The first rule about getting fired from Saturday Night Live is, you don’t talk about getting fired from Saturday Night Live. But, that hasn’t stopped some of the show’s most prominent players—from Adam Sandler to Jenny Slate—from dishing on why they got shown the door at Studio 8H.
Jay Pharoah is the latest ex-cast member who left the show under acrimonious circumstances, and who’s willing to talk about it. During a recent interview with Hot 97, Pharoah—who along with Taran Killam was let go ahead of this season without warning—said that he felt stifled by people’s perception of him as the guy who does impressions of famous black dudes.
“You go where you’re appreciated,“ he said of his exit. “And if you have multiple people on the cast saying things like you’re so talented and you’re so able and they don’t use you and it’s unfair and it’s making us feel bad because they don’t use you and you’re a talent…”
“They put people into boxes,” Pharoah continued. “Whatever they want you to do, they expect you to do. And I’m fiery too … I’m not a ‘yes n—a.’ That’s not me.”
Over the course of his four season run, Pharoah developed an arsenal of uncanny impressions that included Jay Z, Kanye West, and Barack Obama. But as Obama’s presidency gave way to the rise of Donald Trump, SNL relied less on Pharoah’s take, and leaned more heavily on Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump. “I was like, 'Just let me do my character and we’ll be fine.’ (They) didn’t want to do that,“ Pharoah said of the show’s decision to phase out his Obama impression.
And, while the talented 29-year-old is no longer a prime-time player, the show’s current roster is very much a product of him being there, after he told the SNL brass that they needed to add some women of color to the cast. “I’m the reason it happened,” he said of Sasheer Zamata’s and Leslie Jones’ hiring. “I almost freaking lost my job.”
But, despite his tumultuous exit, Pharoah insists that there’s no bad blood between he and his former employers, and even borrowed a famous line from his friend Chris Rock: “I met Lorne Michaels and I ain’t been broke ever since.”
Pharaoh can be seen next on the new Showtime series White Famous.