When Horatio Sanz signed a young fan’s Second City yearbook, he wrote two words: “Be cool.”
That phrase had allegedly come to define the comedian’s relationship with the teen, who filed a lawsuit against both Sanz and NBC in 2021. The woman, identified as “Jane Doe” due to her being underage when the alleged predatory interactions with Sanz took place, cites the comedian’s own written admission in her complaint. His exact words, according to the lawsuit: “If you want to metoo me you have every right.”
Jane also alleges in her lawsuit that Sanz sexually assaulted her when she was 17, first at an SNL afterparty and once more afterward.
When she was in eighth grade, Jane—then an SNL and Jimmy Fallon superfan—joined the show’s online community, a web of message boards and fan sites for individual performers largely populated by teenage girls and young women. She alleges in her lawsuit that she had just turned 15 years old when Sanz and Fallon first emailed to thank her for creating a fan page in the current Tonight Show host’s honor.
Jane allegedly became a regular guest of Sanz’s at cast parties, where according to her lawsuit, SNL staff and performers observed her drinking and consuming drugs despite being underage. (She remembers Fallon once counseled her on the SATs and on another occasion suggested a college she might attend.) During their two decades of acquaintance, Jane says Sanz positioned himself as both an older brother figure and a sexual mentor. In multiple interviews with The Daily Beast, she recalled him telling her she was “SO COOL” for her age and asking for photos—requests that became increasingly explicit over time as Sanz allegedly used comedy to steer their conversations toward sex, according to the lawsuit.
When news first broke of her lawsuit, Jane felt dismayed by the way her complaint had been characterized. Most coverage seemed to focus on the lurid details surrounding her interactions with Sanz rather than the broader culture at SNL that allegedly allowed his behavior to go unchecked. Sanz, she points out, is one of two defendants in her case: “The first defendant is NBC.”
Echoing the allegations in her lawsuit, Jane told The Daily Beast, “Horatio certainly is the main character here, but he didn’t abuse me in a vacuum; he abused me all over Saturday Night Live.”
The Daily Beast has spoken with two of Jane’s friends from the time she knew Sanz—one who grew up with her in “real life” starting in elementary school and another with whom Jane had bonded online as a teen in SNL’s fan community. (Jane and her friends are all described pseudonymously to protect her identity as a child sex abuse survivor.) Both friends corroborated the nature of Jane’s relationship with Sanz—one through an eyewitness account, and the other through alleged chat logs she’d saved from her own conversations with the comedian, who described partying with Jane until morning on at least one occasion. The online friend, Melissa, alleges that in addition to Jane, Sanz may have been attempting to groom her as well.
Many of the three women’s allegations stem from the show’s first episode back on the air just 18 days after September 11—a landmark episode that opened with then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani standing before a group of first responders to proclaim that New York was up and running once more, choosing to “live our lives in freedom” instead of fear. Sanz had previously promised Melissa he would wear her first initial on his shirt on air but later apologized, per an AOL Instant Messenger chat log provided to The Daily Beast, that he’d instead had to wear a patriotic get-up to commemorate the occasion. (The pajamas he wore glowed in the dark, he allegedly told the teenager, “so my women can find me in the dark.”) Jane’s school friend, Katherine, also recalled attending that episode’s afterparty—where she alleges she witnessed her friend sitting with Sanz and Fallon “like they were pals,” and Sanz and Jane behaving like a couple.
When reached for comment, Sanz’s attorney Andrew Brettler referred The Daily Beast to the statement of denial he issued last year on his client’s behalf: “This individual’s claims about Horatio Sanz are categorically false… However often she repeats her ludicrous allegations or tries to rope in other high-profile names to generate media attention, they will always be false. Before filing this lawsuit anonymously, she demanded $7.5 million in exchange for her silence. We, of course, refused and will vigorously contest these totally meritless claims.”
A spokesperson from NBC representing SNL and Fallon said they cannot comment on legal matters.
