Why Steven Yeun Stopped Hoping For SNL And Tried Out For The Walking Dead Instead

steven yeun glenn covered in blood the walking dead

For anyone who is familiar with Steven Yeun largely for his years mauling zombies on AMC's The Walking Dead, know that there are many more sides to the actor than just "bloody and serious-faced." And while Yeun's filmography may not indicate that he's expertly attuned to comedic performances, the actor is an absolute hoot whenever he lands a project that allows him to spread those wings in full. In fact, Yeun spent many of his pre-TWD days in the world of sketch comedy, though that career path unfortunately never made it to SNL's front door before he changed gears.

Steven Yeun is currently on the promotional trail for his already acclaimed new movie Minari, the drama that took home the Grand Jury and Audience prizes at this year's Sundance Film Festival. While talking about his role and the film's impact with Variety, Yeun reflected on his entrance into the entertainment world, which was sparked by a random woman's inspiring advice for him to become an actor. He leaned into honing his improv comedy skills at Chicago's legendary Second City theatre, which birthed the careers of many iconic comedians, and SNL stars in particular.

But after his time at Second City, which included touring around the country as an understudy for future SNL star Vanessa Bayer, Steven Yeun recognized that he was heading for a glass ceiling in the world of comedy. In his words:

I didn’t see a pathway through Second City to get to SNL, probably because there was nobody in front of me to lead the way. I was also thinking, who could I even play in popular culture that wasn’t an accented foreigner? What’s been nice about recontextualizing that moment is to see what Bowen Yang is doing now on SNL. He’s not playing a stereotype, he’s owning the multitudes of what Asian Americans can be or how Asian people are seen. I think that’s the thing that I wasn’t aware of or maybe brave enough to contend with at the time.

Steven Yeun's thought process is a frustrating one to hear, since he basically had to side-step his goals and sincere career desires due to the lack of Korean actors (or any performers of Asian descent) present on Saturday Night Live or within any other major comedy institutions. Since then, SNL welcomed and promoted the aforementioned Bowen Yang, and while Yeun is absolutely on point in regards to Yang's input thankfully being far more than just aged stereotypes, it's a shame that it took so long to make it happen, and that it may potentially be the only example for years to come.

As much of a bummer as it is that Steven Yeun didn't think himself capable of following Vanessa Bayer to SNL, it's hard to get mad about him eventually landing on The Walking Dead and becoming arguably the most pitch-perfect actor who could have played the fan-favorite comic character Glenn. Granted, Yeun also came away from that series with some frustrations, since Glenn didn't always get his narrative dues before he was brutally killed off, but I can't imagine anyone else playing that role and earning the same kind of sympathy and adoration from the highly picky fanbase.

To that end, Vanessa Bayer spoke highly of Steven Yeun's acting skills, saying:

What I realize now about Steven is something they used to tell us in Chicago all the time, that the best sketch comics are often just amazing actors. Some of the stuff we were doing was extremely stupid, and he had such great comedic timing.

In the years since he exited The Walking Dead, Steven Yeun has been able to flex his comedic muscles more, from guest spots on comedies like Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ and I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson to voice work on animated faves like Tuca & Bertie and Final Space. (Not to mention his Glenn reprisal for Robot Chicken's Walking Dead special in 2017.) He also lent his voice to an adaptation of the excellent comic series Chew, and is heading up Robert Kirkman's upcoming Amazon superhero series Invincible, with Yeun as the quippy lead.

While not necessarily likely, it's possible that Steven Yeun could return to TWD for the upcoming anthology project Tales of the Walking Dead, perhaps for a flashback story with Lauren Cohan's Maggie. While waiting to hear if that happens or not, be sure to check out his award-winning feature Minari (which is currently in the middle of a contentious Golden Globes debate) and stay tuned to our Winter and Spring 2021 TV premiere schedule to see what new and returning shows are hitting the small screen soon.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.