When Chris Parnell talks about leaving Saturday Night Live, he has to clarify whether he’s referring to the first time he was fired, in 2001 — when he says he was devastated to be removed from the program, only to be reinstated a few months into the next season — and the second time, in 2006, when he had wanted to stay with the show at least one more year but was also starting to feel ready to move on.
“They put the ball in my court,” he says of the series’ producers. “They gave me the opportunity to say, ‘I’m done.’ I couldn’t do it.”
The comedian and voice actor behind Cyril Figgis of FXX’s Archer and Jerry of adult swim’s Rick and Morty (two of my favorite TV comedies of the moment) is my guest in this week’s episode of I Think You’re Interesting, where we talk about his roots in sketch comedy and, in particular, his eight seasons on SNL, from 1998 to 2006. (He’s since guest-starred in essentially every one of your favorite sitcoms, with credits including a recurring role on 30 Rock as the beloved character Dr. Spaceman, whose name is pronounced “Spuh-cheh-man.)
Parnell says that taking his second SNL dismissal in good stride was just part of how he sees the world and the entertainment industry.
“On a certain level, it’s just common sense. People want to work with people that are easy to work with and are nice and pleasant,” he says. “I’ve seen actors, none of whom I will name, that are so talented, they’re so good, but are so hard to work with. And at a certain point, the world of people who are making content says, ‘It’s not really worth it to me. I don’t want to put up with the baggage that person brings with them.’”
Parnell says he’s nostalgic for that time in his life, but that SNL’s demanding schedule — which is essentially a week-long sprint toward the Saturday night show — is something he doesn’t miss. Indeed, he’s imagined that if he were ever asked to host, he’s sure he would say yes — but that “I would be a little skittish about it.”
Parnell also says he has one big regret from his time with the series:
The thing I regret the most about my time on the show is that I wasn’t hungrier while I was there. Not hungrier — that I wasn’t braver. That I wasn’t ballsier. That I wasn’t more confident. A lack of confidence, I think, kept me from doing more than I think I could have done.
I remember talking to Will Ferrell, because we shared an office our first year. I remember asking Will, during my first season, “Hey, did it take you awhile to get the ball rolling and get up to speed?” And he was, like, “No. I came in running, on the ground, going full ahead.”
Which he did. He was right. I was hoping for some kind of, “No, no, it took me a while too, man,” [but] he was honest. I certainly didn’t do that like he did.
Parnell has much more to say about SNL, 30 Rock, his early days in comedy, and his current roles in the full episode, which you can listen to above or download on any podcast app. For more interviews with fascinating people from the world of arts and culture, check out the I Think You’re Interesting archives.