Jane still remembers the first episode of Saturday Night Live she ever watched. It was the mid-1990s, when she would have been in elementary school. Her mother let her stay up one night to watch Bush, her favorite band at the time, perform as a musical guest. From there a new passion was born.
Saturday Night Live’s 24th season, which added Fallon, Sanz, and Chris Parnell to the cast, coincided with Jane’s introduction to SNL’s online fan community. She joined the show’s message boards and eventually launched a Fallon site of her own. In its heyday, she recalled, her site was among the top search results for the comedian’s name.
“I knew that people from SNL were on my website,” Jane says. In both her website and on the message boards, she adds, “I was actively trying to impress the people at SNL who I knew were reading it because I very overtly wanted a job on SNL someday.”
Virtual, largely unsupervised spaces like these were a hallmark of the early 2000s internet, and they appear to have provided the perfect hunting ground for predators. Jane’s experience sounds similar to those of underage music fans whom Brand New frontman Jesse Lacey allegedly groomed via email and instant messages. Jane’s allegations also call to mind those of other women who have come forward to accuse comedians, including Chris D’Elia and Jeff Ross, of preying on them when they were underage.
On multiple occasions, Jane emphasized that the hardest aspect of her experience to stomach is the knowledge that Fallon, her one-time idol and arguably Sanz’s closest colleague, witnessed so many of her and Sanz’s interactions. The two shared an office at 30 Rock for years and first established contact with Jane in a joint email sent to her from an NBC account, according to the lawsuit.
“I don’t know how many people knew that Horatio was sexting me regularly,” she says. “I don’t know how much of our conversations happened when he was in his office at NBC, which he shared with Jimmy Fallon… But I know that I deserve to know.”
“I don’t know how many people knew that Horatio was sexting me regularly. I don’t know how much of our conversations happened when he was in his office at NBC, which he shared with Jimmy Fallon… But I know that I deserve to know.”
After Sanz and Fallon reached out by email, Jane recalls flirting with Sanz both on the fan message boards and in person at SNL tapings and events. The pair drank together at multiple parties, she says, and she recalls the comedian physically flirting with gestures like pulling her into his lap and groping her bottom in full view of his NBC colleagues, according to the suit. The two allegedly began chatting privately on AOL Instant Messenger in late August 2001, when Jane was 16 years old. They established private contact through her online friend Melissa, who told The Daily Beast she was 15 years old when Sanz first reached out.
In addition to confirming the nature of Sanz’s relationship with Jane, Melissa believes that Sanz may have been trying to groom her as well. Unlike Jane, Melissa lived out west—a complicating factor that ultimately seemed to stall Sanz’s overtures. She ran a small fan site dedicated to Sanz, whose “outgoing goofiness” and “big, bombastic” persona she appreciated at the time. The comedian emailed her a brief thank-you, she says, from his personal AOL account, “Marblechomper”—at which point they connected via AIM.
Melissa says her interactions with Sanz felt like normal small talk at the time. But looking back, she, too, has started to view things differently. For instance: Why did he allegedly ask her multiple times whether she had a boyfriend? When he asked her to “describe” herself, what kind of description was he after?
Melissa provided The Daily Beast with scans of purported chat logs from when she was 16 years old, in which Sanz mentions partying with Jane until 7 a.m., and “[m]aking sure she behaved herself.” He also apologizes to Melissa for not wearing a shirt emblazoned with her first initial on air; the cast had been wearing patriotic shirts during that first episode back in commemoration of 9/11. “You haven’t sent me a picture yet,” the comedian allegedly wrote to the teen. “You’ve been bad.”
Beyond their conversations on AIM, Melissa also recalls Sanz sending her gifts, including tickets to a 2002 Olympics awards ceremony where the Foo Fighters were playing. “I definitely didn’t ask for the Foo Fighters tickets,” she says. “Like, I distinctly remember I was kind of a music snob and I was like, ‘Ugh, the Foo Fighters.’”
