That special appearance from Robin Williams on Saturday Night Live in 2010 was much easier to land than Kenan Thompson though it would be. The longest-serving cast member of SNL, Thompson joined the sketch comedy program in 2003 and is still going strong. One of his most popular characters is Diondre Cole, the host of the fictional BET talk show What Up with That?. The segment is known for featuring unannounced appearances from celebrities, often as the second guest of the show. Typically, the guest doesn’t get the chance to actually speak, as Thompson’s Diondre Cole and his team of dancers, musicians, and other performers frequently interrupt them to do another rendition of the show’s theme song.
Williams appeared as the second guest on the segment for a 2010 episode hosted by Robert De Niro. While Williams had hosted SNL three times in the 1980s, he hadn’t appeared on the show since, and it was a nice surprise for viewers to see the actor. Williams did get the chance to speak briefly, agreeing with De Niro that the constant interruptions were “real rude.” That didn’t stop Diondre and Co. from breaking out in another over-the-top performance of the song to close out the sketch.
In a new interview for the Fly on the Wall podcast (per ScreenRant), Thompson explained how that special appearance from Williams came to be. He reveals that the beloved funnyman’s cameo happened at the last minute, the result of someone else dropping out soon before the show. Thompson says he was told be Lorne Michaels to personally ask Williams if he’d be interested, and while he has his doubts, he did just that. Williams immediately agreed when asked, as Thompson recalls:
“[The second seat of What Up with That?] is usually just someone that really just sits there and doesn’t say anything at all. It’s like reserved for any kind of famous person that wants to be there or that we can get. [After someone dropped out, Lorne Michaels] was like, ‘You should ask Robin.’ I was like, ‘I should ask Robin? I should just go ask Robin Williams to just sit in my sketch and not say a word? Like, seriously?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah.’ I was like, ‘S—.’ I went and talked — I didn’t even finish my sentence — he was just like, ‘Absolutely.’ He was just an angel. That was crazy.”
Robin Williams Only Needed to Be Asked
Williams may have appeared on SNL a bit sooner than his special cameo in 2010 if a prank he had tried to pull two years earlier had worked out. Former cast member Bobby Moynihan had previously detailed a story where he’d just been cast for the show, landing his dream job, when he was approached by Williams with a pitch for a prank. According to Moynihan, Robin said he would go in pretending to be him on his first day at SNL. However, Williams apparently thought better of it before the show and didn’t move forward with the plan. As Moynihan said on The Tonight Show last year:
“Robin grabbed me by the shoulders and was like, ‘I have an idea. Give me your clothes. I’m gonna go into work for you tomorrow. You just got Saturday Night Live. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I went into work for you?’ And I remember instantly thinking, ‘Oh, no. This is a terrible idea.’ I do not want my first day at SNL to have Lorne Michaels see Robin Williams walk in in a Bart Simpson T-shirt. I was like, ‘No.’ I’m like, ‘How do you tell Robin Williams no?’ He was 100% serious. And then, I was terrified. He gave me his number, and I was like, ‘Oh, no, this is gonna happen.’ And he never called, and I was really happy.”
The above episode of Saturday Night Live, along with the previous episodes hosted by Williams, can all be found streaming on Peacock.