Lorne Michaels has orchestrated Saturday Night Live‘s first major purge of veteran cast members in a decade, letting loose repertory players Taran Killam and Jay Pharoah plus featured player Jon Rudnitsky in advance of season 42.
Killam and Pharoah were six seasons into the usual seven-season contract cast members sign when joining SNL, while Rudnitsky only had finished his first season with the cast.
While SNL has seen featured players and rookies come and go frequently in the past six years since Michaels first hired Killam and Pharoah, the iconic sketch comedy platform for NBC hasn’t unceremoniously dropped cast veterans without a proper goodbye on network TV since 2006. That’s when Michaels, faced with budget cuts, axed three cast members (Horatio Sanz, Chris Parnell and Finesse Mitchell) while also letting Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch leave to launch 30 Rock.
Multiple sources told me Rudnitsky didn’t make the cut for a sophomore season (NBC did confirm his departure officially Tuesday morning), while NBC already has confirmed the departures of Killam and Pharoah (as first reported late Monday night by TV Line).
Pharoah, whom I saw in Montreal two weeks ago during the Just For Laughs festival, told me he’s anxious to record his second hour of stand-up comedy. He’s currently on a stand-up tour through at least the end of August, and got stuck in the Atlanta airport on his way back from gigs Monday like millions worldwide due to Delta’s power outage. At least Pharoah could laugh about that situation alongside the likes of Chris Tucker.
Pharoah’s major contributions came via his awesome arsenal of impersonations, which included famous comedians, rappers, actors, sports figures and President Barack Obama.
Killam, meanwhile, told Uproxx’s Mike Ryan that he didn’t know what exactly happened to leave him on the outs at SNL. Killam served as an anchor to many SNL sketches, including sometimes portraying actual TV anchors, but never seemed to become the leading man or step out into the forefront of the cast (whether by design or not).
“I don’t know fully. I don’t know the other side of it. You sign for seven years, so I had one more year. I had sort of had it in my head I would make this upcoming year my last year, but then heard they weren’t going to pick up my contract. I was never given a reason why, really. I can assume until the cows come home. But I do know I’m directing this movie [Why We’re Killing Gunther with Arnold Schwarzenegger] and I’ll have two months of post-production that would have bled into the SNL production schedule, so we kind of communicated that,” Killam told Uproxx. “I honestly don’t know what happened on the other side, but I do know we had expressed I have work on this film and in bonding this picture, that has to get cleared with SNL. And then [another offer] came up. I wasn’t going to have to take any time off to do it, but it was a thing that they would have had to okay.”
Killam added that whereas he was “not feeling great” about not leaving on his own terms, “my feeling about it is I got my dream job. I set out to be on SNL and I got to do that and I did very well. And I love and adore and will forever have close ties and tight bonds with the brilliant, smartest, funniest people I’ve ever met in my life. So, I have no gripes at all. I am so, so, so lucky to have been given the time I’ve been given.”
Killam also stars and co-wrote a new movie, Brother Nature, with his longtime friend and SNL writing partner Mikey Day.
No word on whether Day is sticking around. Although it has been the most active summer for SNL personnel since perhaps ever. After a less than stellar Season 41 of SNL wrapped in May, Day and Kenan Thompson co-starred in the similarly lackluster Maya and Marty variety series for NBC, backed by a writing staff primarily made up of current and former SNL writers. On the flip side, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones shined brightly on the big-screen in the reboot of the Ghostbusters film franchise. MSNBC lured the Weekend Update team of Michael Che and Colin Jost to the Republican and Democratic national conventions last month (along with McKinnon at the RNC in Cleveland). And NBC just over the weekend asked Jones to fly down to Rio to liven up the network’s coverage of the Summer Olympics.
NBC Olympics Executive Producer Jim Bell invited Jones to Rio on Sunday upon the suggestion of Mike Shoemaker, former longtime SNL producer and current producer on Late Night with Seth Meyers.
“We’re thrilled to have Leslie come to the Olympics,” Bell said Monday in what NBC probably expected to be its only SNL announcement of the day. “She’s a member of the family, and her passion for the Olympics is remarkable.”
The firings of Killam and Pharoah leave Vanessa Bayer as the only 2010 hire to make it to a seventh season on the show.
Now down from 16 cast members to 13 (seven men and six women), SNL is actively auditioning potential new cast members this month.
How it’ll all play out come October when Season 42 debuts just weeks before the presidential election is now a giant mystery. Killam had played Donald Trump before ceding the impersonation to SNL vet/announcer Darrell Hammond, so Killam could play Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan. Of course, Pharoah’s departure leaves the cast without anyone to play Obama. At least McKinnon isn’t saying goodbye anytime soon, much like Hillary Clinton.