Saturday Night Live (SNL) is a cultural institution that has endured for more than 40 years. And along the way the show has provided many classic moments and captured the pop culture zeitgeist. Who can forget the Coneheads, Blues Brothers, Wayne’s World, Celebrity Jeopardy, The Californians or MacGruber? But over the years, SNL, which is performed live each week, has also generated its share of scandals and controversies—many of which became national and international incidents. Whether it was the death of a popular cast member, the antics of a guest host or the bad behavior of a musical act, SNL has served up plenty of controversial moments since it first aired in 1975. Here is a list of the 12 most controversial moments in the show’s history.
12. Elvis Costello Switches Songs Mid-Performance
British rocker Elvis Costello was a bit of a contrarian in his youth. The man behind hits such as “Veronica” and “Watching the Detectives” caused controversy with his first appearance on SNL in 1977 when he disobeyed a request from producer Lorne Michaels to not play the song “Radio Radio,” which was critical of corporate broadcasting. Apparently an edict came down from the brass at NBC Studios not to play “Radio Radio.” Elvis Costello expressed his disappointment behind the scenes and agreed to play a different song, “Less Than Zero,” with his band The Attractions. However, a minute into that song, Elvis Costello stopped his band live on the air and launched into—you guessed it—“Radio Radio. ” Lorne Michaels was super pissed by this act of defiance and banned Elvis Costello from SNL until 1988, when he returned. At SNL‘s 25th anniversary show, Elvis Costello made light of the controversy by crashing the Beastie Boys’ performance of their song “Sabotage” in order to again play “Radio Radio.” The Beastie Boys seemed happy to oblige.