Perhaps the strangest of Sanz’s alleged gifts: Omaha Steaks, delivered overnight to the home where Melissa lived with her family. “They did not think this was weird at all,” Melissa says. “I still haven’t had the heart to tell my mom about these allegations.”
The timing of Jane’s connection with Sanz turned out to be significant. Weeks after the two started chatting on AIM in late August 2001, she recalls visiting the wreckage of the World Trade Center with a friend. She and Sanz had begun chatting routinely—about who might have been in on the attacks and what America’s path forward might look like. The conversations made her feel mature, an ongoing theme of her dynamic with Sanz, who at the time was twice her age—32 years old to her 16. She can still remember the smell of smoke that hung in the air over the debris at Ground Zero.
Around that time, the comedian allegedly began feeding Jane information about the show’s upcoming line-ups for her to break on her Fallon site.
Jane says she attended the taping of the sketch show’s first episode back after 9/11, as well as the afterparties—and from then on, her interactions with Sanz intensified.
“Jane says she attended the taping of the sketch show’s first episode back after 9/11, as well as the afterparties—and from then on, her interactions with Sanz intensified.”
Jane’s classmates would likely remember her as a jeans-and-T-shirt person with a closet full of Paul Frank. She had little use for make-up and preferred to keep her hair in a ponytail. But around the third or fourth time Sanz asked for a photo of the then-16-year-old, she says it felt clear that the images should be provocative. She began wearing her hair down, trying out makeup, and spending the money she made at her part-time after-school job on train tickets to New York and clothes to impress her new social circle.
“I really felt as though some day, this is gonna be a career path for me,” Jane says. “It was very important to me, I guess, to not be thought of as a little kid or a little teenager. And so it really, really profoundly messed with my psyche that in order for people at SNL to treat me like an equal, I had to be sitting there with Horatio’s arm around me.”
Sanz routinely got Jane into SNL’s after-show parties, she says, as well as the after-after parties. She described him as the guy who would sometimes disappear from the festivities only to return with party favors to give out, like roses or pizza. In her case, he occasionally handed over the rose while leaning forward as if hoping for a kiss, according to Jane. He started calling her “dear” right away, she says—a term of endearment that remains tainted to this day. (Sanz also addresses Melissa with the term “dear” in the alleged chat logs she shared with The Daily Beast.) To the rest of the world, he was known as Horatio Sanz—but with Jane and his close friends, she recalls, he was known as “Raj.”
As for how Jane was able to attend all these parties despite being, for all intents and purposes, a kid? “I started lying to my mom constantly,” she says, “because I thought that I was gonna work for Saturday Night Live someday. I just had to be cool… This is how you network.”
At one of these parties, Jane’s lawsuit states, she sat with Fallon and other NBC staff in a VIP area, where she consumed beer and shared calamari with Fallon. She allegedly told the comedian that she was in high school—to which the lawsuit states he replied, “So you have a few years before you graduate.” The complaint adds, “The people seated at the table became very quiet when Plaintiff disclosed she was a junior in high school.” At that same party, the suit claims, Fallon introduced Jane to Lorne Michaels, with whom she discussed her fan site. (The Daily Beast has reviewed contemporaneous notes provided by Jane that detail her conversations with Fallon and others that night.)
Jane’s school friend Katherine recalled listening in awe at lunch as her friend would offer debriefs about her weekend adventures in New York. “I loved to listen, and was totally engaged, and wanted to hear about everything,” she says. “Who didn’t?! I was blown away.”
With the benefit of maturity and distance, however, Katherine can’t help but feel heartbroken for her friend, whom she says became increasingly isolated from friends her own age as her interactions with Sanz intensified.
“She was going up every weekend, hanging out with these people,” Katherine says. “And I just thought it was like, she was super cool.” She now realizes, however, that Jane missed out on the kinds of intense bonds some women form with one another in their youth—the kind of loss that can deeply affect one’s life moving forward.
