After Martin Lawrence Hosted SNL, He Was Banned From NBC Entirely

The cast of "Saturday Night Live" might be full of comedians with an improv background, but if there's one thing showrunner Lorne Michaels doesn't like it's... well, improv. If you've ever been lucky enough to visit studio 8H and see how things work behind-the-scenes, it's not all joking around. In fact, it's quite intense, with the production crew racing around on-stage between sketches to prep the next setup. All of which is overseen by Michaels who has been running the show since 1975 (except for a brief hiatus in the early '80s).

And over his time shepherding NBC's legendary sketch show, Michaels has learned that any attempt to go off-script could throw his finely tuned machine into chaos. In fact, if a performer dares to indulge their improv sensibilities, it could well spell the end of their "SNL" career, such as when Damon Wayans decided to play a straight-man character as flamboyantly gay and was promptly asked to leave the show.

But it's not just the cast that risk their 30 Rock pass when they deviate from the set schedule. Musical guests have been swiftly banned after going off-book, like the time Elvis Costello played a song Michaels specifically told him not to. Or the time Sinead O'Connor ripped up a photo of the pope — an (apparently) unthinkable act that made her persona non grata at SNL. Then there was the time the punk band Fear smashed up the place, which unsurprisingly got them banned. (But that was less about improv and more about, y'know smashing up the place.) And when it isn't musical guests or the cast throwing a wrench in Michaels' well-oiled machine, it's the hosts.

Martin Lawrence's thoughts on female hygiene got him banned

There's been some truly terrible hosts over 48 SNL seasons. Recently, Al Franken showed up on Tom Segura and Christina P's podcast and revealed both he and Lorne Michaels considered Steven Seagal the worst host of all time. And Francis Ford Coppola may be a legendary filmmaker, but his SNL episode was just downright weird. Elsewhere, Adrien Brody was reportedly banned after his episode, in which he donned fake dreads and affected an over-the-top Jamaican accent to introduce musical guest, Sean Paul. Whether that was, in fact, unplanned remains unclear, however.

But one host who definitely did run afoul of Michaels' intolerance for improv, was Martin Lawrence. In 1994, Lawrence was on top of his game. His show, "Martin" had been running on Fox since '92 and proved a massive success, as did HBO's hugely influential standup comedy showcase "Def Comedy Jam," of which Lawrence was a host. So, when he came to host SNL, the comedian was feeling pretty good about himself. The man swaggers his way through that opening speech before wrapping up with a, "We got a great show for you tonight, because I'm here."

And if that's all Lawrence did during his monologue, he'd still be welcome at 30 Rock. Unfortunately he also took the opportunity to launch into a clearly unpolished bit wherein he decries the state of female personal hygiene, at one point suggesting unorthodox usage of a tic-tac to remedy the issue. Apparently, none of that section was planned, which went against Lorne Michaels' hard and fast rule of no improv — that, and it was pretty crass, even by '90s standards.This led to him being banned not just from SNL, but NBC as a whole.

'A frank and lively discussion'

Awkward SNL monologues are a relevant topic today, but Martin Lawrence's seems to have really struck a nerve. As the LA Times reported in the wake of Lawrence's lewd comments, NBC received 200 complaints, at a time when the comedian was already feeling the heat. Around the same time, his first concert film, "You So Crazy," received an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association. of America, while his album, "Talkin' S***," had been given that dreaded symbol of '90s pearl-clutchery: the Parental Advisory sticker.

Speaking on the SNL debacle, Lawrence told the Times that he performed the same bit during a run-through and heard nothing from Lorne Michaels or anyone else about it being unsuitable. Meanwhile NBC claimed he did, in fact, go off-script during the infamous female hygiene section of his monologue. That tracks with the fact that syndicated episodes of the episode were broadcast with a series of title cards explaining that the network was refusing to air that particular part. And those cards are arguably funnier than the bit itself, reading:

"At this point in his monologue, Martin begins a commentary on what he considers the decline in standards of feminine hygiene in this country. Although we at 'Saturday Night Live' take no stand on this issue one way or the other, network policy prevents us from re-broadcasting this portion of his remarks. In summary, Martin feels, or felt at the time, that the failure of many young women to bathe thoroughly is a serious problem that demands our attention. He explores this problem, citing numerous examples from his personal experience, and ends by proposing several imaginative solutions. It was a frank and lively presentation, and nearly cost us all our jobs. We now return to the conclusion of Martin's monologue."

'I don't give a damn'

Martin Lawrence — who will soon be starring in "Bad Boys 4" — did eventually return to NBC with a 1995 appearance on "The Tonight Show," but he's still never been back to "Saturday Night Live." The comedian clarified things in a 2020 interview with "The Breakfast Club," where, asked if he was still banned from SNL, he responded with, "I don't give a damn," before adding:

"They had banned me from NBC at the time for a minute but then they realized the way it went down wasn't what they thought. And then they sent me an apology letter, Warren Littlefield [then head of NBC Entertainment] he sent me a letter and apologized and said, 'Welcome back to NBC.'"

It's not always fair to judge comedy from a different time by today's standards, but I'm gonna. Not that NBC was right to ban him — or that Michaels' rule against improv doesn't seem slightly incongruous given his show deals almost exclusively in a comedy style that developed from within the improv community — but the whole female hygiene bit, apart from clearly being new and untested, was just kind of uncomfortable. And you can sense the live audience felt that, too, despite the cheers from a particularly unfortunate contingent within the crowd. Ultimately, both NBC, the offended viewers, and Lawrence himself came out of the whole thing looking kind of silly, which is why it's probably better to take a page out of the comedian's book and not "give a damn" about any of it.