Comedy

Jon Rudnitsky Got Fired From SNL. Then His Career Took Off.

Live from Dallas it's Friday and Saturday night. Former SNL cast member and comedian Jon Rudnitsky is performing two nights this weekend at the Dallas Comedy Club.
Justin Bettman
Live from Dallas it's Friday and Saturday night. Former SNL cast member and comedian Jon Rudnitsky is performing two nights this weekend at the Dallas Comedy Club.
After a single season on NBC's Saturday Night Live, comedian Jon Rudnitsky made an impression on viewers by impersonating CNN's Anderson Cooper and with sketches like the viral dramatic parody Farewell, Mr. Bunting.

Unfortunately, SNL chose not to extend his contract, and he was back to doing stand-up.

"After I got fired, I got scared I would never get hired again because it felt like the center of the universe," Rudnitsky says.

But those dark days turned out to be a promising start to a thriving career in comedy, movies and television. A month later, Rudnitsky scored a prominent role in the Reese Witherspoon movie Home Again.

"It was pretty amazing," Rudnitsky says. "I went from doing stand-up in a bowling alley in Waukesha, Michigan, to shooting a movie with an Oscar winner. That movie helped me feel that SNL wasn't my only avenue. Suddenly, I felt like I was gonna be OK. I've been working ever since."

Rudnitsky has built an impressive resume in a short time. Since then, he's also won roles opposite George Clooney in Hulu's adaptation of Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and made appearances on shows Tacoma FD, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Hulu's critically acclaimed The Big Leap. He's also headlining his own stand-up tour, which comes to the Dallas Comedy Club on Friday, Dec. 10, and Saturday, Dec. 11.
Rudnitsky has been doing stand-up since he was 16 at open mics in New York and New Jersey. He went pro after college and performed a memorable set at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal in 2015 that caught the eye of Saturday Night Live producers. Within the span of a few weeks, he joined the show's cast for the 2015-16 season.

He first got the call in a parking lot of a Minnesota casino where he was about to "perform for a bunch of the elderly people losing money at the slot machines."

"It was pretty life-changing," he says. "I screamed my head off. I wasn't in any of the improv or sketch schools. I'd taken classes, but I wasn't in a place where I was being seen that way. I wasn't really in that super successful place, either. I was opening for super successful comedians."

The notoriously competitive environment of the SNL writer and performer pool hit him the moment he stepped in the offices at 30 Rock.

"When writers know how to put you in the show, you fit in easily, but as this new cast member, I wasn't coming in with a ton of characters or experience and I didn't know where I fit in the show," Rudnitsky says. "So a lot of weeks, I was fending for myself and a lot of times, I'd find new writers to work with. It's kind of a sink-or-swim environment. A lot of times, it would be a Tuesday night, which is a writing night there. I would be in kind of a panic at 3 or 4 a.m. trying to come up with something funny."

Despite the competitive nature of the show, Rudnitsky made his mark with moments like the Dirty Dancing bit he took from his stand-up and brought to the Weekend Update desk and to sketches with hosts Miley Cyrus, Chris Hemsworth and Larry David. He even had roles in some of the series' most shared sketches like "Space Pants" with Peter Dinklage and the blatantly bloody "Farewell, Mr. Bunting" with Fred Armisen.
("That was a difficult shoot because they had to clean up the blood after every take," Bettman says.)

"I'm proud of the things I got on the show," Rudnitsky says. "I was 25 and pretty inexperienced and a bit in over my head."

However, he took away a lot of hard lessons that have guided him to higher plateaus in his career.

"Live TV isn't something that exists beyond SNL these days, so when I get onto a movie set and lines written for me, I might've been nervous to act opposite big-time movie stars, but SNL prepared me for that," Rudnitsky says. "It gave me the confidence to know I can do it and the confidence to bounce back. It made me feel like I have a thick skin and I'm tough enough to handle the ups and downs of this business."

Jon Rudnitsky will perform two shows at 8 and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at the Dallas Comedy Club in Deep Ellum. Tickets are available at Dallas-ComedyClub.com.