quaid, Sarah Silverman, Ben Stiller, Nancy Walls (now Nancy Carell) and Damon Wayans did all right. On the other hand, several of those people either had some claim to fame before they joined, or left for other reasons besides bombing out, or just went into something other than sketch comedy. Which may be the subtext of Lorne’s words to Watkins: you’ll never work in sketch comedy again, but you might theoretically do OK at something else.