How much do ‘SNL’ cast members make?

The well-known phrase “money is the root of all evil” comes from the Bible verse 1 Timothy 6:10. It states: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” But a person has got to eat and support themselves right? There must be some kind of loophole here. There is a certain societal taboo about talking about how much money one makes. At the same time, there is also that thought deep within that wonders this very thing one is not supposed to talk about. 

The popular sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live has kept Americans laughing over the absurdity of topical events since its inception in 1975. This show has deeply impacted popular culture and launched the careers of many actors and comedians such as Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey, and Bill Murray. What’s not widely discussed is how much money these up-and-comers make while keeping audiences laughing. Before we talk about money, let’s take a quick look at SNL’s history.

NBC’s Saturday Night

When NBC needed a replacement for re-runs of Carson, they developed a new show. On October 11, 1975 NBC’s Saturday Night, the show that would eventually become known as Saturday Night Live, made its debut. It was created by comedy writer Lorne Michaels who besides a break in the 80s has been with the show ever since.  It featured a talented ensemble cast including Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, and more. From its beginnings, the show had a 90 minute-format broadcasted live from Studio 8H at Rockefeller Center featuring multiple sketches and a revolving host and musical act. The opening sketch always had someone saying the catch phrase: “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”

The show was originally called NBC’s Saturday Night because of a competing ABC show called Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell. NBC acquired the naming rights in 1977 and the show has been known as Saturday Night Live ever since.  The first episode was hosted by renowned comedian George Carlin. There were two musical guests for the first episode, Billy Preston and Janis Ian. Candace Bergen would be the first female host later that same season.

SNL’s Emmy wins and character highlights

SNL’s first season was nominated for 5 Emmy Awards. It won 4, for best comedy variety music series, best supporting actor Chevy Chase, and best directing and writing for comedy variety music. That would just be the beginning of its Emmy history. Today it has 86 Emmy wins from 307 nominations making it the biggest Primetime Emmy Award winner ever.

SNL has created many memorable characters and catchphrases over the years. There was Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannada, a weekend update correspondent who loved to exaggerate and talk about her family. Billy Crystal immortalized the phrase “you look mahvelous” with his character Fernando Lamas. Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon’s body building characters Hans and Franz, who were cousins of Arnold Swarzenagger, tried to make audiences stronger, famously stating: “we’re going to pump you up.” Characters who went on to appear in cult classics like The Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World got their start on SNL sketches.

SNL cast member salaries

This brings us full circle to the question of salaries for these funny people. The answer to how much they make depends on their seniority with the show. First year cast members reportedly make $7,000 dollars an episode. Most seasons consist of about 21 episodes so that makes $147,000 a season for first year cast members.

There is a pay raise if a cast member stays on for a second season of $1,000 dollars. This means second year cast members make $8,000 dollars an episode and $168,000 a season based on a 21 episode length. 

The next raise comes in the cast member’s fifth season. Cast members who make it to season 5 of their tenure on the show make $15,000 an episode which translates to $315,000 a season. By this point in their SNL career, cast members are well-known and can also work on other projects.    

The most a cast member can make per episode is $25,000. This would mean $525,000 per season. Most cast members at this level are big superstars and also supplement this income with commercials, other television work, and films. Kenan Thompson is an exception to this salary cap rule because of his long tenure on the show since 2003. According to Celebrity Net Worth, he makes about $2-3 million per season.

SNL hosts’ paychecks

SNL features a different host every episode. Normally the host is appearing in order to promote their own project, but they also get paid in American dollars. The rate of pay varies. Justin Timberlake once let it slip that he was paid $5,000 to host. He told The Sun: “This was my third time to host and obviously I’ve done some appearances here and there when I’m in town … I really do adore the cast and the writers and everyone there. And it’s … you know … it’s a great opportunity for an entertainer like myself to.. it’s the best minimum… It’s the best five grand you can make on television. It’s awesome.”

SNL guest stars’ paycheck

Appearing on SNL is considered an honor. It is also a fun, creative way for actors and singers and celebrities to play and make fun of themselves. And the cherry on top of this is SNL does pay its guest stars, although the rate varies depending on the person and role. Famous guest stars include Larry David as Senator and Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, Tina Fey as former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and Alec Baldwin as President Trump. Alec Baldwin told the New York Times that he made $1,400 an episode playing President Trump which can lead one to believe he was not just in it for the money.