Jane discussed her feelings of isolation during our own conversations. “I felt like I had been sort of groomed by Horatio into thinking that I was more mature than kids my age,” she says. “Because I was cool enough to be hanging out with all of these adults at SNL. It wasn’t long before all of my friends were SNL people that I knew online or knew from parties… And I was much younger than most of them.”
“It was such a disgusting, warped thing for him to do,” she added. “To sort of play to my ambitions, or ego, or whatever it was, to make a child feel like they shouldn’t be attempting to seek out friendship with their peers anymore because they’re just so ‘mature’ that they should continue fostering a secret friendship with a 32-year-old adult man.”
Like all teens, Jane was beginning to ask herself questions about how she might navigate the world as an adult when she and Sanz first met. The comedian had allegedly ingratiated himself to her as a trustworthy figure who was more than happy to answer any questions she might have.
Katherine attended the 9/11 episode after-party with Jane in 2001, where she recalls observing Jane and Sanz behaving like a couple.
“I vividly remember, as I was kind of walking around with my head in the clouds meeting, like, Ryan Philippe… she was sitting down next to Horatio and Jimmy Fallon at this table and just talking like they were pals.”
Katherine recalls that at the afterparty, Sanz and Jane “were definitely cuddly and arms around each other. And for all intents and purposes, as an outsider, as a 17-year-old, and from me and Jane talking, they were a couple to me… They were dating in some capacity, and I’m like, ‘Look at how cool Jane is for dating this older guy.’” Katherine also remembers attending a subsequent party that same night where Sanz allegedly brought several young-looking female guests and handed out roses.
“And for all intents and purposes, as an outsider, as a 17-year-old, and from me and Jane talking, they were a couple to me… They were dating in some capacity, and I’m like, ‘Look at how cool Jane is for dating this older guy.’”
Katherine also allegedly had a troubling experience of her own at the SNL party. She claims that a high-profile SNL cast member sat next to her, began rubbing her leg, and called her beautiful, an allegation also made in Jane’s lawsuit. She recalls getting up immediately and walking away, filled with a mixture of confusion and adolescent glee. “I look back now and I’m like, ‘Why would any famous person entertain us?’” Katherine says. “‘Why would they even give us the time of day?’ And it’s because they were predatory.”
At the time, Katherine recalls it felt as though she and Jane had “somehow got in secretly or it was just something that we were lucky enough to experience.”
“And now looking back, I will say that they knew what they were doing,” she says. “They knew it was inappropriate. 30-some, 40-some-year-old men know that I look nothing… I looked like a baby at 17.”
Jane had already allegedly attended many SNL parties—which she often spent drinking and in close physical contact with Sanz—by May 2002, when her lawsuit states that he assaulted her.
Jane recalls two parties from that night. The first took place at the now-closed Ristorante Barolo, where Jane’s lawsuit states Sanz openly had his arm around her. The second party allegedly was a far more intimate one—a dark affair in an SNL cast member’s large, loft-style apartment replete with scantily clad women who appeared to have been hired.
There, the suit alleges that Sanz rubbed Jane’s crotch and fondled her breasts on a couch as several of the comedian’s fellow cast members looked on. According to the lawsuit, an NBC employee remarked, “Are you fucking serious?” Beyond that, however, she says no one intervened.
“The suit also alleges that Sanz was not the only SNL employee “who openly preyed upon women and young girls.””
Jane recalls she became embarrassed and wanted to go home. Her lawsuit alleges that Sanz assaulted her once more that night and includes a recollection from a friend: “I remember Horatio once trying with you… [Y]ou were upset and [said] thank god you were wearing panty hose because it stopped the action.”
“By this statement,” the lawsuit clarifies, “Plaintiff meant that while he had digitally penetrated her, the sexual assault did not escalate further because Defendant SANZ could not successfully remove Plaintiff’s panty hose.”
