Surprisingly, when sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live returns this fall for its 42nd season, two of the key cast members won’t be coming back — both Taran Killam and Jay Pharoah did not have their contracts renewed, reports Variety.
Arguably two of the sketch show’s best performers, with plenty of screen time each during every 90-minute episode, it’s unknown why the pair will not be brought back. Killam did confirm to Uproxx, however, that his departure was not by choice. He hinted that it could be due to other projects to which he’s committed, including directing a movie, Why We’re Killing Gunther, which stars Arnold Schwarzenegger. “I’ll have two months of post-production that would have bled into the SNL production schedule, so we kind of communicated that.” According to his IMDB page, the actor will also be starring in two upcoming comedy films, The Runaround and Brother Nature. It’s unknown what future projects Pharaoh has in store.
Did SNL creator and showrunner Lorne Michaels feel it was best to cut the strings now before the pair went the way of other top SNL performers like Will Ferrell, Fred Armisen, and Kristen Wiig, who eventually moved on to bigger and better things? Or perhaps it was a selfless move meant to free their schedules so they could realize more of their potential.
Both Pharoah and Killam joined the show six years ago, and in that time have cultivated some memorable characters. While Killam often did many lackluster impersonations of everyone from Brad Pitt to Ted Cruz, his real strength was in original characters. One of the most notable is Jebidiah Atkinson, the hilariously harsh newspaper critic from the 1860s.
While Pharoah isn’t as strong with original characters, he is a master at impressions. He got the most attention for a single sketch earlier this year, where he beautifully impersonated nine African-American comedians and singers in the span of three minutes, including Kanye West, Jay-Z, Chris Rock, and Kevin Hart. (Check it out above.) He was also the show’s go-to President Obama impersonator, arguably a role they will no longer require as much now that POTUS is on his way out of the White House.
So who’s left? Other top cast members, like Kate McKinnon, may have one foot out the door thanks to bigger projects. McKinnon, along with Leslie Jones, headed the cast of the new all-female Ghostbusters reboot.
We have a feeling both Killam and Pharaoh will do just fine. Michaels has a history of continuing to work with former cast members on other projects, from Tina Fey to Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon. And with Killam’s and Pharoah’s versatility and stellar résumés behind them, they may just be SNL’s next breakout stars.