The beloved comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live has had audiences laughing about topical situations since it debuted in 1975. SNL has launched the careers of countless talents such as Amy Poehler, Chris Rock, and Adam Sandler, and greatly impacted popular culture, winning 86 Emmy Awards from 307 nominations, and holding the record for the most Primetime Emmy Awards ever.
SNL is still having an amazing tenure having just completed season 47 with a talented cast including Kate McKinnon, Pete Davidson, and Kenan Thompson. With all this stardom in one show, it is normal to wonder how much each cast member earns in pay. To understand who makes the most, we must first take a look at how the pay structure on SNL works.
SNL pay structure
SNL’s pay structure is based on seniority. The longer you have been on the show, the more money you make.
First year cast members receive $7,000 an episode. SNL’s season is on average 21 episodes long so that would make $147,000 for the first season. If the cast member returns for a second year, they receive a pay increase of $1,000 making $8,000 an episode and $168,480 a season. The next raise comes at the five year mark at $15,000 an episode and $315,000 a season. The highest NBC is willing to pay per episode is $25,000 an episode which would mean $525,000 a season. There are conflicting reports that perhaps Kenan Thompson makes more than this because of contract negotiations and his longevity on the show.
Let’s take a look at the highest paid SNL cast members of season 47.
Cecily Legler Strong was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. Strong studied theater at California Institute of the Arts graduating with a BFA. After college she moved to Chicago and studied at Second City Conservatory and iO Chicago. Strong’s SNL debut occurred on September 15, 2012 as a featured player. The next season she became a repertory player and was co-anchor on the popular Weekend Update segment.
Some of Strong’s most memorable characters on SNL include: The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation with at a Party; an activist; and Heather, a token female character in a male-driven comedy. Some of Strong’s celebrity impersonations include Gina Carano and Liz Cheney. Strong has been nominated for two Emmy Awards for her work on SNL. Because of her seniority on the show, she makes $25,000 an episode making her one of the highest paid actors on the show.
Kyle Mooney was born and raised in San Diego, California. He studied film at USC where he performed with the improv group Commedus Interruptus. Mooney did not make the cut the first time he auditioned for SNL in 2012. Thankfully for audiences that was remedied in 2013 when he made his debut as a featured player.
Mooney’s best known characters and bits include the person-on-the-street interviews, and the 4/20 Weed-Smoking Guy. His celebrity impersonations include Jeff Bezos and Fred Astaire. Because of his tenure on the show, Mooney makes $25,000 dollars an episode. Season 47 was his final one, but you can catch his endearing indie film Brigsby Bear on Hulu, or Saturday Morning All Star Hits! on Netflix if you need a fix.
Colin Jost was born and raised in New York City. He attended Harvard University where he studied history and literature with an emphasis on Russian and British literature. He graduated with honors, so it’s safe to say Jost is a fairly intelligent guy. Jost joined SNL first as a writer in 2005. He made his acting debut on the show on March 1, 2014, replacing Seth Myers in the popular Weekend Update segment. He is currently the longest anchor in the history of the segment. Jost is one of the highest paid actors on SNL making $25,000 dollars an episode. He also serves as a writer on the show.
Kate McKinnon Berthold was born and raised in Sea Cliff, New York. She attended Columbia University where she studied theater. McKinnon made her SNL debut in 2012 and was made a repertory played in 2013. She is known for her many celebrity impressions such as Hilary Clinton, Jeff Sessions, and Ellen DeGeneres. Some of McKinnon’s many famous characters include: Les Dykawitz, a 1970s lesbian cop; and Noelle LeSoup, host of the French show America’s Funniest Cats.
McKinnon has been nominated for nine Emmy Awards for her work on SNL, winning two in 2016 and 2017. Her 2016 Emmy Award was the first time an actor from SNL had won since 1993. McKinnon is one of the highest paid actors on SNL making $25,000 an episode. Like Mooney, season 47 was also her last. McKinnon is currently filming on Greta Gerwig’s upcoming Barbie film.
Kenan Thompson was born in Columbus, Ohio, but raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Thompson was a child actor who appeared in many projects including Nickelodeon’s sketch show All That, and D2: The Mighty Ducks. Thompson joined SNL in 2003 and was promoted to repertory player in 2005. Like Mooney, he auditioned previously but was told he was too young. Thompson has been on the show for 19 years making him the longest-tenured cast member. The title had previously been held by Darrell Hammond for his 14 year run.
Thompson’s most famous celebrity impressions include OJ Simpson and Steve Harvey. He has been in over 1,500 sketches. Some of Thompson’s most famous characters include Darnell Hayes who hosts Black Jeopardy, and Tre in the Californians sketches. He is one of the highest paid actors on SNL, however reports conflict on his actual salary. Cosmopolitan via Celebrity Net Worth claims he is an exception to the $25,000 an episode salary cap and makes $2-3 million a season because of his long tenure on the show. Other sources say he makes $25,000 an episode. Regardless of how much he makes, Thompson is currently one of the highest paid actors on the show.