After the assault, Jane says her experience at the parties shifted. She was no longer having fun but instead filled with confused anger, doing drugs in front of the same people whom she’d once been trying to impress. At the same time, she says, Sanz continued to treat her like a plaything. When she confronted him about the assault, she recalls he made her feel as though the incident was an indiscretion on her part—a mistake for which she was to blame.
Days later, at the Season 27 finale party at the SNL offices, Sanz allegedly told the teen, “Jimmy [Fallon] doesn’t care if you’re a slut.”
As traumatic as the incident was, however, Jane stressed that it wasn’t just Sanz who behaved inappropriately. Their every interaction at multiple parties across several seasons all allegedly unfolded before roomfuls of NBC staff and guests. In addition to Sanz, Jane alleges in the lawsuit that in 2002 an NBC page who had forcefully kissed her when she was 16 grabbed her sexually without her consent. The suit also alleges that Sanz was not the only SNL employee “who openly preyed upon women and young girls.”
When asked what she wants people to take away from her and Jane’s experiences, Melissa says she wished more people would allow themselves to examine SNL with a critical eye—“to recognize that it allowed this sort of abuse to continue, or to happen, probably for as long as the show’s been around.”
It’s not just that Sanz—who has previously called his fans “Horatio’s Kidz” and solicited pictures of their feet in the public eye and, in a screenshot of a since-deleted tweet captured by Jane, says he wished he could “fuck all my fans”—continues to book jobs on projects like The Mandalorian, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and even the children’s movie Clifford last year. Or the fact that Fallon, who she alleges was present for many of her interactions with Sanz, now has an expanding empire of TV projects. It’s that to Jane, SNL stars feel inescapable and invincible—coated in Teflon by an industry that cares more about the money they produce than anything else.
Before the alleged assault Jane was an extroverted high schooler—confident both socially and academically. Even at SNL, where she felt so many of her peers were treated as fangirls, Jane believed she was successfully laying the groundwork for a career in comedy. She’d built an online community on her own with her Fallon site and cherished the “caring, supportive” environment it had become.
After the assault, and especially Sanz’s victim-blaming, the pride Jane had once felt in herself warped into shame. Sanz allegedly tried to downplay what had happened as “no big deal” because the two never had penetrative sex.
On May 22, 2002, three days after she says Sanz told her that Fallon didn’t care if she was “a slut,” Jane announced that she was closing down her site—a defining part of her identity for three years, into which she’d poured more care and work than anything else in her life.
Without that creative outlet, Jane, who had already become isolated from many of her peers, was left with a devastating sense of loss and humiliation.
“I put so much work into this,” she says, “and then I’m just ‘the party slut.’”
Jane tried to put her best foot forward when she started college, socializing and participating in school events as much as she could. By sophomore year, however, her mental health began to decline as she realized that most of her formative high-school experiences had to be kept secret. Once more, her relationship with Sanz seemed to be isolating her from her peers. She’d vowed to Sanz that she could “be cool”—an act defined, most of all, by her ability to keep her mouth shut.
“Horatio had sort of set me up to only trust him, and only rely on him, and internalize all the shame, and internalize all the secrecy, and not tell anyone what was going on with me,” Jane says. By her sophomore year, she adds, “I spent all of my time in my dorm room by myself, doing any kind of self-medicating drug I could find.”
Jane recalls that she and Sanz were still in contact at that time, albeit more sporadically. Then, as before, she says, many of their conversations continued to revolve around sex. Her drug use intensified and in 2005 she was hospitalized.
When Jane spoke with Sanz about her hospitalization, her lawsuit states he tried to steer the conversation toward sex. Jane forwarded The Daily Beast a copy of an alleged chat log with Sanz, first emailed to herself in 2006. (Jane also provided The Daily Beast email metadata that indicates that it was created and received in 2006.)
In the purported chat log, Jane asks Sanz what he does to relax when stressed. His response: “you really have to ask?” When Jane asks for remedies other than sex, the comedian allegedly suggests “a gallon of beer” before adding, “mastyrbating [sic] aint doing it for you?”
