The twenty-first season of Saturday Night Live, an American sketch comedy series, originally aired in the United States on NBC between September 30, 1995, and May 18, 1996.
SNL once again dodged cancellation from season twenty's low ratings and scathing reviews about the show's decline in quality. The cast was mostly overhauled.
The season was home to the Rage Against the Machine incident. On April 13, 1996, the band was the musical guest, and was scheduled to perform two songs. The show was hosted that night by ex-Republican presidential candidate and billionaire Steve Forbes. According to RATM guitarist Tom Morello, "RATM wanted to stand in sharp juxtaposition to a billionaire telling jokes and promoting his flat tax by making our own statement." To this end, the band hung two upside-down American flags from their amplifiers. Seconds before they took the stage to perform "Bulls on Parade", SNL and NBC sent stagehands in to pull the flags down. Following the removal of the flags during the first performance, the band was approached by SNL and NBC officials and ordered to immediately leave the building. Upon hearing this, bassist Tim Commerford reportedly stormed Forbes' dressing room, throwing shreds from one of the torn down flags. Morello noted that members of the Saturday Night Live cast and crew, whom he declined to name, "expressed solidarity with our actions, and a sense of shame that their show had censored the performance."
Only five cast members: Norm Macdonald, Mark McKinney, Tim Meadows, Molly Shannon and David Spade returned to the show from the previous season.
Although Spade returned to the show, he had more of a diminished role, very rarely appearing in sketches except for Spade in America, a "Weekend Update" segment hosted by Spade that debuted at the start of the season and was featured in all but five episodes.
With the cast overhaul taking place, Lorne Michaels hired Jim Breuer, Will Ferrell, Darrell Hammond, David Koechner, Cheri Oteri, and Nancy Walls.
Molly Shannon was upgraded to repertory status.
Several episodes into the season, head writer Fred Wolf and newly hired writer Colin Quinn were added to the cast as featured players. Chris Kattan also joined as a featured player for the final six episodes of the season.
This would be the final season for David Spade. Spade had agreed to stay only for a year so that he could be a bridge between the old and new casts. Newcomers David Koechner and Nancy Walls were also let go after this season.
bold denotes "Weekend Update" anchor
Steve Higgins, Adam McKay and Paula Pell join the writing staff.