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Taran Killam and Jay Pharoah won’t be returning for season 42 of Saturday Night Live, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.
Killam and Pharoah, who have each been with the NBC sketch show for six seasons, are leaving the Lorne Michaels-helmed franchise to pursue other opportunities, creating a major void for the show’s fall season, which is sure to feature plenty of political bits.
Pharoah is best known for playing the likes of President Barack Obama, Jay Z, Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, Denzel Washington and former GOP presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, creating an immediate void heading into the upcoming presidential election and Obama’s last days in office. Upon joining the show, he was the second-youngest black male castmember (after Eddie Murphy). When creator Michaels was at the center of headlines in 2013 criticizing the long-running series over its lack of diversity — specifically its lack of black female actresses — Pharoah memorably tackled the issue head-on in a sketch with Kerry Washington in which the Scandal star impersonated multiple black women in the same sketch including first lady Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.
Killam has also been a big player amid the current election cycle, impersonating Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, before Darrell Hammond returned to play the GOP presidential candidate. He also played Matthew McConaughey.
Killam recently said in an interview with Uproxx that SNL decided not pick up the final year of his seven-season contract. “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,” he said. “I was never given a reason why, really.”
The actor, who will be making his directorial debut with the upcoming Arnold Schwarzenegger-starrer Why We’re Killing Gunther, continued: “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. 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.”
SNL creator Michaels has dealt with his fair share of cast departures throughout the show’s storied run. Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Jason Sudeikis all departed the show ahead of season 39, with Seth Meyers leaving midseason, causing a “Weekend Update” scramble.
After the announcement that Meyers would be taking over for Jimmy Fallon as the new host of NBC’s Late Night, Michaels confirmed that Meyers would be joined at the “Weekend Update” anchor desk by Cecily Strong. Once Meyers left, SNL writer Colin Jost filled Meyers’ seat. For season 40, Michael Che replaced Strong and though the Che-Jost pairing was initially met with criticism, the pair has now found their place at the parody newsdesk.
Many of the recent additions to the show’s cast have followed in the footsteps of those before them by using SNL to launch careers in both TV and film, including Andy Samberg, Adam Sandler, Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey and Will Forte.
Meanwhile, Leslie Jones, who joined the cast amid the show’s diversity issues in 2013, and Kate McKinnon have also used SNL‘s star-making role to increase their respective profiles. The pair recently appeared in this summer’s reboot of Ghostbusters — alongside SNL alum Kristen Wiig — and, as of Monday, Jones was on her way to Brazil to help cover the 2016 Rio Olympics for NBC.
On Tuesday morning, Killam tweeted to his followers:
A big thank you for all the Love from my fans. Lorne was kind enough to understand I needed more time to dedicate to my undefeated @RamsNFL
— Taran Killam (@TaranKillam) August 9, 2016
TV Line was first to report the Killam and Pharoah news.
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Robert De Niro