“Because it wasn’t just a matter of realizing that he had abused me. It was also this sad thing about losing a really close friend.”
When Jane mentions her hospitalization, the alleged log displays Sanz asking if she’d slept with a married professor who’d previously made a pass at her. Later on, he allegedly suggested she should have given him “at least a handy.” The log also displays Sanz reminiscing about a photo of Jane when she was 17. “I don’t knwo what teh hell you look liek now,” the log reads, “but you had a kick ass body then.”
For years after her hospitalization, Jane’s lawsuit states, Sanz’s interactions with her “remained manipulative, degrading, insulting and abusive towards her.” In 2019, Sanz allegedly told Jane that he’d been masturbating during their online conversations when she was in high school. That same year, she also found some old journals detailing her experiences and began speaking with friends about what had happened. They told her it sounded like she’d been groomed, and when she looked up the six stages of grooming, everything began to click into place.
But then there was Sanz’s private apology (quoted in part in the lawsuit) which states he swore “on a stack of improv books” that he was a different person. Jane’s lawsuit contains several quotes from Sanz’s apology, which includes lines like “It was wrong. I was wrong,” alongside comments like: “Making out with 16-year-old is far from Kiddie fucking. Not appropriate but Jesus. Kiddie Fucker?”
The message was confusing, Jane says, largely because she wanted to believe what it implied—that he’d somehow groomed her by accident. “That’s what he said and that’s what I really wanted to believe,” she says. “Because it wasn’t just a matter of realizing that he had abused me. It was also this sad thing about losing a really close friend.”
Jane reported Sanz to the Upright Citizens Brigade, of which he was a founding member. (The Daily Beast has reviewed forwarded emails sent between Jane and the organization from late 2019 through early 2020 regarding the status of her report.) She recalls the group seemed reluctant to investigate at first and urged her to approach NBC’s lawyers. The comedian’s lawyer, meanwhile, was allegedly able to decline participation in the investigation on his behalf. It was Jane’s first taste of disappointment in what has become an ongoing search for justice. A representative for UCB did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.
Perhaps more than anything, what haunts Jane now is the sense that even despite having a mountain of evidence and a lengthy written confession, little visible action has been taken in response to her lawsuit—which would not have been possible were it not for a brief window provided by the Child Victims Act in New York, which allowed adults to bring forward sexual assault claims whose statute of limitations had previously expired.
More than anything, Jane says she’s come forward because she sees her case as part of a broader public safety issue. She hopes that her speaking out will prevent others from enduring a similar experience.
According to the CDC, about one in four girls and one in 13 boys experience sexual abuse before the age of 18—a trauma that can affect survivors’ mental and physical health as they come of age. RAINN reports that sexual assault victims are 3.4 times more likely to use marijuana, six times more likely to use cocaine, and 10 times more likely to use other drugs. Additionally, the organization reports, “79% of survivors who were victimized by a family member, close friend or acquaintance experience professional or emotional issues, including moderate to severe distress, or increased problems at work or school.” Re-victimization is also common; the CDC notes that women who were sexually abused as children are two to 13 times more likely to experience sexual victimization as adults.
“I see the lack of accountability in my own case, and it just viscerally frightens me because I have a thorough admission of guilt, I have mountains of evidence, and I’ve come forward,” Jane says. “And many people with many, many millions of dollars and huge platforms, who saw this happen, have had no interest so far in coming forward.”
The implications of Jane’s lawsuit for NBC and SNL could be massive. As described, her claims could embroil not only Sanz, but also his castmates and the show’s producers from the time.
For a long while, Jane says, she made excuses for the NBC and SNL employees who witnessed what happened to her and didn’t seem to know how to help. Now, however, “I feel less generous toward everyone at SNL. I feel less generous toward the cast and I feel every day more and more inclined to speak up and speak out, because people who have admitted to grooming and sexually assaulting children should not get to get away with that.”