Years before she starred in Seinfeld and Veep, Julia Louis-Dreyfus cut her comedy teeth as a cast member on Saturday Night Live from 1982 to 1985. Now, Louis-Dreyfus opens up about the culture of the variety show at the time in a candid conversation with Stephen Colbert at a fundraiser for film and arts organization Montclair Film.
Louis-Dreyfus was 21 when she started on the show, and had not yet graduated from Northwestern University when she took the gig that is coveted by every comedian. Louis-Dreyfus noted that there were some “incredibly funny” people in the cast, which then included stars like Billy Crystal, Eddie Murphy, Chris Guest, Marty Short, and Mary Gross. Despite all the jokes, it wasn’t a wholly good experience.
“I was unbelievably naive and I didn’t really understand how the dynamics of the place worked,” the actress told Colbert, per the press release for the event. “It was very sexist, very sexist. People were doing crazy drugs at the time. I was oblivious. I just thought, ‘oh wow, he’s got a lot of energy.’”
She called her time on Saturday Night Live “very brutal,” and explained that it taught her a valuable lesson.
“I learned I wasn’t going to do anymore of this show-business crap unless it was fun,” she told Colbert.
These days, Saturday Night Live is full of funny women: Aidy Bryant, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, and Melissa Villaseño are all a part of the season 44 cast.
It isn’t the first time that Louis-Dreyfus has talked about the difficult culture at SNL. In an interview with SiriusXM’s Entertainment Weekly show in 2017, she said she was “miserable” on the NBC show, calling it a “very dog-eat-dog” place to work where “there were a lot of drugs.
Fortunately, Louis-Dreyfus got something great out of her not-so-fun time on SNL. She met Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, who would go on to help launch her sitcom career.
“Larry was there my third year,” she told EW. “He never got a sketch on the air. We sort of became friends because we identified with each other’s misery.”
Refinery29 reached out to Louis-Dreyfus and NBC for comment.