SNL Axes Veteran Cast Members Jay Pharoah and Taran Killam

13:35 August 09, 2016
By: Anthony O'Donnell

In preparation for its upcoming 42nd season, Lorne Michaels' long-running sketch show Saturday Night Live will shed two of its most active cast members. One has indicated he was forced out despite signing a contract that would grant him another year on the show, while another has declined to comment.

Taran Killam graduated to SNL from a stint on MADtv, after acting in numerous television shows ranging back to 1994. He excelled in the show as a surrogate for Republican politicians-among others, he's impersonated presidential candidates Donald Trump, Rick Santorum, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, as well as former Speaker of the House John Boehner and current speaker Paul Ryan.

Asked why he was leaving in an interview with Yahoo, Killam hesitated: “I don't know the other side of it. You sign for seven years, so I had one more year...I was never given a reason why, really.” Killam went on to speculate that his work directing an upcoming Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Why We're Killing Gunther, would likely bleed into his SNL shooting schedule, and that he had informed SNL's upper management about the possible conflict.

Jay Pharaoh was one of SNL's most celebrated recent additions. He joined the cast after his impression of Barack Obama went viral on YouTube in 2010, blazing a trail for other online comics to pursue network deals. He was among the youngest “featured players” to ever be hired on the show. Like Killam, his talent for impressions set him apart. His takes on rappers Jay-Z, 50 Cent, and Kanye West, often delivered back to back, gained him Internet fame early on and acclaim from fans of the show. Pharaoh and his people have yet to comment on his reason for leaving the show, but unlike Killam, he has no conflicting projects that have been publicly announced.

The show, which is notorious for dropping cast members who underperform in their first few years, has been hesitant recently to fire on-camera talent who have an established fan base. Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg, and Seth Myers, among numerous others, have left the show voluntarily, and gone on to major success. All of the departing players but Jason Sudeikis, whose relationship with showrunner Michaels was reportedly contentious, have received a congratulatory on-air send-off, with the remaining cast wishing them well in future endeavors. It appears Killam and Pharaoh will be getting the same treatment Sudeikis did: gone from America's Saturday night standby with no warning, and no acknowledgement of their absence. 

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