At the height of her career and after six successful seasons of Saturday Night Live, Melissa Villaseñor walked away from it all. In a telling interview with The Daily Beast, the comedian opened up about her reasons for exiting the show at the end of Season 47, which also saw the departure of cast members Pete Davidson, Kate McKinnon, Chris Redd, Aidy Bryant, and Kyle Mooney.
In the interview, Villaseñor shared that panic attacks and mental health struggles led to her decision to walk away. “Yeah, it was my decision,” Villaseñor said. “I gave myself a lot of time in the summer to think on it and kind of play out in my head if I go back. At the end of the day it was about my mental health.
“Last season, I had a couple of panic attacks. I think it was just… I was struggling,” she continued. “I always felt like I was on the edge of a cliff every week. And I was like, I don’t want to be doing that to myself anymore. And it’s not like the show was mean toward me or anyone. It was just how I handle things.”
Villaseñor joined SNL in 2016 as only the third – following Horatio Sanz and Fred Armisen – cast member with Latin roots, and the series’ first-ever Latina player. She cemented a name for herself for her beloved impressions, including memorable takes on Lady Gaga and Dolly Parton, the latter of whom was flattered by the actress.
Villaseñor also talked about how she felt behind-the-scenes when the cameras weren’t rolling. “I think I’m an introvert,” she said. “When I’m in a big group of a lot of amazing people, and everyone’s speaking over everyone else, I think I tend to get small. I get nervous, like, where do I fit? What am I supposed to do? That’s how I was in high school, too. And so I think that’s what caused it. And I was like, I think I’m OK. I feel like there’s nothing else that I feel like, oh, I need to be sharing this, I want to do this on the show. I think I’m ready. There was just something telling me, I think I could part ways.”
In May, SNL creator Lorne Michaels told The New York Times that a “year of change” was coming. During the Emmys, he confirmed that “this will be a transition year,” according to Entertainment Weekly, “and the change years are always difficult but also really exciting because there’s new people and things are changing and a different generation comes into the show.
“I think people might’ve left earlier, but there was no place to go, and also, we were used to doing it, and we were under pressure to do it,” Michaels said in regards to the cast performing during the pandemic. “It was difficult, particularly when you’re rehearsing in masks and it’s all protocols and there’s nothing to do after the show except to go home.”