For almost half a century now, breakout stars from the Saturday Night Live cast of “Not Ready For Prime-Time Players” have moved on from the live sketch show to enjoy immensely successful careers in film and television. Many of these cast members reached stardom while still on the show, such as Will Ferrell and Dana Carvey, while others like Ben Stiller or Jenny Slate later found success after their tenures on the historically significant sketch program.
However, it should also be noted that several famous actors and writers today – among other professions in the industry – initially got their start in the writers’ room at SNL. Here are some recognizable entertainers who were virtually unknown during their time writing for the show.
10 Larry David
Before co-creating arguably one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, Seinfeld, followed by the critically acclaimed Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David had a short stint as a writer for a single season that aired from 1984 to 1985. His decision to quit the show during SNL’s 10th season – only to reappear in the writers’ room two days later acting as if he never quit – was later used as inspiration for the Seinfeld episode “The Revenge” during its second season.
Despite only one of his written sketches making it onto the live show the entire season, he met Julia Louis-Dreyfus during his time on the program, who was a cast member at the time and would eventually star in David’s hit NBC sitcom Seinfeld.
9 Bob Odenkirk
Known by contemporary audiences primarily for his performance as clever yet seedy lawyer Saul Goodman in AMC dramas Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, Bob Odenkirk joined the writing staff at SNL in 1987 and wrote for four seasons of the hit sketch series.
Often working with other newly-hired writers Conan O’Brien and Greg Daniels, his prolific work for show resulted in several memorable sketches and characters, with perhaps the most notable being the late Chris Farley’s motivational speaker character Matt Foley.
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8 Greg Daniels
Avid fans of popular comedy series like one of NBC’s flagship programs The Office might recognize the name Greg Daniels. Becoming an SNL writer starting with its 14th season, he contributed sketches from 1987 through 1990 before leaving the show and joining the coveted writing staff for The Simpsons, penning some of the most memorable episodes from the series’ “golden age.”
Daniels eventually found further success from co-creating King of the Hill alongside Mike Judge, co-creating Parks and Recreation with Michael Schur, and of course adapting the UK comedy series The Office into the hugely popular American version.
7 Conan O’Brien
A comedy giant who recently ended his almost 28-year run as a late-night television host back in June, Conan O’Brien’s comedy roots extend all the way back to joining the SNL writing staff starting with its 13th season in 1987.
He frequently collaborated with fellow writers Bob Odenkirk, Greg Daniels, and Robert Smigel throughout his four-season stint in the writers’ room, which came to a close with his transition to the writers’ room at The Simpsons – followed by his iconic turn as the host of NBC’s Late Night, succeeding its previous host David Letterman.
6 Adam McKay
Following SNL’s tumultuous 20th season plagued by declining ratings and increasingly negative press, a major overhaul for the show resulted in drastic changes to the cast and writing staff, including the hiring of Upright Citizens Brigade co-founder Adam McKay as a writer.
A frequent collaborator with Will Ferrell, who also joined the show in 1995, McKay quickly accelerated to Head Writer in 1996 and remained in that position until 2001, when he and Ferrell left the show to write and produce iconic comedy movies such as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and Step Brothers, among others.
5 J. B. Smoove
Perhaps most familiar to audiences as his character Leon Black on Curb Your Enthusiasm since its sixth season, J. B. Smoove previously served on the SNL writing team beginning in 2003 and occasionally appeared on-camera in sketches or guest host monologues as needed.
Spending three seasons writing for the program, his comedy career has been largely defined by the fan-favorite role on Curb Your Enthusiasm in addition to various other appearances in television, film, and advertisements.
4 John Mulaney
Considered today to be a household name in the comedy world, stand-up comedian John Mulaney began his often-mentioned four-year stretch as an SNL writer starting with its 34th season in 2008. His work as a writer for the show was received well, creating notable sketches and characters including the recurring Weekend Update bit Stefon, a character played by Bill Hader with whom Mulaney collaborated.
His post-SNL prominence has led to him being considered one of the top working comics today, and he recently joined the esteemed “Five-Timers Club” last month after hosting the show for a fifth time.
3 Jillian Bell
Star of the acclaimed comedy film Brittany Runs a Marathon, Jillian Bell’s big break came when she joined the writing staff for SNL’s 35th season in 2009 and remained in the position for just a single season.
Despite her brief time with the show, she quickly moved onto appearances in supporting roles for various movies and television shows like Workaholics, and she has since made a considerable name for herself.
2 Hannibal Buress
Before gaining more prominence as a stand-up comedian as well as comic actor through the 2010s, Hannibal Buress was hired as a writer along with Jillian Bell for the 35th season of SNL – and just like Bell, only stayed for a single year.
Unfortunately, he was only able to get one of his written sketches to air that season, but his short stint was immediately followed by numerous primetime stand-up performances and acting roles in major studio films such as Neighbors and Baywatch, not to mention his role as Eric André’s sidekick in The Eric André Show.
1 Natasha Rothwell
Known today for being a series regular on HBO’s Insecure, in addition to her role as a writer and supervising producer for the show, Natasha Rothwell previously served on the writing staff for SNL’s 40th season.
After being hired for the show in 2014 and remaining for one year, Rothwell found further success in her career with appearances in film and television aside from her work on Insecure – the most recent being a starring role in the HBO miniseries The White Lotus as the kindhearted Belinda, the resort spa manager.
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About The Author Brett Donovan (5 Articles Published)
Brett Donovan is a freelance writer for Screen Rant, in addition to being a musician, comedian (UCB sketch writing alum), and creative strategist. Before moving to Brooklyn, NY, he worked as a staff writer at the Chronicle newspaper based in Eastern Connecticut where he wrote hard news and cultural features, among other formats. Brett’s current work as a strategist for a NYC production company has paired him with notable clients such as Google, Canon, IBM, NBCUniversal, and DISH Network. He also has never met John Stamos, which you can email him about at firstname.lastname@example.org.